Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Book Review: The Wolves of Christmas by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun #8)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Solid mystery and characters
Cons: Plot is unfocused, especially with the Ireland interlude
The Bottom Line:
Many Christmas crimes
Keep the pages turning here
But still unfocused

This Christmas Will Not Be Completely Festive

Last year, I was so happy to have caught up on the new Valley of the Sun books that Sandy Dengler had written, so you can imagine my surprise earlier this year when I saw she had published The Wolves of Christmas, an eighth book in the series.  Naturally, I bought it and saved it to read in December.

The original four books in the series were published in trade paperback back in the 1990’s.  I had suspected she had kept the time period the same when she republished those and added on to the series, but this book confirms it since there are references to the upcoming Y2K.  It’s interesting to be reminded what life was like then, like huge cell phones and worries that our computers would crash.

If you aren’t familiar with the series, it features some homicide detectives in the Phoenix police department.  The main focus is Joe Rodriguez and his partner Tom, but others feature in various scenes, most noticeably Tom’s girlfriend and new homicide cop, Gretchen.

As this book opens, Joe, Tom, and Gretchen’s boss, Jerry, announces that his retirement has been put on hold since someone has stolen his retirement investment.  The fraud division of the police department is going to look into it, but Joe and Tom have just been given a case that may tie in.  A dead body was found in Salt River Canyon, but since the victim lived in Phoenix, the case has been transferred to these two.  The connection?  He worked for the investment firm where Jerry had his money.  Could the two tie together?

Over the course of the series, it has slowly morphed, and we are firmly into police procedural territory here.  We get more details than I really needed as the case unravels, but those details don’t overwhelm even the scenes where they feature.

What really pushes the book over the line for me is a sub-plot involving Tom’s cousin, and Joe’s current infatuation, Brigid, who is raped and left for dead in Ireland.  While we don’t get too many details here about the actual attack, we do about the after math, and that clearly falls outside of cozy territory.

And it also creates a weird interlude in the book.  The two friends head over to Ireland the instant they get the news, and for a couple of chapters, we are focused on what is happening there with occasional check ins with Gretchen to keep the cases in Phoenix moving forward.  Honestly, those scenes feel like they belong in another book.

Although that is my complaint overall with the book – there are one or two too many sub-plots.  It seems like just about everything is thrown at Joe in particular before the book is over.  Taking one or two out and focusing more on the core mystery would have been good.

And don’t misunderstand, there is a good mystery here.  The twists kept me guessing, but everything unfolded in a perfectly logical way over the course of the book.

One reason I enjoyed it is the characters.  There is a rather large cast, but I’ve gotten to know them as the series progresses, and I really do care for all of them.  Getting to spend time with them again is a delight, and we get some good development for them over the course of the book.

And the Christmas setting adds some fun to the book.  Actually, the story unfolds over several weeks, starting mid-December and going through New Year’s.  No, not Y2K New Year’s, that’s still a couple of years away.

I know I sounded harsh on this book early on, but I really did enjoy it overall.  It left me with a smile on my face.

If you’ve enjoyed the earlier books in this series, I definitely recommend you pick up The Wolves of Christmas.  And I definitely recommend the earlier books in the series for all mystery fans.  I just found this book a little unfocused to be one of the better entries.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Valley of the Sun Mysteries.

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