Ho Ho Whodunits | Christmas Mysteries

It’s not all sugar plums and stockings in this holiday season’s mysteries.

McKinlay, Jenn. Sugar Plum Poisoned. Berkley. (Cupcake Bakery Mystery, Bk. 15). Oct. 2023. 304p. ISBN 9780593549124. pap. $8.99. M

McKinlay’s 15th installment of her “Cupcake Bakery Mystery” series (following Strawberried Alive) demonstrates her cozy mystery chops. The story follows bakers Mel and Angie as they solve another murder while dishing out their delicious-sounding cupcakes (recipes included, of course). Shelby Vaughn, rising country music star and friend of Angie, comes to town to do a Christmas song showcase and falls under suspicion when her overbearing manager, with whom she recently quarreled, ends up dead. Mel and Angie swing into action to clear their friend. While savvy readers may figure out the case more quickly than Angie and Mel do, the story is compelling, with smooth dialogue and fleshed-out main characters, allowing readers to be fully engaged. The supporting cast is large, and trying to figure out their connections and motivations could be distracting if this is a reader’s introduction to the series. VERDICT Readers of cozy mysteries, fans of McKinlay, and anyone looking for a fun Christmas-themed novel will enjoy.—Jenny Shonk

Meade, Amy Patricia. Cold Turkey. Severn House. (Tish Tarragon Mystery, Bk. 7). Oct. 2023. 224p. ISBN 9781448306558. $31.99. M

With elaborate relationships, juicy secrets, and nefarious schemes, Meade’s seventh Tish Tarragon novel (following Of Mushrooms and Matrimony) is another savory murder mystery. Tish has a lot to be thankful for: an understanding boyfriend, a close group of friends, the forthcoming opening for her new Cookin’ the Books Café. But first, she has to handle catering for the Turkey Trot, Hobson Glen’s annual race, an event that’s been moved up to pre-Thanksgiving because of local politicians’ misguided priorities. As everyone assembles at the trailhead ready to run at the starter’s pistol, they instead hear deadly shots fired, and the deputy mayor is killed. Tish has established her sleuthing abilities, and she confidently assists Sheriff Reade in solving the murder. The victim’s immoral politics result in a significant list of suspects, and they all give riveting testimonies that further complicate the investigation. Although the jolting reveals could have had more emotional impact, given the complex histories of the suspects, the book still builds a compelling plot. VERDICT Fans of the series will enjoy the camaraderie and supportiveness between Tish and recurring characters, as well as the delicious menu cooked up for the upcoming holiday and Tish’s new café.—Hazel Ureta

Quinn, Spencer. Up on the Woof Top. Forge. (A Chet & Bernie Mystery, Bk. 14). Oct. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9781250843302. $27.99. M

In their 14th adventure (following Bark to the Future), Chet the dog and Bernie the human meet famous Christmas-mysteries writer Dame Ariadne Carlisle at a book signing and are contacted by her soon after. Rudy, one of the nine reindeer who roam Kringle Ranch, Ariadne’s estate in the mountains, has disappeared, and Chet and Bernie are the perfect detectives to find him. The duo learns about the author’s friends and hangers-on, as well as her tragic past in this small mountain town. As they search the estate, the two detectives find the body of Ariadne’s personal assistant at the base of a cliff from which he has presumably fallen. When they learn it is also the site of a tragedy from Ariadne’s youth, they wonder if it was an accident and if the two events are connected. With a Christmas deadline approaching, Chet and Bernie face dangers both natural and manmade to solve a case that becomes more complicated the deeper they dig. VERDICT Fans of the series will enjoy this latest case of Chet and Bernie’s. Quinn continues to perfectly capture the inner voice of the canine detective, and the Christmas setting provides many opportunities for seasonal wordplay.—Dan Forrest

Unger, Lisa. Christmas Presents. Mysterious Pr. Oct. 2023. 224p. ISBN 9781613164518. $23.95. SUSPENSE

Madeline Martin, owner of an independent bookstore and daughter of Sheriff James Martin, suffers survivor’s guilt and PTSD from events in 2014. She’s reluctant to cooperate when Harley Granger, a successful true-crime author and podcaster, shows up around Christmastime, wanting to talk about Evan Handy. At 17, Madeline was part of a group that had known each other forever—Stephanie Cramer, sisters Ainsley and Samantha Wallace, and Madeline’s best friend Badger. When Evan moved to town, he came with a reputation, but Madeline broke every rule to be with him. It all came crashing down when Stephanie was murdered at a party at Evan’s house; Ainsley and Sam disappeared, and Madeline was left for dead. Sheriff Martin arrested Evan but, convinced there was a second person involved, hunted for that person until suffering a stroke. Now Granger wants to stir everything up. With another girl’s disappearance, Granger points out that five girls have disappeared in the last 10 years. Was Evan innocent? VERDICT The latest psychological suspense by the author of Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six emphasizes survivor’s guilt and the inability to move on in this compelling story.—Lesa Holstine

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