The holiday spirit takes it on the chin when a series of murders blemish picture-perfect Crozet, Va.
Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen and her equine vet husband Fair are happily shopping for a Christmas tree when they discover a monk with his throat slit. The Brothers of Love, who support themselves by selling trees, do good works in the area. But many of their members are ex-cons. Surely they have some enemies from the past. Brother Christopher, for instance, was a schoolmate of Harry and Fair who lost millions for investors in an insider-trading scheme. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the crime is the obol found under Christopher’s tongue. One of three stolen from a local coin dealer, it was the customary payment to Charon to transfer souls across the river Styx. Harry, who along with her garrulous pets is a veteran of genteel homicide (The Purrfect Murder, 2008, etc.), can’t keep her nose out of this latest puzzle. When another Brother, an ex-jockey, is found dead in the same fashion, the animals must pitch in again to keep their mother out of trouble. A local physician is the recipient of the third obol, but Harry’s discovery of a chest full of money almost makes her the final victim.
Brown’s legion of pet-smitten fans will no doubt overlook the preachiness of her latest in their eagerness to spend more quality time among her fearless feline and clever canine sleuths.