The Usual Santas
A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers
Foreward by Peter Lovesey
Soho Crime, October 2017
Here’s a collection that is sometimes amusing, sometimes dark, sometimes teaches a lesson, and is always entertaining. Set in most time periods, the stories will take the Christmas season all around the world. Thieves, murderers, revenge seekers and even cranky old women take their turns in making a memorable holiday.
In an outstanding collection, to my personal taste (yours most certainly may differ), some stand out. In a book with three different sections, the first being “Joy to the World: various acts of kindness at Christmas,” the lead-off story is a hoot. Suffice it to say, “don’t mess with ninety-year-old ladies. In “An Elderly Lady Seek Peace at Christmastime” by Helene Tursten, Maud is sick of the man in the apartment upstairs abusing his wife. The blows, the cursing, the sobbing destroy every vestige of her peace. And so, she takes matters into her own hands.
All the stories in this section are surprising. With a cast of authors like Timothy Hallinan and Teresa Dovalpage, among others, it’s what you can expect.
The second section is “Silent Night: the darkest of holiday noir.” My favorite—or perhaps I should say, most standout story, one that stays with me, is by James R. Benn titled “Red Christmas.” The tale involves a discharged soldier arriving in a small town to give details of his friend’s death in a North Korean POW camp to the parents. He just doesn’t quite know how to begin. As he remembers back to their time in the POW camp, the events are dark indeed. Colin Cotterill, one of my favorite authors, also has a story in this section, as do Henry Chang, Ed Lin, Stuart Neville, and Tod Goldberg.
The final section, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and other Holiday Secrets,” will certainly give a fresh slant on cozy kisses, peace on earth and all the other tropes whether 1920s Bombay with Sujata Massey or Niccolo Machiavelli and Cesarev Borgia, those fine sons of Italy, with Gary Corby.
The foreward by Peter Lovesey, along with the final story in the book, gives fair warning. Be prepared to see the season in a whole new light. Could it be the Christmas star? Because every story is a shining star.
Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2020.
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel