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Murder, Mayhem and Mistletoe    by Terence Faherty, Aileen Schumacher & Wendi Lee order for
Murder, Mayhem and Mistletoe
by Terence Faherty
Order:  USA  Can
Worldwide Mystery, 2001 (2001)
*   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Murder, Mayhem and Mistletoe includes four short stories: The Headless Magi by Terence Faherty; Christmas Cache by Aileen Schumacher; Stocking Stuffer by Wendi Lee; and The Empty Manger by Bill Crider. Christmas mysteries are becoming a sub-genre on their own, and I found the brevity of these tales ideal for dipping into, as a break from frantic holiday preparations.

The protagonist of the first of them, Faherty's The Headless Magi, is the down (but not out) failed seminarian Owen ... During his first stint volunteering on a help line, Owen is very concerned about a call for help from a young boy. Later he ties in that call to a series of vandalisms of Christmas nativity scenes, and concludes that 'Tiny Tim as an urban terrorist' is taking on the holiday denied to him. In the background is Owen's developing relationship with divorcée Beth, who fears being alone for Christmas Day. Owen solves the mystery, discovering 'that the best way to find a Christmas miracle was to go out and make your own'.

The Christmas Cache is hidden by a Bosnian 'refugee with tenure' and dug up by the dog of a young house-sitter. This one has a strong element of farce emanating from the boy's mother Tory, an investigator with attitude, and the four men in her life, with 'enough testosterone ... to stuff several turkeys.' In Stocking Stuffer, a strong female PI juggles the demands of patrolling for shoplifters in a jewelry store with animated discussions amongst her large group of siblings on what their joint Christmas gift to their mom should be. Angela finds herself in sympathy with a shoplifter's family difficulties and decides to 'be a Christmas angel' and help her out.

In another assault on a nativity scene, Sheriff Dan Rhodes is called out to search for 'baby Jesus' kidnapped from The Empty Manger. When he finds a corpse instead, the missing doll becomes evidence. The Sheriff finds it hard to get into the spirit of the season with a murder investigation on his hands, especially after gunshots interrupt a rendition of Silent Night. This last mystery, like the others, is solved in time for the holiday. All four are cozy, lighter on mayhem, heavier on humor. If you don't take them too seriously, they make a good holiday diversion.

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