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by Carolyn Haines
Minotaur, October 2018
272 pages
ISBN: 1250193629

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Fans of cozies with a good dash of romance will enjoy this Southern mystery set at Christmastime. The 19th book in Carolyn Haines' Sarah Booth Delaney series, it is chock-a-block with loving, mischievous small town characters, pets and even a family retainer ghost. The Christmas setting allows Haines to explore quaint traditions, decorations and revelries and the mystery, if not compelling, is unusual.

On the other hand, if you are not a big fan of terminally cute characters, settings and plots, you might want to give this a skip. This sub-genre poses challenges for the serious crime enthusiast. The book flits between a love story devoid of conflict, a depiction of life and holiday traditions in Mississippi, and the tale of an amateur sleuth and her friends attempting to locate and save a kidnapped pregnant woman. There are amusing moments and endearing characters, but the plots evolve at a syrupy pace and the romance is pretty much a fait accompli. There is some suspense and a few exciting moments, just not enough to make it a page-turner.

One plot distracts from the other. Just as the mystery is heating up (and it is quite complicated) Haines shifts gears and turns our attention to the fire of desire burning inside the protagonist, and the momentum, not to mention the continuity, of the mystery plot is lost.

There is engaging banter between the two female amateur detectives, who are also close friends, and between the protagonist, Sarah Booth and her cop boyfriend. The presence of pet dogs and a cat (who travels with Sarah Booth wherever she goes, and behaves a lot like a dog) is unexpected and the ghost is highly entertaining.

For much of the novel, the mystery is simply bewildering: the cousin of a friend of Sarah Booth's, due to give birth Christmas Eve, has been kidnapped but it is not until late in the book that the scheme behind this kidnapping (and hence the possibility of saving the woman) starts to emerge. Once it does, it is intriguing.

The end is satisfying, and the magic of Christmas shines round about. If this is your cup of tea, you'll thoroughly enjoy it. If not, you probably won't reach the end.

Meg Westley is a writer and retired educator living in Stratford, Ontario.

Reviewed by Meg Westley, October 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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