When we last heard from Vicky Newham, she was deep in the East End of London, following the trail of DI Maya Rahman. That was back in 2019, when Out of the Ashes was just pipped at the post for a place in my Top Five Books of the Year.
Now Vicky is back, writing under a new name, in a completely different location, and with a book that happily veers towards the cosy end of the crime fiction spectrum. So plenty of changes then – but what has not altered is the fact that this is an author who revels in relating a good tale.
So settle back and let me tell you more… We’re in the fictional Kent village of Lower Wootton, where carollers have gathered on the green, candles in hand, ready to perform for a crowd of locals, everyone bundled up against the cold and snow. It’s a jolly and much loved annual event – but disaster is about to strike.
In amongst the singers is Ellie Blix, who has had a hard day of cleaning and is feeling the aches and pains of doing too much. Her daughter Zoe is ill at home with glandular fever and as Ellie takes a break from carolling she waves to a pyjama-clad Zoe at the window of the old windmill where they live. Then there is a groan and a thud and the woman behind Ellie falls to the ground. It soon becomes clear that Andrea is dead. Not, it seems, by natural causes.
Both Ellie and Andrea grew up in the village, but after a fall out in their teens they haven’t acknowledged each other – until recently, when an overwrought Andrea appeared on Ellie’s doorstep, demanding that they talk. Ellie sent her away, but now her former friend is dead she is keen to discover what Andrea wanted to tell her. Also, why is Andrea’s black sheep of a son back on the scene and did he have anything to do with his mother’s untimely demise?
Ellie is a busy working mother, still reeling from finding out that her policeman husband Dave had been having an affair. She works too hard and the added stress of having an ill daughter is compounded by the sudden arrival of her mother-in-law, Sylvia, whose stay for a couple of days now seems to be an open-ended arrangement. So becoming an amateur detective isn’t really on Ellie’s wish list but she is soon dragged into the mystery, taking Zoe and Sylvia along for the ride too, in a manner reminiscent of the Skelfs in Doug Johnstone’s hugely entertaining series of books.
Murder at the Christmas Carols is a light-hearted read that’s just perfect for the festive time of year. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and there are plenty of jolly moments, but the author works hard to create a living, breathing community with all the quirks and foibles of village life. The characters are brightly rendered too, with the trio of Ellie, Zoe and Sylvia standing out in a story jam-packed with local flavour. It’s intended to be the first in a series too, so we will hopefully see more of them in the future.
As to be expected, there is little of the urban grit so evident in Vicky Newham‘s police procedurals. As Izzie Harper she adopts a gentler approach as befitting a cosy crime read. But this is no powder puff of a plot and there is plenty to keep the reader interested, from jealousy and family feuds, to well-hidden secrets and broken relationships. Oh, and there’s a dog called Rebus – what more could you ask for?
See Cathy Ace’s The Corpse with the Turquoise Toes for another fine cosy mystery.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars