Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
No, despite the title, this isn’t a Christmas novel in the commonly accepted sense. But it is the first of a series of books featuring the Rev. Tom Christmas, a former magician turned Church of England priest. Christmas, recently widowed when his wife of ten years, the former Lisbeth Rose, is murdered, arrives in Thornford Regis to take over pastoral duties at St. Nicholas Church after the vicar, Peter Kinsey, goes missing.
That should have been a tip-off to Christmas, who, along with his nine-year-old daughter Miranda, is still mourning the death of Lisbeth. Add to this the presence in the small village of Julia Hennis, Lisbeth’s sister, and her husband Dr. Alastair Hennis, who was involved with Lisbeth before Tom came on the scene, and the plot thickens like the porridge prepared by the vicarage’s housekeeper Madrun Prowse. Madrun’s typewritten letters to her mum are like a one-woman Greek chorus, bringing us up to speed on the events of the novel and adding another level of humor.
Thornford Regis has never been lovelier: larks on the wing, lilacs in bloom, and the May Fayre in full swing. Another clue that murder and mayhem will follow! When the body of Sybella Parry, the beautiful 19-year-old daughter of Colm Parry, the parish’s choir director and a retired rock star, is found in a fetal position inside the slashed open huge Japanese o-daiko drum, we’re on the way to having just about everybody in the village either a suspect or person of interest. The drum is there for a special percussion demonstration — the twelve drummers drumming of the title.
Did Sybella’s apparent connection with Goth and the black arts, and her rumored drug use, attract someone that led to her death? Or was she mistaken for somebody else and murdered by mistake?
In either case, Father Tom concludes, along with the police officers investigating the death, Detective Sgt. Colin Blessing and Detective Inspector Derek Bliss of the Totnes CID that someone in the parish may be the culprit. No, I’m not making these names up; the author did! And Totnes is a real market town in Devon, the large English county that contains the Dartmoor of Sherlock Holmes fame: “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is set in Dartmoor. Was the murderer the gone-missing vicar or could he be a victim, too?
No one is above suspicion — not Sebastian John, Father Tom’s deeply reserved verger, nor Mitsuko Drewe, a local artist, nor the 80-somthing retired banker Colonel Phillip Northmore, survivor of a World War II Japanese prison camp. One by one, infidelity, theft, and intrigue are exposed.
Benison — Middle English for a blessing or benediction — mixes sly humor with sheer terror in a page-turner of a novel that will make readers wonder what the author will come up with his next novel, “Eleven Pipers Piping.”
About the Author
C.C. Benison is the pen name of Doug Whiteway, a native of Winnipeg, Canada, and was educated at the University of Manitoba and at Carleton University, in Ottawa. He has worked as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines, as a book editor, and as a contributor to nonfiction books. He started writing mystery fiction in the 1990s with “Death At Buckingham Palace”, which was published by Bantam Books in 1996. Since then, with gaps in between to work on other projects, he has published five novels.
Publisher’s website: www.bantamdell.com.