Christmas in August | Yuletide Mysteries

In these Christmas mysteries, the Queen of England investigates, a bookbinder suspects a Scottish librarian, and a Regency-era widow is snowed in with a murderer.

Bennett, SJ. Murder Most Royal. Morrow. (Her Majesty the Queen Investigates, Bk. 3). Sept. 2023. 304p. ISBN 9780063051201. $30. M

Residing at Sandringham House for the Christmas season, the Queen of England is pulled into another case when a disembodied hand washes up on the Norfolk coast near her estate. Aided once more by her redoubtable assistant private secretary Rozie Oshodi, she calmly but relentlessly picks the case apart in Bennett’s third “Her Majesty the Queen Investigates” series (following All the Queen’s Men). While the mystery is deftly plotted, its delights rest in the ways Bennett evokes character. Elizabeth has a sharply observant mind and an unflappable, stalwart demeanor, which is showcased wonderfully through interior and direct dialogue, as well as multiple interactions with a range of characters, from Philip to a stable hand, and, of course, with Rozie, who is new enough to be aware of royal life but is also very much her own self. Additional charms come through the pacing, which is at once brisk and sedate, as it unspools both through Elizabeth’s thoughts and the case’s developments on the ground. The settings are superb too, as is the pitch-perfect positioning of the novel as just on the other side of cozy. VERDICT Bennett’s newest is marvelous, as is her crackerjack royal detective.—Neal Wyatt

Carlisle, Kate. The Twelve Books of Christmas. Berkley. (Bibliophile Mystery, Bk. 17). Oct. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9780593637685. $27. M

Bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright and her security-expert husband, Derek Stone, are celebrating Christmas week with her family when a friend calls from Scotland. Cameron McKinnon, Laird of Castle McKinnon, has just proposed to fiancée Claire. He plans to marry after midnight on New Year’s Day and wants Brooklyn and Derek to be there. Beyond the wedding, there’s also the Scottish celebration of Hagmanay, and a mystery. Twelve Christmas books are missing from the castle library, and Claire needs Brooklyn’s help. Brooklyn doesn’t trust the new librarian, who is related to a group of powerful village women who want to take Claire down before she can marry the local laird. The wedding is already delayed by the wild Hagmanay celebration, but when Brooklyn and Derek find a body, Claire wonders if she and Cameron should get married at all. VERDICT Claire and Cameron, characters from the 15th in Carlisle’s series, Little Black Book, return in this delightful cozy that combines Christmas, Scottish customs, and food. A treat for fans of the series and holiday mysteries.—Lesa Holstine

Schellman, Katharine. Murder at Midnight. Crooked Lane. (Lily Adler, Bk. 4). Sept. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9781639104321. $29.99. M

It’s Christmas season in 1816, and Lily Adler is looking forward to celebrating at a neighbor’s estate, enjoying time with the family of her late husband Freddy Adler, the widower who is courting her, and Jack Hartley, Freddy’s childhood best friend. Jack’s younger sister Amelia is the talk of the party. She’s in the middle of a scandal, but she won’t talk about it with her family. Then a snowstorm hits, stranding all the neighbors who don’t live nearby. The next morning, a body is found in the snow. When he’s identified as the man who was involved in Amelia’s disgrace, suspicious eyes turn on her. The local magistrate, Lily’s brother-in-law Sir John Adler, is forced to investigate, and begs Lily to help him. Everyone trapped in the house has secrets: illicit romances, jewelry theft, poison, blackmail. Can Sir John and Lily uncover a murderer trapped in the house with them? VERDICT The Regency-era follow-up to Death at the Manor is a Christmas treat for fans of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Those who enjoy stranded guests in isolated locations will appreciate Schellman’s latest.—Lesa Holstine

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