The residents of Tinker's Cove, Maine, have been hit hard by the Great Recession, and it's only getting worse as the town council cuts employees' hours. The only ones who seem to be raking in the dough are the owners of Downeast Mortgage: Jake Marlowe and Ben Scribner. When a package bomb kills Marlowe, the list of suspects seem to include nearly everyone in town, and local reporter Lucy Stone just has to do some investigating of her own... when she's not rehearsing as part of the community theater's production of "A Christmas Carol."
This may be the twentieth Lucy Stone mystery, but it's the first for me, and I found it very enjoyable. The book's title and Jake Marlowe's name in the very first line told me that this was a take-off on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and I had fun noticing all the parallels between the two. The mystery is a good one, and I barely had the killer identified before Lucy, but there's a lot more to this book than whodunit.
I really liked the working class small town setting of Christmas Carol Murder. This is a place where the residents all seem to know-- and care about-- each other. If your hours have been cut, people know. If you're struggling to make your mortgage payments, people know. This could feel a bit creepy and just grist for the local gossip mill, but as I mentioned before, the Tinker's Cove residents really seem to care about each other. Not having read any of the previous books in the series, I am still going to assume that the tone of this book may be a little darker than usual. Recession, foreclosure, smaller paychecks, a very sick child... but just remember how Dickens' tale turned out and you won't be led astray.
The characters are a real source of strength in this book, too. Lucy Stone is a reporter for a small town newspaper, and I really got a feeling for how these institutions are struggling to survive. Lucy is bright and funny and nosy (in a good way). She's got a daughter who's just started college-- and just become CEO of the My-Parents-Are-Too-Stupid-To-Live Club. Trying to report the news, learn her Mrs. Cratchit lines for the play, solve a murder, keep her husband and youngest daughter fed and happy, and deal with Sara the Diva Daughter are about ten things too many for Lucy's To Do list, but somehow she manages. The youngest daughter's behavior throughout the book (and Lucy's reactions to it) kept me laughing. In many ways, Leslie Meier has written the best true-to-life family dynamics that I've read in a long time.
This was a light, fun read that kept me guessing and smiling. Something tells me that I just may be visiting Tinker's Cove, Maine again in the future.
Christmas Carol Murder by Leslie Meier
Kensington Publishing Corporation © 2013
Hardcover, 262 pages
Cozy Mystery, #20 Lucy Stone mystery
Source: Prize won at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore.