Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Cold Christmas mystery

Hampstead, Kansas is caught in a deep freeze which is affecting not only the weather but apparently the characters in Charlene Weir’s fifth Susan Wren mystery.   Weir immediately sets a tone of desperation touching the lives of many Hamstead residents at Christmas.  There is an immediate feeling of foreboding, followed by some graphic descriptions of the deaths that occur--it doesn't seem like a "cozy" mystery.  

Initially Weir introduces a lot of characters quickly and it seems like a creepy furnace repairman is the only connection among them, but eventually the small town relationships emerge.  To me, as an introduction to Weir's Susan Wren series, this mystery does not work well as a stand-alone book.  Since I haven’t read any of the earlier books I had no idea who some of the characters were or their relationships with Police Chief Wren, e.g., other police officers who were at home sick with the flu. 

Worldwide Mystery, 2002
Original publication, 2001, St. Martin's Press

There seemed to be a lack of character development but the plot kept me turning the pages as the book drew to an end.  The family around whom the main murder mystery evolves both evoked my sympathy and extreme irritation.  I was hoping someone would intervene before child protection got involved.  One Good Samaritan did step in to help but it seemed to be a one and done attempt.  Again the book's focus seemed to be people in town who were socially isolated for one reason or another—illness, abusive husband, sanctimonious busybody, a character too proud to ask for help, people under stress who were basically unhinged.  Important details about the characters seemed to  emerge willy nilly in the book.  To me it read like a draft rather than a finished product.  Weir dedicated A COLD CHRISTMAS to mystery writer Susan Dunlap who had advised Weir that a book could be created from a manuscript of complete confusion. Maybe so, but the initial problems of the manuscript show.

Even noting all these issues with this book, I would read another of Weir’s Susan Wren novels to see if they make more sense when I start at the beginning of the series.  Weir’s first Susan Wren mystery THE WINTER WIDOW was winner of St. Martin's award for best traditional mystery. 



  1. Sounds interesting, even with the flaws. I haven't read this author, but maybe I'll try The Winter Widow first.

    Love your Santa and bicycles!

    1. I have a feeling I should have started with The Winter Widow, but I found A Cold Christmas on my shelves, bought who know when, and I'm still reading mostly from my own extensive backlog of books. I'll tell Ricky you appreciate his decorating efforts. I'm still waiting for a good picture to post.