CHRISTMAS MYSTERY — WITH FINCHES

Considering that the first crop of Christmas-themed books came out in late September (three months before Christmas!), I’m not going to rant about how ridiculous it is to have a new Christmas mystery published in late October (still two months early, and long before most of us are even thinking about the holidays with anything other than a vague sense of dread). Instead, I want to point readers to a series that’s lots of fun and that, despite having a Christmas setting, isn’t about romance and isn’t unduly sweet.

If you haven’t read any of Donna Andrews’ Meg Lanslow mysteries, and you’re a fan of cozies (as compared to the police procedurals or the really dark twisted mysteries from, say, Scandinavia), you’ve been missing out.  Meg, the protagonist of the series, is unusual for a main character in a cozy in that she doesn’t run a shop of any kind, but works as a blacksmith.  She lives with her husband and children in a small town in Virginia, which is also the home of her rather eccentric birth family.  She is, as all such protagonists have to be, quite good at solving mysteries that baffle the police, but the real fun of the series (which is now in its 23rd book) is the interactions among the characters. If you like Grandma Mazur and Stephanie’s relatives in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, you’ll love Meg and her family. You don’t necessarily need to read the series in order (but once you’re hooked, you’ll want to go back and read them all) to enjoy this book,

How the Finch Stole Christmas is the third Christmas-themed mystery in this series, following last year’s The Nightingales Before Christmas and Duck the Halls in 2014 (if you’re noticing a certain theme in the titles, you’re right). In this book, Meg’s husband, who has in earlier years done a one-man performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at Christmas time, has decided to expand the performance to include a full cast.  This gives him an opportunity to get his and Meg’s twin sons on stage, one as the young Scrooge and the other as Tiny Tim, which leads to natural complications.  But there’s worse, because one Malcolm Haver joins the cast and immediately causes massive drama.  Malcolm has an ego the size of a planet, a drinking problem, and a contract that allows him to get paid as long as he steps on the stage, regardless of his state of inebriation, and enemies galore.  Meg gets the thankless job of keeping Haver from the bottle as part of her duties as assistant to her husband, the director, and finding out who’s supplying him with liquor.  Also, why are there so many caged finches all over the place?

With just enough Christmas spirit and lots of atmosphere and family humor, and likable, if somewhat eccentric and odd, characters, How the Finch Stole Christmas is a Christmas book you can enjoy even two months before the holidays.

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