DI James Walker is rising through the ranks of the London police, but is forced to relocate to his wife’s home village of Kirkby Abbey when a local villain who he put away is released and swears revenge. Cumbria CID is a distinct change of pace, but things are about to change.
As Christmas approaches, a message arrives – Twelve Days, Twelve Murders – along with a dead partridge. When a local philanderer is stabbed, and another death follows, it seems that a serial killer is stalking the village. More messages follow – is the killer following a pattern, and are they closer to home than Walker thinks? And are there really twelve people in the village who deserve to die?
OK, let’s get something straight first of all. This is not a serial killer basing their crimes around the twelve days of Christmas. Which, of course, would be a stupid thing to do. Despite the “Twelve Days, Twelve Murders” tagline, it’s closer to “Eight days, three or four murders”. Just wanted to put that out there, in case you’re misled, so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
With that misconception out of the way, you can sit back and enjoy a Christmassy murder mystery. Except, no you won’t, because it’s not really that Christmassy. It’s set between the 15th and 23rd of December (it does mention that the Twelve Days do follow Christmas) but apart from a conversation near a nativity play, and messages in Christmas cards, it doesn’t feel very festive. Other Christmas books take the easy way out on this one – Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and The Murders Near Mapleton are both set on Christmas Day, so you get parties, trees, crackers, etc – but apart from a lot of snow, that’s not really on display here.
So what this is, basically, is a fairly standard police procedural which ticks a lot of boxes on police procedural bingo. Experienced detective relocates to a new area, tick, serial killer, tick, personal secrets, tick, possible link to the killer, tick, and so on. But it also falls into some standard traps. Most of the suspects are unlikeable, and the killer stands out like a sore thumb. Some of the behaviour of the killer – notably the order of the killings, adulterer first, murderer second – has to fall back on the “being mad” explanation. Some obvious leads are ignored – one in particular – until it is time for the finale, and even then, Walker suddenly has an extreme attack of the stupids in order to prolong the peril.
I think connoisseurs of classic mystery fiction should probably steer clear. This is a perfectly competent cosy-esque police procedural mystery that, in my opinion, the blurb does a reasonable job of mis-selling. I suppose the over-arching reaction is whether I’d read book two of the series, as there is a running plot that clearly is going to appear in that book. Unfortunately, the answer is probably not. The book is fine, but it didn’t excite me enough.
The Christmas Killer is out on 29th October from Avon Books. Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.