Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review: The Humbug Murders by L. J. Oliver (Ebenezer Scrooge Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting take on Dickens’ classic character
Cons: Mystery wanders a bit at times; dark
The Bottom Line:
Scrooge sees his first ghost
Leads him down murderous path
In dark mystery

Scrooge’s First Encounter with a Ghost was Murder

My mom loves A Christmas Carol, so I’ve grown up very familiar with the story and love it myself now.  Every year, I still usually see a couple of different versions of it, in fact.  So when The Humbug Murders crossed my radar, the first in a series with Ebenezer Scrooge as the sleuth, I was naturally very curious.

It’s the week before Christmas in 1833, and Scrooge is in his favorite place in the world – his counting house.  His old mentor and friend, Fezziwig, pays him a visit, and his entire world changes.  Fezziwig claims that he has been murdered.  Then he issues a warning – three more will die before Scrooge himself is murdered.

Just as Fezziwig vanishes, the police show up and take Scrooge to the crime scene.  Sure enough, Fezziwig has been murdered and quite brutally.  The body was found by four people who were all summoned by Fezziwig to show up that morning.  They claim to not know each other.  Do they have anything in common?  Why would someone want to kill Fezziwig?  Can Scrooge figure out what is happening before the ghost’s warning comes true?

While this book is set long before A Christmas Carol with a Scrooge who is in his 30’s, there are plenty of references that those familiar with the classic Christmas tale will love.  Those references never felt forced into the story and we often went a long time without any, but they were a complete delight when they showed up.

I must confess that my knowledge of Dickens outside this book is very limited, but I did know enough to recognize some of the other supporting players who showed up, including Pickwick, Fagan, and the Artful Dodger.  In a much larger role, we get a young investigative reporter name…Charles Dickens.  That was another fun touch.

The mystery did seem to wander a bit, but most everything came back into play by the end of the mystery.  There was one development that didn’t seem to lead anywhere, but maybe it will be played up in the sequel.  While I don’t know for sure what the plot of that one will revolve around, I have a feeling it was set up in the closing pages of this book.  (But no, the ending isn’t a cliffhanger.)

I did find Scrooge wasn’t quite the cold hearted man I expected him to be.  I guess I was expecting the man at the beginning of A Christmas Carol, but it is more logical that he hadn’t quite grown into that mantel yet.  Still, we can easily see him growing into that man from what we get here.  The other characters were all good and well-rounded by the end.  I don’t know how faithful any of the other Dickens characters were to their real personas, but they certainly fit into this book well.

Many years ago, I had listened to a radio drama that involved all the classic characters from A Christmas Carol in a murder mystery – one with Scrooge as the victim.  I hated it because it really twisted some of the characters into people I didn’t like.  I was a bit worried about that here, but I am glad to say I didn’t feel that happened.  I am a bit sad at the idea of Fezziwig being murdered, but I had no problem moving past that as the book progressed.

Having said that, this book is definitely darker than I normally enjoy.  The violence is more graphic, and some sex comes into play as the story progresses.  Honestly, that was the part of the story that bothered me the most.  This isn’t a fun, light Christmas mystery but a darker, grittier mystery.

The Humbug Murders is an interesting take on a classic literary character.  I’m glad I read it to satisfy my curiosity.  And if you are okay with a darker take on the character and darker mysteries, you might enjoy it as well.


  1. Interesting! I guess it makes sense that it's a dark grittier mystery as the world The Christmas Carol takes place in is pretty dark and gritty. I probably would've preferred a light mystery but this does sound good. I like that the characters felt true to who they were in the original book. Great review! I think I'd enjoy this one.

    1. You are right that A Christmas Carol isn't exactly a light world is it. I hadn't thought much about that.