Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, pondering why so many publishers of cozy mystery series, including humorous mysteries, think Christmas is a good time to commit murder. In real life, of course, there are plenty of homicides over the holidays, mostly committed by those nearest and dearest to the victim. Not to make light of it, but stress is a killer. This year, with large family gatherings being discouraged due to Covid-19, it will be interesting to see if Christmas crime statistics are much different from the norm.
Getting back to fictional murder and mayhem, let me tell you about my personal experience with Christmas cozies. I wrote two of them for my Liss MacCrimmon mysteries. The first was the third book in the series, A Wee Christmas Homicide (2009). The premise of the story is that Liss and two other shopkeepers in Moosetookalook, Maine have fortuitously ended up with a supply of the toy every kid wants on this particular Christmas—Tiny Teddies. These stuffed bears are in short supply all over the U.S., but rather than sell what they have by mail order, the three agree to a plan to draw shoppers to them. With the help of other downtown businesses, they organize the “Twelve Shopping Days of Christmas.” Of course, things don’t go exactly as planned, and when one of her fellow business owners is murdered, Liss finds herself in the middle of another murder investigation.
I don’t take murder lightly, but there are plenty of humorous moments in A Wee Christmas Homicide. For one thing, Liss ends up with the responsibility of caring for the birds needed in a portrayal of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”—including a foul-mouthed parrot. And she engages in a self-proclaimed too-stupid-to-live moment when she impulsively attempts to look for evidence of a crime she thinks is related to the murder—smuggling Tiny Teddies into Maine from Canada. Add a chase scene on snowmobiles and a couple of unique gifts to Liss from rival suitors on Christmas morning, and this mystery ended up being a lot of fun to write.
The second time Liss encountered a holiday murder, in Ho-Ho-Homicide (#8; 2014), my contract specifically called for a Christmas mystery. As with the first one, the story actually takes place leading up to Christmas Day, this time set on a Christmas tree farm a couple of hours’ drive from Moosetookalook. Liss is just supposed to be checking the place out for a friend who inherited it, and taking a well-deserved week’s vacation, but it doesn’t take long for her to discover that the previous owner disappeared under mysterious circumstances, possibly related to an unsolved murder, and that there’s something odd going on the nearest town.
I loved writing this one because, at the time, my husband and I were operating a small mom-and-pop Christmas tree farm, open for sales from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. That experience gave me lots of details I knew about first hand, although the operation Liss encounters is a much more commercial one than we ever had. Our netter—used to put netting around a tree to make it easier to transport—became a key part of the story. This novel isn’t as lighthearted as A Wee Christmas Homicide, but it has its moments. I was also able to use a couple of plot points that came straight from local headlines earlier that year—the discovery of a body in a freezer in a storage unit and some illegal activities connected to a dance studio. I won’t go into detail for those who haven’t Ho-Ho-Homicide, but let’s just say that when Jimmy Fallon held up a copy of the paperback reprint of the book on The Tonight Show and made a joke about the title, he wasn’t as far off as he probably thought he was. I doubt he read the book, but he gave me the best pull-quote an author could hope to have: “It has two things everyone likes, Christmas and murder.”
Both books are still available to buy. In fact, both are currently priced at only $1.99 e-book format. The links to the publisher’s pages below will take you to assorted online bookstores. Copies of the hardcover and mass market paperback editions are still available from a few stores and, as always, your local library, if it doesn’t own copies, can order them through inter-library loan.
Do you read or reread Christmas-themed mysteries at this time of year? Why do you think there are so many of them?
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-three books traditionally published and has self published several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary “Deadly Edits” series (A Fatal Fiction) as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.