Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Rest You Merry: Charlotte MacLeod


Description of the book at Amazon:
Each December, the faculty of Balaclava Agricultural College goes wild with Christmas lights. The entire campus glitters with holiday decorations, save for one dark spot: the home of professor Peter Shandy. But after years of resisting the Illumination festival, Shandy snaps, installing a million-watt display of flashing lights and blaring music perfectly calculated to drive his neighbors mad. The horticulturalist flees town, planning to spend Christmas on a tramp steamer, but soon feels guilty about his prank and returns home to find his Christmas lights extinguished, and a dead librarian in his living room.
Charlotte MacLeod is a mystery author known for her unconventional characters and outrageous plots. Rest You Merry, published in 1979, was her first mystery novel. It was followed by nine more in the Peter Shandy series, ending in 1996. While she was writing that series, she had three other series going. The Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn series was published under her own name. Under the pseudonym of Alisa Craig she wrote the Grub and Stakers series and a series featuring Detective Inspector Madoc Rhys of the Royal Canadian Mounties.

I really enjoyed this book when I first read it back in the eighties. I read the next two or three in the series and I read several of the Sarah Kelling series. Before that I had read comic mysteries by Donald Westlake. My propensity for humor in fiction must have disappeared along the way, because I don't seek that sub-genre of mystery out much and generally don't enjoy it when I do.

That being said, this was a fine mystery, even if the story was a tad more unrealistic than I remembered. There is a romance and I loved it; I usually have the opposite reaction. Peter Shandy is a wonderful protagonist; one of the characters is a librarian and books figure into the solution. I bought a copy of the 2nd book in the series at the same time I got this one and I will read it sometime soon.

MacLeod's mysteries are mentioned in this interesting article on comic crime fiction at the website of the Whodunit? Mystery Bookstore:
MacLeod specialized in over-the-top characters with funny names, operating in strange situations. Her humour was very broad, hardly subtle, or to everyone’s taste. There were ten novels set in Balaclava College (beginning in 1978), an educational institution of higher learning in New England which bore no resemblance to any real operation I ever knew. Then there were twelve Kelling books, set in Boston and environs and featuring a very gutsy heroine with the most incredible cast of relatives it is possible to imagine. 
Between the two series, this first book in the Peter Shandy series is my favorite of the Charlotte MacLeod books, but the Sarah Kelling series appealed to me more overall. I haven't tried the series written as Alisa Craig, but I may try the one featuring the Royal Canadian Mounties.

Other resources

  • Les Blatt describes this novel as "a very amusing, very cozy mystery" in his review at Classic Mysteries.
  • Margot Kinberg of Confessions of a Mystery Novelist puts the Spotlight on the second book in the Sarah Kelling series, The Withdrawing Room.


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Publisher:   Avon Books, 1978
Length:       215 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Peter Shandy #1
Setting:      US
Genre:       Cozy mystery
Source:      This copy purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014.

19 comments:

  1. Must try her books some time - thanks TracyK - and hope you have a very merry Christmas.

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    1. Merry Christmas to you too, Sergio.

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  2. Tracy, "Happy Christmas" to you and everyone at home! I have never thought of humour in crime fiction. Maybe it's there in the novels I read but I don't see it. I'll kee an eye out for Charlotte MacLeod's books.

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    1. Prashant, often I read crime fiction that is labeled as humorous, and I don't get a lot of the humor. I mostly like books with subtle humor. Happy holidays to you.

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  3. I LOVE the top pic, is that a cover of one of the editions? It definitely makes me want to read the book. I have not read her but do have a couple on the shelf. This is the first year I've read a 'Christmas' themed mystery in December and it was delicious so I think I will do it every year!

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    1. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU AND YOUR HUBBY!

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    2. The top pic is indeed from a hard cover edition that I have of REST YOU MERRY. It was an old library edition not in great shape. I could not quite figure out where the novel is set, but definitely in the northern part of the US where there is snow. I will continue to read books set at Christmas every year, it helps get me in the spirit.

      Merry Christmas to you and your family and hope the rest of your holiday season is fun.

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  4. Tracy - I've always admired MacLeod's ability to juggle series. Glad you enjoyed this one, and thanks for the reminder that I ought to renew my acquaintance with the Peter Shandy novels.

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  5. ....and Merry Christmas to you and those you love!

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    1. Thanks for the Christmas wishes, Margot, and the same to you. Until I looked up MacLeod again recently, I did not realize that all her series had run concurrently. I was very surprised.

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  6. I think Bev of My Reader's Block would love this series, if she hasn't already read them. It sounds like a lot of fun. Hope you had a Merry Christmas.

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    1. I think you are right, Ryan. I may have seen a review of a later one in this series at her blog.

      I had a lovely Christmas, Ryan, quiet like I like it. Hope your holidays have been fun. I know you like everything about the Christmas season.

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  7. TracyK: It sounds like an interesting book. My best wishes to you and your family for a Merry Christmas!

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    1. It is interesting, Bill. Charlotte MacLeod was born in Canada but spent most of her life in the US. I think the two series written as Alisa Craig are both set in Canada and I should give them a try.

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  8. Doesn't John Grisham have a book with a similar plotline? I read a few McCleods, but not this one, many years ago, but like you I lost my taste for comic crime books. I might get out some of my old ones by her and re-read.

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    1. And, btw, Happy Christmas to you and yours!

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    2. Moira, I kept seeing mention of Skipping Christmas by Grisham when I was looking this book up, so I guess that is the one you are thinking of. Now I have looked that book up a bit more and I may try it someday. Not a mystery though... I have only read one Grisham book and have 3 or 4 that I bought from the book sale this year that I want to read soon.

      We are having a lovely time off. Glen and I both get a week and a half off at this time of year due to working for educational institutions... and we really enjoy it.

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  9. Sounds quite good, but I'll pass.......too much already!

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    1. That's OK, Col. I know you have a copious amount of books to read, as do I.

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