Oh, I have had this book on my TBR for far too long, having been gifted it last December! Today I finally share my thoughts on The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict. It’s recently been released in paperback so better late than never right? Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
Twelve days of Christmas.
But who will survive until Twelfth Night?
Lily Armitage never intended to return to Endgame House – the grand family home where her mother died twenty-one Christmases ago. Until she receives a letter from her aunt, asking her to return to take part in an annual tradition: the Christmas Game. The challenge? Solve twelve clues, to find twelve keys. The prize? The deeds to the manor house.
Lily has no desire to win the house. But her aunt makes one more promise: The clues will also reveal who really killed Lily’s mother all those years ago.
So, for the twelve days of Christmas, Lily must stay at Endgame House with her estranged cousins and unravel the riddles that hold the key not just to the family home, but to its darkest secrets. However, it soon becomes clear that her cousins all have their own reasons for wanting to win the house – and not all of them are playing fair.
As a snowstorm cuts them off from the village, the game turns deadly. Soon Lily realises that she is no longer fighting for an inheritance, but for her life.
This Christmas is to die for . . . Let the game begin
Murder, mystery, suspense, puzzles and kind of locked room mystery with a twist – what’s not to love? With all the essence of a classic Christie tale but with an altogether modern day twist, Alexandra Benedict has created a story that kept me completely riveted from start to finish as I followed Lily on her quest to solve the mysteries of Endgame House. And there are two mysteries in play here. The first, and the reason most of her extended family are there, is to find a secret room within the house and to win the deeds to the sprawling property. The second, and a quest far more personal to Lily, is to find out what really happened to her mother, all those years ago.
I loved the way in which the author has framed this story. The family arriving on Christmas Eve to told the extent of Liliana’s plans for them all. The skilful way in which the animosity and old relationships, good and bad, are brought into the here and now, letting you see just how fraught, and competitive, this hunt is going to get. Setting us up the complete isolation that the guests of Endgame House are going to feel – although no-one could have predicted just how isolated and deadly things are about to become … Well – we could really as this isn’t called the Christmas Murder Game for nothing. It’s not like they were all going to sit around playing Monopoly after a loverly turkey dinner now, was it? Although, an extended game of Monopoly with a competitive family can seem like hell on earth so … But, that aside, it really gave me that gleeful little chuckle knowing that the story was going to take a somewhat sinister and unpredictable turn. And turn it did.
There is a real sense of atmosphere and a kind of gothic edge to the setting of Endgame House. It has a checkered history, one which is the cause of nightmares for Lily and, in fairness, not exactly full of fond memories for the rest of the family. The more we learn of the past, the more twisted the present becomes and the more inevitable the future becomes too. I liked the sense of isolation, the way in which the author has our cast of characters not trapped in a locked room, but a cut off estate. Sprawling and yet claustrophobic, with a sense that the threat could be hiding anywhere and could hit you, perhaps literally, at any time. In a very snowy and bleak winter setting, we are treated to anything but Christmas cheer and I loved it.
Characters are perfectly drawn, and with such a varied bunch there are those you will love, those you will hate and those we perhaps just don’t get to know well enough. Aside from protagonist Lily, whose perspective we follow throughout the book, there are few characters I really warmed to, although I did have a healthy respect for the housekeeper Mrs Castle, who had the measure of the guests pretty quickly and took no prisoners when it came to dealing with their attitudes. Lily was a character that it was easy to feel an attachment to, and the author has done a brilliant join in capturing her apprehension in returning to Endgame and the way it affects her emotionally. She is someone who is far stronger than she believes, but also an intelligent and empathetic character who helps lead us through the various clues left by Liliana. As for her cousins, I liked Ronnie, as short as our interactions were, and felt something for Gray, whose every move was overshadowed by his overbearing sister, Sara.
I liked the used of the clues, one a day over the twelve days of Christmas, and the way in which they were slowly revealed to both reader and hunter. Written as a series of sonnets, their meaning is not immediately clear to readers as we do not have the knowledge of the characters in the book. But seeing them broken down, largely by Lily, they are very clever and very subtle. The author does set us our own clues and mysteries to uncover too, so it is up to you as a reader whether or not you want to play that particular game. I just enjoyed the flow of the story, finding myself too wrapped up in Lily’s world to look for the puzzles set out for us, but if I were to read again I know I’d pay more attention and test myself. See just how limited my knowledge really it (very – we can take that as read …)
Is this a Christmas book? Well – yes, in as much as it’s set at Christmas and the New Year, but it’s probably about as much a Christmas book as Die Hard is a Christmas movie. (I’ll let you argue amongst yourselves about that one …) It’s not all wacky jumpers around an open fire, Christmas carols, mistletoe and mulled wine, although a few of those items may, or may not, feature. It’s a book about murder, family, greed, generosity, hatred and forgiveness, all wrapped up in one. Full of secrets, tension, mystery and ghosts of the past (and maybe present), it was a book I thoroughly enjoyed and heartily recommend for anyone who likes their festive fiction just a little less on the jolly side.
About the Author
Alexandra Benedict read English at Cambridge and studied creative writing at Sussex. She composed film and television soundtracks, as well as performing as a musician before becoming a full-time writer in 2012. As A. K. Benedict, she published the critically acclaimed The Beauty of Murder and The Evidence of Ghosts.
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