Wednesday, July 18, 2018

'Twas the Knife Before Christmas (A Christmas Tree Farm Mystery #2)

Author:  Jacqueline Frost
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781683318033
Crooked Lane Books
$26.99; $12.99 Amazon
November 13, 2018


When a body turns up in a larger-than-life candy bowl filled with peppermints on the town square, Holly White is horrified to learn her best friend Caroline is the main suspect.  Everyone in town, including Mistletoe, Maine's sheriff, saw Caroline fighting with the victim on the night of his death.  Worse, a custom kitchen knife, engraved with Caroline's initials was found with him.

Now, just ten days before Christmas, Holly's up to her jingle bells in holiday shenanigans and in desperate need of a miracle.  Juggling extra shifts at her family's Christmas tree farm and making enough gingerbread jewelry to satisfy the crowd is already more than she can handle - and now she has to find time to clear her best friend of murder.  Add in her budding relationship with the sheriff, and personal stalker dressed as Santa Claus, and Holly's ready to fly south until springtime.

But her Sherpa-lined mittens come off when Caroline is taken into custody.  Can Holly wrap up the case in time for Christmas...even after she gains the true killer's attention?


Welcome to Mistletoe, Maine, a town where it's always in holiday season...and fortuitously, it actually is close to Christmas and everyone is gearing up for the holiday.  Holly White's family owns the Reindeer Games Christmas tree farm, where guests are always welcome and there is plenty to keep everyone busy, but right now Holly is taking a break from the whirlwind, and visiting her friend Caroline West at the cupcake shop she owns and listening while she tells Holly of last night's fiasco.  Caroline is the daughter of the local mayor, and is expected to attend events in the company of young men her father knows.  Unfortunately, this one - Derek Waggoner, son of a judge - is not the gentleman he should be, and there is a confrontation between the two.

When Caroline, Holly and their friend Cookie go to the town square a little later to see the unveiling of the giant candy bowl full of mints they're in for a big surprise, and it's not just the red and white mints, but the red of blood....when the bowl is unveiled they see Derek, definitely dead, who's been stuffed inside.

When one of Caroline's kitchen knives is found along with the body, evidence is pointing toward her as the killer.  But Holly knows Caroline wouldn't have killed anyone, and even though Sheriff Evan Gray, Holly's maybe-boyfriend, is determined to follow the evidence, Holly doesn't have to do so, and decides to play a dangerous game of following clues to the killer instead.

Insert the fact that she still has jewelry orders to fill for Christmas, her mother's kitchen contractor is destroying things instead of building them, and her parents' plans for erecting an inn that Holly will be managing is giving her headaches because she's the one having to choose designs for the interior of it, not to mention that her relationship with Evan has pretty much come to a standstill.

Even so, Holly is determined to find out who's framing Caroline for a murder, and it could very well be the worst decision she's ever made; especially when it looks like the killer might actually be looking for another victim...

I read the first in this series and I liked it so well I decided to give the second one a go.  I have to say I'm glad I did, because this does not disappoint.  While some may think that it starts out a bit slow, I believe that it's mainly to give a little background for those who haven't read the first, and the fact that the groundwork needs to be laid for what is to follow.

And what follows is indeed enjoyable.  We are once again in the magical town of Mistletoe, and you will, by reading the book, eventually see just how magical this town is, for both Holly and her family.

Holly is determined to keep looking for a killer - surreptitiously, of course, and under Sheriff Gray's radar, she hopes - by questioning those most likely to have wanted Derek dead.  But she doesn't count on the fact that Derek's girlfriend Samantha has a wicked temper that flares up at any time which leads her to start throwing things - usually at Holly, it seems; nor that there was more than one woman who disliked the man enough to want him permanently gone.

Her investigating leads her to plenty of Derek's business ventures, which were more about his ego rather than anything he might have invested; and even as the evidence piles up against Caroline she's still convinced of her innocence, and still determined to find the real person responsible, even after she realizes there's a deranged Santa following her and leaving mints just like the ones in the bowl nearby - something she's sure Evan isn't taking seriously.

But Evan has problems of his own that he's not talking about, and her friend Ray Griggs is having a bit of a meltdown at the fact that his widowed mother is dating again and Holly finds him in most unusual places as he's following his mom 'to keep her safe'.

All of this adds up to a delicious mystery that keeps one interested and wanting to discover a killer along with our protagonist.  While I will state that I read a lot of mysteries, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I hadn't a clue about the killer right up until the point that Holly did, and that was indeed the best surprise of all.

Ms. Frost is a new addition to the cozy mystery genre, and one to keep an eye on, especially if her books keep one as entertained as this.  She has managed to make the second book in her series even more fun to read than the first, and that one was a pleasure in itself.  For those who have not as yet read The Twelve Slays of Christmas, I urge you to do so; you will not be disappointed.  I love mysteries, and plan on re-reading them both come the holiday season.

When all is said and done, there were plenty of twists and turns throughout the book, and even a couple of harrowing scenes for Holly.  The tale was woven like a tapestry, with each thread coming together nicely at the end, and leaving just enough of a hint of what is to come to make us eager for the next - which I hope is soon.  Highly recommended.


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