The Usual Santas: A Soho Crime Holiday Anthology byPeter Lovesey (Forward)
Were it not for 4 stories in this short story collection I would have given it 2 stars at the most. I found the majority of the stories to be less than thrilling and with little humor. I like my mayhem with humor, at least a bit.
Helen Tursten starts off this collection with An Elderly Lady Seeks Peace At Christmastime.
Maud is certainly elderly but she is also delightfully selfish and doesn’t mind being evil to carter to that selfishness. When you think of an octogenarian who just wants a bit of peace and quite to enjoy her solitude at Christmas you have to, if not chuckle out loud (yes, some of us do still chuckle and even guffaw) you have a smile on your lips. Or maybe I’m just a very twisted individual.
Next, Mick Herron gives us the title story, The Usual Santas.
There are 8 Santas working the oversized shopping center and there it is, Christmas Eve and they repair to a hospitality room where they had a buffet and brandy complete with 8 brandy snifters. The only problem is that as the last Santa comes in from his rounds, finally free of those bothersome elves, there is no brandy snifter for his use. How could this be? Well, the answer comes with a headcount; there are 9. . . count them, NINE Santas! That’s how this could be but. . . how could this be? Who is the imposter? And how will the Santas go about finding out who the imposter is? (This is where I find myself with a mixed message; I cannot recommend this book but in order to find out the answer one must, as I so often say in my reviews, READ THE BOOK!)
Next we have Chalee’s Nativity by Thomas Hallinan.
This is a story of a young orphan Thai girl living on the streets of Bangkok and who has taken an even younger street orphan under wing even if reluctantly. Chalee is an artist and is just discovering the depths of her talent while Apple, the other girl tries to interrupt her. Chalee isn’t thrilled with the interruption and Apple, being a girl of indeterminate age but maybe 8, 9, wants attention as children of that age do. The result is hurt feelings, both for Apple because of rejection and shortly thereafter for Chalee who is sorry for having rejected Apple.
Yes, you will need to read the book in order to see what happens but if you are like me, have some tissues close by. I did and I needed them.
The last of these stories that I enjoyed and can recommend is When The Time Came by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, a pair of Danish authors who give us a story of a birth at Christmas, of compassion and human frailty all in one short story. This was not a nice little story, in fact just the opposite, but that compassion does show through. It also left several unanswered questions.
In fact there were several stories that I felt left out a great deal of information. At the end you are left wondering :But. . . but. . . what about this? What about that?” Alas, we are left to our own devices to either come up with a solution or to say to hell with it and move on. I moved on for the most part.
There is one other story that deserves mention. . . NOT honorable mention but just mention; Cabert Aux Assassins by Cara Black.
When you take iconic figures such as Irene Adler; “That Woman” as Holmes referred to her, and even Holmes himself, you should be very damn good at penning a story using them. Ms. Black was not. It’s less than gracious of me to mention that but damnit, just as Jim Croce told us in his great song when he admonished us not to mess around with Jim, you don’t mess around with Sherlock or even a one off character in Doyle’s prose, Adler. If you do you cannot expect to let bygones be bygones. You’re going to be called out for your transgressions.
“If you don’t think things are right, open your mouth,”