Synopsis of The Christmas Carol Murders by Christopher Lord: It's the holiday season in Dickens Junction, Oregon. Local bookstore owner Simon Alastair is getting ready for the community's annual celebration of Charles Dickens's well-known story. But when a mysterious stranger shows up in the Junction and is murdered hours later, Simon begins to suspect that his little community has been targeted for destruction by a shadowy organization. With the support of Zach, a dashing young magazine reporter, Simon decides to investigate the crime himself. When a second murder follows, Simon must confront the worst question of all: which of his friends and business associates is a ruthless murderer? The Christmas Carol Murders is the first of an exciting new cozy mystery series combining the atmosphere of a classic Agatha Christie puzzle, the deft touch of Charlotte MacLeod, a hint of Oscar Wilde's humor, and the literary spirit of the great Charles Dickens.
My two centsThe book in one sentence: A battle of between two schools of thought - Charles Dickens vs. Ayn Rand - results in a string of murders in a quaint literary town.
This is a murder mystery decked out Dickens style with a huge dose of literary-ness!
I enjoyed it and since this is just the first book in a series of mysteries revolving around the imaginary town of Dickens Junction and some rather eccentric characters, I am definitely going to be on the lookout for the succeeding books!
The plot: The town is in the throes of preparing for the yearly Christmas festivities, Dickens-style of course, which attract tourists -- when a stranger makes his rounds with the various business owners, trying to get them to sell their properties for exorbitant (and tempting) sums. But majority want keep the Dickens traditions and sense of community alive, but with tourism slowing down and many businesses struggling to keep afloat ... it makes one wonder, who would be pushed to the rather gruesome and public display of this murdered stranger?
The police come into the picture and whereabouts and motives are revealed. But who are all these people under that quaint picture of traditionalism and old-fashionedness? Are they really who they claim to be?
More murders happen -- each more gruesome and left with some signature Christmas aplomb - and the town is in a state of chaos. But Simon Alistair -- whose family practically established the town -- is bent on finding out who is behind these murders to keep the town's values intact.
Lord definitely painted Dickens Junction right -- the coziness, the literary-ness (read: Pip's Pages for the local bookstore, and festivities called Yarmouth Winter, the Barnaby Rudge Maypole Dance), and just plain old fashioned and traditional. There are also tons of references to literary characters and the writings of both Dickens and Ayn Rand are central to the plot too. (I probably would've better appreciated this book if I had read more Dickens or Rand as I am betting that there are some sneaky little things put in there for fans).
But wait, there's a twist as the characters are decidedly contemporary! Simon seems spends more time going googly-eyed over a hunky writer who comes in to write feature articles about this Dickens town. There's a side story of a man who Chippendale dances at a nearby club to raise money for his upcoming wedding. Come to think of it, there were quite a few mentions of alternative lifestyles -- maybe its a bit much in just one book?
The mystery side is what really killed it for me. I love a good gruesome murder and the sleuthing entailed in order to bring a murderer to justice. But Simon's detective work didn't really impress me -- ok, he chatted with his friends and got a few nuggets, but there were no a-ha moments. Nada. Plus the dots never connected for me -- that's what I really missed: being in on the sleuthing and then slowly making my own conclusions (whether right or wrong). The murderer is pretty much handed to the reader on a silver platter ... with no resistance from anyone. With the natures of the murders being pretty spectacular, how can the murderer not have more drama?
I really wanted to like this -- like over-the-top love it. I think I fell in love with the concept of prematurely hence setting up my expectations waaay up there. Reread the latter part of the synopsis and whose heart wouldn't jump at the mention of mystery mavens Agatha Christie and Charlotte MacLeod, Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens in one breath ... it's got to be great, right? Yes, to a certain degree, so I really hope that the rest of the books in this series have a bit more meat as a mystery.
Verdict: A cozy Christmas mystery that will get your literary side psyched but your mystery craving dulled, unfortunately. A nice quick read to cozy up on the couch for the weekend.
***First line: No one was dead: to begin with.
Last line: "God bless us, every one."