Poor Father Christmas. First, he’s Father Tom Christmas, a vicar in the Church of England, not Santa Claus, but his name, along with the title of C. C. Benison’s mystery, Twelve Drummers Drumming, is a nice hook for a cozy mystery even if the story has absolutely no connection to the holiday. Ah, to have your name be reduced to a gimmick. He does have quite a backstory, though. His mother was the winner of a Eurovision singing contest, but then his parents died when he was a baby, then his adoptive parents died, so that makes him an orphan twice-over. He was raised, I think, by his adoptive father’s sister and her partner. Fast forward. He becomes a magician but during a stint on a cruise ship realizes that there is more to life and eventually becomes a priest. Then, while serving a church in a city, his wife is murdered, leading him to move with his nine year-old daughter to the safe, rural town of Thornford Regis. It’s almost too much for one person, isn’t it? Oh, and the daughter’s Jewish, attending synagogue with her aunt. The idyllic life is shattered for Tom when a young woman is found murdered at the May Fayre, and he realizes that even this small town can harbor violence. I’m guessing a lot of violence, if Benison’s going to keep going through the whole twelve days of Christmas.
Like any good fictional small town, Thornford Regis is home to an assorted cast of characters, from an artist to a former rock star, nosy old-women to a rather secretive, if attractive, church caretaker. And almost everyone has a secret to hide: theft, past murders, affairs. It’s a traditional mystery, we have two detectives but it’s our vicar who solves the crime by asking the right questions and listening to his parishioners. He’s a smart, charming man, who I actually did enjoy getting to know, despite the “after-school special” past.
The plot is well-done. There are several possible motives and suspects, but in the end the culprit makes sense. I did guess who it was a little early, but it was more luck than anything. It’s really just a good mystery, and I can’t fault it for having a schtick, a lot of cozies do, and in all honesty, it probably wouldn’t have caught my notice otherwise. That cover and title are attention-grabbing, especially in December, which is when I found this audio on my library’s website. I will be picking up the second in the series, presuming my library gets it in on audio.
Just a note on the audio. Everyday the vicarage housekeeper writes a letter to her mother. These portions are read by a different narrator from the rest of the story. At first, I found this a little jarring, the change in voice pulled me out of the story, but I did settle into it within the first few chapters.
4 out of 5 stars
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Father Christmas #1
Published October 25, 2011
14 hours, 5 minutes
Read by Steve West and Jean Gilpin
Book source: Library
Father Christmas Mysteries
- Twelve Drummers Drumming
- Eleven Pipers Piping
That back story kind of puts me off! But it does sound fun otherwise.