In Murder on the First Day of Christmas by Billie Thomas, Chloe is busy helping her mother, the famous decorator Amanda Carstairs, set up a life-size nativity scene when the neighbors’ dog steals baby Jesus. Soon the dog leads the pair to the house of Saul Taylor, a notorious true crime writer, on whose doormat lies a foreign object right inside the O in Noel. As the women scream, Saul comes out to find a dead rat grasped in a severed hand wearing his own pinky ring. The hand becomes the talk of Saul’s Christmas party, which he always makes sure to hold as the first Christmas party of the year. Saul’s co-host of the party is his long-time girlfriend, Robin Woodall, whom Saul met while investigating his book Lady Killers about so-called black widows. Saul makes a regular joke about not marrying Robin because he wants to stay alive. Then, not long after Robin gets him to take his heart medicine, digitalis, Saul falls over dead.
The whole community is abuzz with the news, but life must move on, so the mother/ daughter pair decorate another house. But another man gets murdered, leaving the entire town full of gossip about what may have happened. The police seem divided in their suspicions between Saul’s girlfriend, Robin, and his researcher, Angela, who is the daughter of Amanda’s late best friend. Amanda feels so much urgency on behalf of Angela that she ropes in Chloe to help her investigate and assist her friend’s daughter, even though it is not obvious to us readers that Angela is truly innocent.
Murder on the First Day of Christmas grips the reader from the very start. The opening scene of the dog taking off with Baby Jesus and finding the severed hand proves to be highly entertaining. The book just continues with this fun from this moment.
The greatest strength of this book is the creativity of the characters in the book. Narrated by Chloe, the book shows the unique details of the lives of the characters in all their flaws and strengths. We see Chloe’s obsession with clothing and what to wear for each occasion. We also see her crazy situations with her best friend and the friend’s tumultuous relationship with her fiance. But best of all, we see the highs and lows of Chloe’s family life. The one detail that seems strange is the way Chloe switches between calling her mother “Mom” and referring to her as “Amanda,” sometimes in the same sentence.
The audio edition of this book is performed ably by Rebecca Ortiz. Ortiz seems well suited to perform the role of narrator Chloe, who tends to take a catty tone when talking about others in her life. Further, Ortiz has created strong voices and accents for the characters, making them highly believable.
I enjoyed listening to Murder on the First Day of Christmas. It had a very satisfying conclusion that left me surprised yet not feeling cheated of the chance to guess the ending. But I am more interested in the process of solving a mystery than in trying to beat the detective. The characters had fun quirkiness to them, with enough annoying elements to them to make them real. I heartily recommend this book and give it five stars.
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