Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas is Murder: C. S. Challinor

Of the five Christmas mysteries that I read this year, three were set in a country house surrounded by snow.

This summary is from the starred review at Booklist...
The amateur detective is Rex Graves, a Scottish barrister, fond of Sudoku puzzles and Latin quotations... Although set firmly in the present, with numerous references to the Iraq War, this tale reads like a classic country-house mystery. Rex and the others are snowed in at the Swanmere Manor hotel in East Sussex, England. Being the last to arrive (on two tennis rackets lashed to his feet à la snowshoes), Rex immediately hears of the unexpected demise of one of the other guests. Even though they are in touch with the outside world, the authorities instruct the hotel staff to keep the body in a cool room with the windows open.
A guest who is a paramedic takes Rex aside and voices his suspicion that the death was not a heart attack, but poisoning. Rex takes it upon himself to unravel the mystery while waiting for the authorities to arrive.

I am of two minds about this book. On the positive side, it kept me entertained and my interest in the story did not lag. Unfortunately, I had several niggles that I could not ignore. There were problems with the logic throughout, and (most of) the characters were not convincing or very interesting. The denouement did not seem to make sense to me and the way it was handled was too frivolous and light. The attitude seemed to be "let's get this done with and move on to the farewells."

There were some characters I liked. Two of the guests, Anthony Smart, an antique dealer, and Patrick Vance, Smart's gay partner, were charming and the most fun. I also like Clifford, who "just creaks along doing odd jobs in the house and garden. He lives alone in the lodge by the gate." Thus I have some confidence that, in future books, the author can come up with both a more convincing story line and characters that interest me.

Other positives: It is short, and the excerpt from the second novel that is included at the end of my edition reads very well.

My quandary is that, not only do I have mixed feelings about the book, I find that reviews are divided. About half the reviewers find this a fun cozy read, set in contemporary times but written like a traditional Golden Age mystery. The other half have similar complaints to mine. Also, the author has published eight books in this series, and this says to me that there are people enjoying the series. So, while I cannot recommend the book based on my experience, I can suggest that you give it a try if you think it may appeal to you. I will list some links to reviews at the end.

The second book in the series is set at an exclusive nudist resort in the French West Indies (Murder in the Raw). That sounds interesting. The third book is set in Florida (Phi Beta Murder), where Rex Graves' son is attending college. In the fourth book, Murder on the Moor, Rex finally spends some time in Scotland.

See reviews at:
florigegium444 (positive, and the reviewer also liked later books in the series)
Notes from a Readerholic (negative)
Letters from a Hill Farm (positive)
Mysterious Reviews (positive)

Per the author's site:
C.S. Challinor was raised and educated in Scotland (St. George's School for Girls, Edinburgh) and England (Lewes Priory, Sussex; University of Kent, Canterbury: Joint Hons Latin & French). She also holds a diploma in Russian from the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. She now lives in Southwest Florida.

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Publisher:   Midnight Ink, 2014 (orig. pub. 2008) 
Length:       200 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Rex Graves, #1
Setting:      Swanmere Manor, English countryside
Genre:       Amateur detective
Source:      I purchased this book in October 2015.


8 comments:

  1. I know what you mean, Tracy, about those mixed feelings. I've read books like that, too. And it's interesting that the reviews seem to reflect that 'of two minds' sort of attitude. Well, mixed feelings or not, I'm glad you found some things to enjoy.

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    1. It was a fun Christmas story, Margot. Some readers will really enjoy it.

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  2. I read this last year at Christmas and I had the very same reaction you did. I wanted to like it, but just couldn't.

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    1. Yes, some of the problems just bothered me, Jacqueline. I hope later books in the series are more to my taste.

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  3. Hmm - you do a good job of describing your mixed feelings, and leave me unsure whether I would enjoy it or not. It sounds as though I would have similar reservations to yours.

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    1. Thanks, Moira. It was difficult. I feel like a book that entertains is doing a good job, but I wanted the overall plot and character development to make more sense.

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  4. Tracy, much as I like the sound of this novel, I'm not sure I'd read this as my first Rex Graves mystery. I can overlook the niggles and absence of logic if the writing is really good.

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    1. A lot does depend on the writing, Prashant. I hope to check out a later book and see how it goes.

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