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"Mrs. Santa and the Santaland Slayings" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz

I couldn’t resist “Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings” based on the title and cute cover. I anticipated the novel by Liz Ireland would provide cheerful, escapist reading heading into the holidays. I was right; it was a delight and a testament to the author’s writing that I could suspend disbelief and enjoy an entertaining murder mystery that takes place in the North Pole.

It’s not just the setting that provides entertainment. The characters include the extroverted Claus and Kringle families, talking reindeer, competitive elves and ambling snowmen. Place names include the Sugar Plum Mountain, Kringle Lodge, Christmastown, Santaland, Kringle Heights, Tinkertown, Candy Cane Factory and a gathering spot, We Three Beans. Eleven outcasts and snow monsters live in an area known as the Farthest Frozen Reaches.

Alice is a “normal” human who runs a charming inn off the coast of Oregon. There she meets a handsome guest named Nick. She advises him not to swim in the frigid coastal waters, but he informs her that he is used to the cold before plunging into the ocean. She guesses he is from some more northern state. But he is actually taking a short vacation before he reluctantly begins his tenure as Santa Claus following the recent death of his brother Chris, aka Santa Claus, in a hunting accident.

Nick, only in his mid-30s’ will assume the role of Santa for 10 years until his nephew Christopher, son of Chris (the deceased Santa Claus), is old enough to inherit his rightful title.

Alice falls for Nick, even after he explains his circumstances. She marries him with the understanding that they will divide their time between Oregon and the North Pole. Naturally, December will find them in Santaland where they will live in Castle Kringle with the rest of the Claus family.

The massive castle also accommodates elves and talking reindeer who act as servants and messengers. Alice (who stopped believing in Santa Claus at age five but finds herself now “married to the guy”) is put in charge of supervising musical events, Kinder Caroling, the Reindeer Hop and the Skate-a Palooza at Peppermint Pond. It’s a learning curve for her.

All is not perfect in Santaland. Alice discovers the late Chris was a model Santa. The townspeople resent Nick for stepping into the role that he admittedly never wanted but feels a family obligation to fulfill. Chris was jolly and had girth; Nick is thin and reserved. Chris had a way of handling children’s wishes for a “new brother” or for a “best friend.” Nick agonizes over these requests.

Even the family is torn. Nick’s grieving mother is puzzled by her second son’s choice to marry an “outsider.” Tiffany resents her loss of power as the widow Mrs. Claus and fears for her son’s future chance to be Santa Claus should Nick and Alice have children.

Lucia, the oldest sibling, thinks it’s time for a girl to be Santa. Martin, the youngest brother with a Santa-like personality, is silently remorseful about being possibly pushed further down the line of succession. Even Therese, Nick’s former girlfriend from Christmastown is consumed with jealousy and anger at his new wife. Extended relatives are fearful of Nick’s plans to make them work for their living instead of idly receiving income because of their connections to the family by birth.

Alarmingly, murders occur following Alice’s and Nick’s appearance in Santaland. Nine days before Christmas, a disgruntled elf, and then a talking snowman who was probably a witness to the crime, are killed. Young Christopher, due to become Santa Claus in time, is poisoned and his condition is precarious. Santa Claus’s (Chris’s) death several months earlier during the snow monster hunt with Nick and others begins to sound suspicious.

When the current Santa Claus becomes a suspect, Alice begins her detective work in an effort to clear her husband. Surely, he isn’t hiding an ambition to be a lifetime Santa Claus behind his calm, quiet demeanor. During the investigation, Alice herself comes near to death. She barely escapes a fall into the gallons of warm peppermint syrup at a candy factory.

The setting and the imaginative characters ensure that this murder mystery is filled with humorous dialogue and wildly entertaining situations in spite of a few grim happenings. “Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings” is the first in a series by Ireland, and I can’t wait to see where the next offering takes these memorable personalities. I think this book, available in paperback, would make a great stocking stuffer or a welcome holiday read right now.

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