Father Tom Christmas sprains his ankle during a charity event and is forced to convalesce in an estate in town, where a large number of relatives are in the area for that same charity event. One of the family members is murdered, and Father Christmas is pulled into the investigation. Benison has set up a classic Agatha Christie style cozy mystery with Ten Lords A-Leaping, with the requisite large number of possible suspects, family secrets and scandals, and detached observer ticking away at the clues.
It’s exactly the type of mystery I usually love, yet I couldn’t get into this one. There is a long list of characters and possible suspects, which shouldn’t be a problem except none of them really stood out. I found it difficult to keep track of who people were and I often found myself flipping back several pages to try to remind myself who that person was. I hadn’t read the second book, and it’s been years since I’d read the first, so that may be why it took me a while to get to know even the series characters, and it definitely didn’t help that the new characters were so interchangeable.
The story felt pretty plodding, and while a slow pace is par for the course for this type of mystery, this one just felt bogged down. Interspersed throughout the mystery are letters by Father Christmas’ housekeeper Madrun to her mother, about the goings on in the estate, and perhaps this is a series signature, but it just felt unnecessary. The subplot with Father Christmas’ daughter and one of the teens in the estate trying to solve the mystery themselves was entertaining, and I liked the hint of romance between them.
The plot seems simple enough — there’s a fortune at stake and the victim was pretty universally disliked. Still, the plodding pace and confusion of characters harmed the clarity of the basic plot, and by the time of the big reveal, I hadn’t connected enough with the characters or the mystery to care whodunnit.
The Father Christmas books are fairly popular, and Benison’s writing is good enough that I’d certainly give this series another shot. As a series detective, Father Christmas strikes me as being unmemorable other than his unusual name, and there is only so far you can go with a pun. Still, there are nine books to go, and plenty of time for the series to find its legs. In the meantime, Miranda is the sleeper in this series, and it will be interesting to see how her character develops.
Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.