Christmas is in the air and is on its way to Dickens Junction in Christopher Lord’s first novel, “The Christmas Carol Murders.” Simon Alistair, owner of the local bookstore Pip’s Pages, is close to being the First Citizen of the little town; his grandfather designed Dickens Square shortly after Dickens Junction came into being. It is a pedestrian area lined with shops such as Cricket’s Hearth, the Crystal Palace Tearoom, Simon’s bookstore, Pickwick’s Pilates and, of course, The Old Curiosity Shop.
All the merchants are busy with preparations for the evening tableaux, a traditional display of four scenes from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” to be staged that evening. Before Simon leaves his store to go home and get dressed for his part, he is visited by a stranger, Mervin Roark, who buys a copies of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and Dickens five Christmas books. Before leaving, he gives Simon his card, which says, “Marley Enterprises, Mervin Roark, Acquisitions.” It has a large dollar sign in one corner, Ayn Rand’s brand. Simon dislikes him at first sight.
Later in the day, Simon meets Zach Benjamin, a “model-handsome” journalist led to Pip’s Pages by an ad in a gay and lesbian travel magazine. He is in Dickens Junction on assignment, and Simon happily points out things he should see and agrees to meet him for a drink later in the evening. Simon’s partner left town, so he is single once again, and Zach looks interesting. Before they have that drink, Mervin Roark is dead, murdered with a nail gun.
Zach encourages Simon to work on finding the murderer saying: “Don’t you know this town – these people – better than the police do? You have to investigate and bring the killer to justice.” Simon starts questioning everyone – even close friends – and before long, another murder takes place, complicating matters. The once-quiet town of Dickens Junction is now the venue of a serial murderer.
Lord has created an entire community of interesting characters with back stories (think Cabot Cove, Maine in “Murder, She Wrote”), plausible situations and abounding motives. The economy has been depressed in this small Oregon coastal town, so everyone except Simon, who is independently wealthy, has a financial motive for skullduggery. Even so, it is hard to think that any one of them is capable of murder. They are all friends, sharing information about everyday events, families, business, romance and everything else. Simon soon finds out that Mervin Roark approached everyone but him about buying their property and no one knows why, except that he was clear that “everything will change.” To add to the mystery, two more strangers arrive in town billing themselves as Objectivists – Ayn Rand’s philosophy – and saying that the murders are just another example of “the government gone awry.” What does that mean?
Simon is very protective of the character of “his” town and is convinced that Roark was up to no good. And what is this sudden interest in Ayn Rand? Why didn’t Roark approach Simon, who owns more property than anyone else? What were his plans for the town?
What this all adds up to finally is a delightful, cozy tale that leaves the reader waiting for the next book and the adventures of Simon and his friends and neighbors.
A version of this review appeared in Shelf Awareness: www.shelfawareness.com