"A Killer's Christmas in Wales"
by Elizabeth J. Duncan
Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 274 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
This mystery series, set in the fictitious town of Llanelen, Wales (placed near Llandudno and Conwy), is so thoroughly defined by its location that it could not transpire anywhere else.
Indeed, the beauty of the town and its surrounding hillsides, with their fair share of grazing sheep, made up the main character's mind to settle there.
Ex-pat (from Nova Scotia) artist Penny Brannigan would naturally be attracted to such an aesthetically pleasing setting.
Since landing in Llanelen with nothing more than a suitcase in each hand, she has had some success with her paintings, although her bread-and-butter has been a slowly evolving manicurist's trade.
In a one-vicar village such as Llanelen, Penny's manicure shop has been just the sort of give-and-gather-news destination to attract a steady clientele.
Penny and business partner Victoria Hopkirk are taking the "day of beauty" concept to the next level with their soon-to-open spa, in a renovated coach-stop inn.
The spa's grand opening is but one of many happenings in Elizabeth J. Duncan's third Penny Brannigan mystery.
As the title indicates, Christmas is nigh upon the village, with its attendant festivities, house parties, and various celebrations and special events, including a theatrical presentation of Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales."
Penny and Victoria have been tapped to judge a shop-window contest, and Penny's sketch group is planning a holiday luncheon, followed by a tour of an ancient castle in Conwy.
Even with all those goings-on, the story hinges upon the arrival of a mysterious American, a smooth operator with a penchant for dancing who smites the heart of one of Duncan's regular characters.
Well, you know it's not Penny-- she's got her thing for Detective Inspector Gareth Davies, which is heating up like a saucepan of Penny's preferred cold-weather bevvie, hot cocoa.
A most thoughtful gift from Gareth to Penny becomes a prominent point of the plot.
As for the arriviste: Everyone in Llanelen knew that Santa Claus was coming to town.
But, not this gigolo.
This tried-and-true plot saw plays fine music in the author's capable hands. It's a pleasure-- nay, a joy-- to encounter a writer who can compose such a fine cozy mystery.
A hearty lifting of a mince pie and a glass-of-sherry toast to this latest from Llanelen.
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