Canadian author C.C. Benison returns to the idyllic village of Thornford Regis where local vicar Tom Christmas again assists the authorities investigating a murder.
Although he isn’t a big fan of haggis, Father Tom has been invited to attend the annual Burns Dinner held by the Thistle But Mostly Rose Pipe Band at a local inn. While a blizzard blankets the village, the pipers and their chaplain enjoy an evening of fellowship, scotch and good food.
Unfortunately, the festivities end on a tragic note when one of the revelers, the owner of the hotel, is found dead, apparently of a heart attack, in one of the upstairs rooms. When an autopsy shows the man’s death was the result of the consumption of the berries of the yew tree rather than natural causes, the question becomes was this an accident or murder?
With a cast of characters that fills nearly three pages, there are plenty of individuals who might have had a hand in the innkeeper’s demise. And, 371 pages into this lengthy novel, a second fatality, this time caused by a shotgun blast, muddies the case and makes it even more enigmatic.
The observation one of the key characters makes that the past has an uncanny way of intruding on the present is the key to unraveling this rather convoluted mystery. A series of secrets, including illicit trysts and murder that date back a generation, touch the lives of many of the central characters.
At nearly 500 pages, it takes a while to unravel the relationships and ascertain what really has happened here, but that’s not necessarily a problem. Much of the charm of this new series lies in the getting to know the characters, especially the ones who are making more than just a cameo appearance. Delving into their lives is as entertaining as figuring out “who dun it”!
Father Tom Christmas, the recently widowed vicar adjusting to life in the English village of Thornford Regis, would do almost anything to avoid attending the annual Robert Burns Supper at the local hotel. But as chaplain to a traditional Scottish pipe band, Father Tom must deliver the grace—and contend with wailing bagpipes, whiskey-laced parishioners reciting poetry, and the culinary abomination that is haggis.
As snow falls to unprecedented depths, the revelers carry on—briefly interrupted by an enigmatic stranger seeking shelter. Then Will Moir, proprietor of the hotel and a dedicated piper, inexplicably goes missing—only to be found later in the hotel’s dark tower, alone and dead from what appears to be a heart attack.
Father Tom’s own heart sinks when he learns the actual cause of Will’s demise. When word gets out, the flurry of innocent speculation descends into outlandish gossip. And, for all its tranquil charm, Thornford Regis has plenty to gossip about—illicit trysts, muted violence, private sorrows, and old, unresolved tragedies. The question is: Who would benefit most from the piper’s death? Suspicion swirls around many, including Will’s beautiful widow, their shadowy son, Will’s obnoxious brother-in-law, and even the mysterious party crasher, who knows more than she lets on about the grudges she left behind—but never forgot.
Brimming with wit, full of genuine surprise, and featuring one of the most memorable (and unlikely) detectives in mystery fiction, C. C. Benison’s second Father Christmas mystery will delight readers with a puzzle that truly defies solution.