Life of the party? Not…
Most writers are not-so-closeted introverts. We allow our characters to have a rich social life, knowing we can always kill them later if they’re having too much fun. But we ourselves have been known to view the arrival of the holiday season’s enforced festivities with the two-sided enthusiasm reserved for multiple root canal procedures or US presidential elections. On the one hand: dental torture and presidential candidates. But on the other hand? It does feel soooo good when it’s over.
So for all of us facing the
torture festive fun of holiday celebrations, I offer the following tips.
Occasion #1: The Friends Party. Since moving to the UK, I’ve learned the more they joke about something, the more seriously they take it. Like their Queen, their cricket, their eye-popping flavorings for potato crisps (chips), and their very-proper way to queue, they take their holiday celebrating seriously. By the time you leave a party, if you’re way too hot, way too full, and way WAY too drunk, you’ll know it was a successful party. [Bonus points if you wake up the next morning in a different UCJ (Ugly Christmas Jumper) than the one you wore the night before.]
Occasion #2: The Office Party. Instead of spending your
forced incarceration festive celebration revising your resume and applying for the new job you’re definitely going to need by tomorrow, you can grab your one lousy free drink festive beverage and seek the roof if those three people, two portable scanners, and a flexible mag flashlight from IT have finished their disturbing and anatomically improbable attempts at fornication/ the kitchen pantry/ the janitor’s closet some dignified privacy by commandeering the end toilet stall and barricading it against all comers no matter how desperate they claim to be.
Once safely locked in, open your phone to a good white noise app loud enough to drown out the piped-in Christmas music and/or the people in the next stall begging for the end of the world, and open your Kindle app to a sweetly seasonal murder mystery such as Cynthia Harrison’s Blue Lake Christmas Mystery [see review below] to take your mind off listening to the truly disturbing things your colleagues are doing in the adjacent stalls. And the best part? It’s such a quick breezy read that you’ll still have plenty of time to work on that resume before it’s safe to leave your refuge.
Occasion #3: The New Year’s Party. True confession: All my life, I’ve wanted to go to an honest-to-confetti New Year’s Eve bash. Back in my university days, I did come close to the New Year’s Eve party when a friend of my sister invited me to a Major Social Event—balloons, live big band, valet parking—at the family’s Lake Michigan shorefront estate on Chicago’s north side. By promising to care for his geriatric cats when he went on Spring Break, I managed to get the one other person on the planet who didn’t have a New Year’s Eve date to agree to come with me.
I never saw the party, but I did spend the next few days with the cats while my date went in for an emergency broken-jawectomy after slipping on the ice as we walked up to the front door of the party. My mother said that I at least owed him marriage after that, but I felt the cats were payment enough. Besides, I think a true gentleman would have refused to get into that ambulance until we’d counted down to midnight and had some champagne.
Sally got champagne, confetti, and a kiss at midnight. And she never had to take care of Harry’s cats…[NOTE FROM BARB: This New Year’s Eve—Hogmanay, here in Scotland—I’m heading for a sure winner, our village’s Family Hogmanay Dance. Watch this space for updates and meanwhile please let me wish each and every one of you Bliadhna Mhath Ùr.]
Life’s a beach in Blue Lake…except when dead bodies blow in with the snow.
All Holly wants for Christmas is to prove to her parents that her pricey college education was worth it. When she lands a reporting job in tiny Blue Lake, where the chill winds blow off Lake Huron all winter long, and a guest dies at a dinner party, she isn’t sure she can meet that goal. Holly has a second writing gig as a true crime reporter in mind, but there’s only one problem: the new love interest keeping her warm is determined she should not write about the one thing her heart desires.
Bob has one goal: to get his life back on track after a train wreck of a relationship with a fragile first love named Lily. Oh, it would also be nice to feel excited about work again. Not to mention Christmas. Holly’s new in town and she stirs something cheerfully seasonal in him, but when he realizes she’s willing to take down Lily for her own purposes, he decides a holiday romance is the last thing he needs.
My Review: 4 stars out of 5 for Blue Lake Christmas Mystery by Cynthia Harrison
In the 1930s, the biggest names in British detective stories formed the British Detection Club. They took an oath—
Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God? —Oath of the British Detection Club, 1930
…which most promptly violated to some degree. But author Cynthia Harrison would be a member in very good standing. Her new cozy mystery, Blue Lake Christmas Mystery, could be a laundry list for the genre’s main tropes—even if there are no little old ladies who like to knit, cats, or even cupcakes.
Her sleuth, newly-minted college grad and writer wannabe Holly is an amateur journalist and even more amateur detective. She sees investigating a recent Blue Lake scandal as her ticket to fame and fortune. When another murder occurs, she doesn’t hesitate to apply her newly acquired journalist credentials to her self-appointed detective role.
The action is set in Blue Lake, a tiny town on Michigan’s Lake Huron coast, where everyone (including Holly) is either related or part of generations of family friendships. When we meet the ambitious, painfully young Holly, she’s focussed on using her new role of junior (and only) reporter for the struggling local paper as a springboard to credibility for her secret project—a book revealing an inside look at a recent local tragedy involving her young cousin.
As Holly gets to know the people in the town, however, she begins to understand the trauma that exposing their pain and ongoing suffering for her own gain would cause for relatives and friends still struggling to recover. At the same time as she finds herself falling for the emotionally devastated young architect Bob, Holly is also applying her loose-cannon investigative skills to the latest murder, a much-disliked guest at the holiday dinner for the local Fun Divorce Club.
Also in keeping with the cozy genre, bodies pile up offstage, but actual blood/bodily fluids are kept to a minimum. Same goes for sex, actually. Holly’s on-again/off-again romance with Bob is indeed cozy, with misunderstandings, emotional baggage, and ever-present relatives combining to stall developments and physical demonstrations.
I enjoyed so many aspects of this book. Although there wasn’t much actual description of the town and surroundings, I’ve spent enough time in Michigan to be able to picture the setting. And I loved the authentic sounding interactions between the residents of Blue Lake, with their combination of humor and family snark that hinted at years or even generations of background.
Holly’s is also an interesting voice. She’s funny, immature, ambitious, and clever. “She may have overwhelmed Bob with her comments, because he went silent again. Holly briefly wondered if she should have gone to dental school. Conducting this interview was like pulling teeth.” But over the course of the book Holly learns and even grows into a mature understanding of her ambitions and her responsibilities.
Sure there were things that made me sit up and shake my head. There was the mysterious book agent who was supposedly offering a lucrative contract to the young, unpublished, and untried author who hadn’t even researched, let alone written, the book. (I’d love to live in that writing universe!) Then there were the members of the police and medical profession who apparently couldn’t wait to gift just-met reporter Holly with all manner of detail that must have violated every iota of regulation and ethics. And, of course, there’s Holly’s unexplained but apparently deep pockets which allow her to shrug off details about paychecks, and even on short notice “to buy a dress for the ball with a matching burgundy velvet coat.”
At first, the numerous coincidences and leaps of faith, instances of journalistic license, and unprofessional secret-sharing bothered me. But then I thought of the small towns I’ve lived in, their gossipy local papers, and the way everybody knows everything as soon as it happens, and I realized these are actually strengths of the book. So really, my only complaint is that Blue Lake Christmas reads like a middle book in a series, with people and events that were introduced and explained in earlier works.
I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys a quick-moving cozy mystery where you’ll figure out the murderer long before the amateur detective but have a great time along the way. It’s a fun winter read, so grab a cozy quilt and snuggle up next to the fire.
***I received this book from the publisher or author to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***