Today I have a review of The Deaths of December by Susi Holliday as part of my Festive Reads feature and as a lead in to the December First Monday Crime panel which will feature Ms Holliday. Two birds, one review – tidy.
The Official Book Blurb
The hunt is on for a serial killer in this thrilling festive crime novel
It looks like a regular advent calendar.
Until DC Becky Greene starts opening doors…and discovers a crime scene behind almost every one.
The police hope it’s a prank. Because if it isn’t, a murderer has just surfaced – someone who’s been killing for twenty years.
But why now? And why has he sent it to this police station?
As the country relaxes into festive cheer, Greene and DS Eddie Carmine must race against time to catch the killer. Because there are four doors left, and four murders will fill them…
It’s shaping up to be a deadly little Christmas.
I’m getting to be quite the audio book demon at the moment as I listened to rather than read this wonderful gem of an anti-Christmas book. By anti-Christmas, I don’t mean that everyone in the book hates the festive season, although some had reason to more than most. I simply meant that with a murderer in the hot seat, it was far from a case of peace and goodwill to all – just how I like it.
The basic premise of the book? Well, the police receive a mysterious gift addressed to no-one and everyone, a home made advent calendar where behind each window lies a festive scene with a difference. Each scene depicts a murder, but as to who the victims are and why the police have been sent the calendar, this falls to Detective Sergeant Eddie Carmine and DC Becky Greene to find out. With several windows left blank, they have a race against the clock to stop the killer before they can finish their game. How far the killer will go Carmine and Green have no idea, but the killer could be a lot closer to home than either of them can possibly realize. Tense and chilling this is a perfect antidote to those dreading the happy festive period.
I was intrigued from the very start by this book. Not just because the central characters, Carmine and Greene exchange pleasantries in McDonalds and I was, at the time, fairly hungry and could have happily hoofed down a McMuffin. There was just something about the characters which captured my attention, and as Greene returned to the station and discovered the calendar, from there on in I was hooked. Told from several points of view, namely those of the Detectives, a woman called Carly and ‘The Photographer’, readers are taken on one heck of a journey, not always pleasant, often tense but undoubtedly entertaining. Each character brought about different emotions or feelings in me as a reader. Take Carly for example, frustrated by her life and the lack of love from her husband, a woman who I could feel great sympathy for. The overbearing mother who never listened, the children who have all but outgrown her, the husband who is never there … There is more to Carly and her story than meets the eye, and the author does a brilliant job of drip feeding this information into the narrative.
Then you have the Detectives, Carmine and Greene. Both are facing an element of uncertainty in their personal lives, not enough to impact their investigation, but enough to keep them interesting. Greene is young and astute and I instantly liked her. Carmine is older and perhaps more cynical, but he has a surprising connection to the killer. There is a reason that they chose that particular police station to send their calendar to, all they need to work out is why. They make a really good team, feeding off each other, and it’s a partnership I was more than happy to follow.
And there there is ‘The Photographer’. They have their reasons for killing people, at least in their own mind. The justification is weak at best, deranged at worst, but I can understand the devolution of their mind and I think this was portrayed quite sympathetically in the story. It comes to a point though, where even they don’t fully understand their actions, where they realize that a hypothetical line has been crossed, one from which there really is no return. I can almost feel sympathy for their situation but not empathy or forgiveness for their actions.
I loved the story which developed, the plotting tight enough to keep me completely focused on the action. There are moments where I could feel my nerves jangling as the level of peril for certain characters increased. The whole feeling of danger surrounding the two Detectives was off the scale towards the end of the book. And I particularly loved the nod to one of my favourite TV shows of the late nineties. I instantly recognised the names and it was with a slight smile on my face that I listened on (or technically turned the page as I read that actual chapter) and found myself faced with what I already expected.
All in all I found this was a really great book and a fabulous way to avoid celebrating Christmas cheer. Works for me. It wasn’t entirely without a hint of a happy ending, but that was just a side order to an industrial sized feast of a serial killer story. Loved it.
My thanks to publishers Mulholland Books for providing an advance copy of the book for review via Netgalley. The Deaths of December is available now from the following retailers:
About the Author
Susi Holliday grew up in East Lothian. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham competition. She is the author of three novels in the Banktoun trilogy, Black Wood, Willow Walk and The Damselfly. She is married and lives in London.
Susi Holliday will be appearing at First Monday Crime in December. The event this month is a real holiday treat! Not only do they have a cracking panel- Louise Jensen, Chris Whitaker, Susi Holliday, Mel McGrath, moderated by the lovely Claire McGowan, but wine will be graciously sponsored by No Exit Press.
As an extra festive bonus, some of the finest crime fiction authors in the WORLD are going to pitch their cherished dream projects to you, the audience. A panel of experts, with savage wit and repartee, will be there to add commentary, but YOU decide who the winner is! There will be tears, laughter and possibly dinosaur detectives.
This part of the event will be crafted under the careful and caring gaze of MC Howard Linskey, Rod Reynolds, Abir Mukherjee, Cass Green, Leye Adenle, Susi Holliday, Derek Farrell, Lisa Cutts, Chris Whitaker, Mason Cross, Neil White and James Carol as they vie for the ultimate prize: the coveted title of First Monday Pitch an Audience Champion 2017.
And don’t forget to take part in the Secret Santa Book Exchange. Bring a book (pre-loved is fine!) wrapped in tissue/news/wrapping paper and get a book in return!
You can book tickets and learn more about First Monday Crime, at their website here.