A murderer is afoot in the peaceful hamlet of Christmas Village in Wescott’s (Running from Scissors, 2018) whimsical cozy.
It’s the week before Christmas, and an eclectic troupe of jugglers, magicians, acrobats, and other performers called Harper’s Harpoons has arrived at Rose Willoughby’s Plum Cottage, where they plan to lodge for the duration of the village’s famous celebratory week. The morning after their arrival, though, the group’s manager, Barnaby Snipes, is found dead atop pristine snow on 12-foot-high Plum Hill. There aren’t any footprints leading to or away from the body, but it’s confirmed that Barnaby was killed sometime after the snow had fallen. Sheriff Fell and Deputy Bentley are stumped, but the challenge proves irresistible to Maribel Claus, a member of the village’s Council of Elders and Rose’s good friend. In between baking tarts and other pastries, Maribel sets about trying to solve the mystery. Snipes has plenty of enemies, and among the suspects are Jimmy “Sticks” Johannsen, a juggler who walks on stilts; Eric Stumpf, a magician who’s talented at making things appear and disappear; acrobat Xander “Whirly” Byrd; professional psychic Madame Zorena; and strongman Bull Vargas. But before the sheriff can make an arrest, another body is found along with a new set of mysterious clues. Overall, this is a tongue-in-cheek romp through an idealized village where the snow “is softer and drier than...any other place,” the flowers “stay in bloom all year round,” and streets have names like “Candy Cane Lane” and “Blitzen Court.” As a result, the narrative may seem a bit too cute for some readers—even the most devoted fans of cozy mysteries; at one point, for instance, a clue is found by examining the frolicking games of a pair of pet ferrets named Dancer and Prancer. However, the tale also has plenty of entertainingly quirky characters, headed by Maribel, who proves to be an enjoyable sleuth who’s always a step ahead of the sheriff. There’s also plenty of puzzle-solving fun to be had for readers who can sink into the fantasy along with engaging twists and red herrings.
A pleasant, holiday-themed escape that offers more giggles than shivers.