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by Peter Lovesey, ed.
Soho Crime, October 2017
416 pages
ISBN: 1616957751

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Soho Crime's latest anthology is full of Santas, parties and presents, but don't be mistaken—this noir-tinged collection is not your usual heartwarming holiday read. Soho, which leans toward the darker side of crime, has presented eighteen crime capers that may leave you hiding out at home until the holidays are over.

The anthology is divided into three sections: Joy to the Word: Various Acts of Kindness at Christmas; Silent Night: The Darkest of Holiday Noir; and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus: And Other Holiday Secrets. As crime fiction author Peter Lovesey says in a foreword, the holidays, after all, are a time during which "pockets are picked, shoppers mugged, cars broken into and Christmas tree plantations raided."

You are thus duly warned before reading the stories, most of them written by well-known authors and set across four continents. The anthology opens with a bang in Helene Tursten's "An Elderly Lady Seeks Peace at Christmastime." Maud, an elderly lady, only wants peace and quiet on this Christmas Day. Will she get her wish?

That's followed by the collection's title story, "The Usual Santas," by Mick Herron, in which eight shopping mall Santas suddenly find a ninth imposter among their ranks. At first, they think that maybe the elves, who usually go out clubbing when the stores close, have pulled a prank. Or is the real Santa checking up on them? This is one of the quirkier, and lightest, stories of the bunch.

"There's Only One Father Christmas, Right?" by Colin Cotterill is on the other end—a very dark tale, although it still contains the sharp wit that you find in the author's two series (Dr. Siri and Jimm Juree). A protagonist thinks he has karma all figured out when he pulls off a Christmas heist—but karma has a mind all of its own.

There are some lighter stories in the collection, including "When the Time Came," from Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, in which a Danish Red Cross nurse helps an undocumented immigrant give birth, and Cara Black's "Cabaret Aux Assassins," in which 18-year-old Neige Adler learns more about her mother—Irene Adler, the one woman ever to earn Sherlock Holmes' admiration. Two stories feature locked-room mysteries with a theft: "Hairpin Holiday" by Sujata Massey, set in Bombay in the 1920s, and Stephanie Barron's "Jane and the Midnight Clear," featuring the amateur sleuth Jane Austen.

The book closes out with my favorite story, Peter Lovesey's "Supper with Miss Shivers." A couple accept a mysterious invitation to Christmas dinner, only to uncover a family secret.

While not all stories will appeal to all readers, this is strong collection, with other well-known authors in the mix. In fact, it'd make an ideal gift to tuck under the Christmas tree.

§ Lourdes Venard is an independent editor who divides her time between New York and Maui.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, November 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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