As Harry well knows, there’s hardly a place on earth cozier than Crozet, Virginia, at Christmastime. The snowflakes drifting lazily down, the soft glow of the winter light, the sound of old carols in the streets … even cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter get into the spirit, battling ornaments and climbing the holiday tree. In fact, it’s this year’s tree that Harry and her husband, Fair, have gone to fetch when they find the one they’ve chosen grimly decorated with a dead body.
The Snapshot Review
What I Liked: Mrs. Murphy, Pewter and Tucker are as fun as ever; Crozet, Virginia, is as cozy as ever; and the snow and lights and merry-making add up to a Christmas-y feel, in spite of the murders. The mystery is a good, solid one. And the illustrations by Michael Gallatly are lovely.
Not Thrilled With: Unlike previous Mrs. Murphy mysteries, the characterizations just aren’t quite there. Dialogue in particular is a bit clipped.
Ms. Bookish’s Very Quick Take: A fun read for Mrs. Murphy fans, though readers new to the series should make sure to check out a previous book in the series, too.
The Full Review of Santa Clawed
Crozet is gearing up for Christmas, and it looks like it’s going to be a fun one, with a wonderful snowfall that can’t help but add to the Christmas spirit. But then disaster strikes: Harry and her husband Fair find the body of Brother Christopher near the tree they had picked out at the Christmas tree farm run by the local Brothers of Love, a monastery that is well-known for its hospice care.
Both Harry and Fair went to school with Brother Christopher, who had been convicted of insider trading and spent time in prison before finding the monastic life. Despite his past crimes, people all around found Brother Christopher likable. Who would want to kill him, and stick an obul, a coin from Greek mythology, under his tongue?
I found Santa Clawed a little more difficult to get into than any of the previous Mrs. Murphy mysteries I’ve read. It isn’t so much that things are off to a slow start; the first murder happens fairly soon into the book. But Brown’s Mrs. Murphy tales generally have a certain style to them that pulls a reader in from the very beginning, and for me, that style was lacking for much of the beginning of the mystery. It wasn’t until I neared the middle of the book, when a second monk is murdered, that I found myself deeper into the story.
Another thing missing from Santa Clawed is the kind of characterization of the folks of Crozet that peppers all the other Mrs. Murphy mysteries. As the series has developed, the continuing secondary characters have all grown, but the likes of Alicia Palmer, BoomBoom Craycroft, Big Mim and Miranda Hogendobber don’t show up very much in Santa Clawed. I missed seeing more of them, and the minor characters and red herring characters who are more involved in the story aren’t nearly as well-drawn as in the typical Mrs. Murphy mystery.
I also found that the dialogue didn’t always flow, and sometimes, especially in the first half of the book, I got the impression that the characters were needlessly explaining things to each other in order to put the reader in the know, rather than having the dialogue flow from their relationships with each other.
The mystery itself is a good, solid one. I knew which way we were headed by about mid-way, but the identity of the murderer was still a surprise to me. There were some minor inconsistencies. The use of the obuls by the murderer wasn’t really explained, for example (obuls are coins from Greek mythology which were placed under the tongues of the dearly departed in order to pay their way across the River Styx to the underworld). And if there were hints as to why the murderer was so adept at the exact method of murder, I must have missed them.
The accompanying illustrations by Michael Gellatly are a wonderful companion to the story; they mostly depict the animals in the story, and Mrs. Murphy, Tucker and Pewter are exactly how I picture them.
All in all, though, Santa Clawed was a pleasant read, with a nice holiday theme (about as holiday-themed as you can get and still have a handful of murders). Mrs. Murphy fans will enjoy the read; those new to the series might want to also take a look at some of the previous books after reading this one to get a full feel for the series. Ms. Bookish’s Rating: B: A Good Read ?