Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Review: Candy Cane Murder by Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine, and Leslie Meier

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: The first two stories
Cons: The ending for the final story
The Bottom Line:
Christmas mysteries
A merry little murder
Unusual cheer

Murder with a Christmas Theme

I'm not always one for anthologies. I will admit I often buy them, but don't often read them. It's not some hard and fast rule, it's just that they don't wind up very high on my too be read list.

Candy Cane Murder was an obvious exception. I am a huge fan of Joanne Fluke and Laura Levine, two of the three authors, and I've been intending to try Leslie Meier for a while. So, even though it isn't December, I started this book as soon as I got it.

All three of these authors write cozy mystery series. And all three stories star their series sleuth. Naturally, there are references to characters or situations familiar to loyal readers. I'm sure that new readers should be able to follow along no problem. I know I did with Leslie's story.

Up first is the title story. "Candy Cane Murder" by Joanne Fluke finds cookie shop owner Hannah Swenson playing Santa's helper, literally, at the Lake Eden Inn. Wayne Bergstrom, owner of a local department store, is doing his annual good deed by playing Santa for the underprivileged kids in the area. But when leaving the party a little while later, Hannah follows a trail of candy canes to find Wayne's body in a snow bank. Granted, Wayne was a notorious tightwad. But who would want Wayne dead?

For a novella mystery, this one is fairly complex. It's got a couple twists and several red herrings. And let's not forget all the talk of baking and desserts. There are 8 cookie recipes, 2 drink recipes, and 2 quiche recipes. All of that in the first 150 pages. All the series regulars have at least a cameo as well, yet none of the characters feel underdeveloped at all. That's pretty impressive. All told, this is a cozy Christmas offering that any of Hannah's numerous fans or cozy readers in general will love.

Next comes "The Dangers of Candy Canes" by Laura Levine which stars freelance writer and sometimes unofficial PI Jaine Austen. When one of Jaine's clients, Seymour Fiedler of Fiedler on the Roof Roofers, is sued for wrongful death, he hires Jaine to put down her pen and solve the crime. Seems that Garth Jankin fell off his recently reroofed house while decorating for his neighborhood's annual Christmas decorating contest. Since Garth had numerous enemies, Jaine quickly decides that the tiles must have been loosened. But who would do something like that?

As with the books, this story is very funny. Jaine can't resist temptation, and spends time talking about her need to lose weight while eating Christmas candy. A sub-plot about Jaine volunteering with a group that mentors underprivileged girls almost slows the story down at times. In fact, it makes the ultimate climax seem a little abrupt. But Jaine is a charming character and I love spending time with her. The other characters are interesting as well. And several red herrings keep this story interesting and fun until the end.

Finally comes Leslie Meier's contribution, "Candy Canes of Christmas Past." This story takes us back in time to the first Christmas that series star Lucy Stone spent in Tinker Cove, Maine. Lucy is trying to deal with her husband's project, fixing up their home. So when town librarian Miss Tilly is nice to Lucy, Lucy looks for some way to repay her new friend. And that's how she begins trying to uncover the circumstances surrounding Miss Tilly's mother's death almost 50 years before. Was Mrs. Tilly murdered? If so, how can Lucy find out what happened after all these years.

This story is as much about Lucy's struggles to fit into a new town and live in an old house as it is about the mystery. Lucy and her husband are really struggling, which gives most of this story the darkest tone of any of the books. It is also the weakest mystery in the book by far. The solution was very coincidental and almost an after thought compared to the resolution to the other story line. But I liked the characters. They are vivid and seem like people I would love to get to know better. I plan to read the first in the series soon. This story includes 2 recipes, bringing the total for the book to 14.

If you love cozies and want to book to put you in the Christmas mood, Candy Cane Murder is for you. Pick it up and enjoy today.

Looking for more?  Check out the Hannah Swensen Mysteries in order and the Jaine Austen Mysteries in order.

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