Who would have thought it? Not me. Thanksgiving in my life is something I’ve always wanted to avoid. Stress, relatives, stress, too much food, and stress were the prevailing elements when I was growing up. Naturally, over the years the holiday was celebrated with other people, but the stress remained–a boyfriend’s mother, a friend’s family, the pressure to attend and be on your best behavior takes its toll. After marriage, the horror reaches a new level–which part of the in-laws family is having it this year, how far do we need to travel, how long must we stay, do they hate you, little questions like that take hold and make your visit miserable, if you cave into your misgivings, which I inevitably do. Aha! So there’s the answer! Maybe there are others that dread the turkey day just as much as me, and write about it, killing off anyone who dares to make that dinner an unpleasant experience. I can understand that!
If not from the USA, or Canada, I’m not sure people understand what Thanksgiving is–I’m not sure as an American, I understand what Thanksgiving is. We are to be thankful for our bounty, which is plentiful, because the early settlers shared a meal with Indians, as they were called by the Puritans. Did we really share a meal, or did we slaughter all the native tribes and confiscate their food? Tsk tsk for me saying such blasphemous things. History shows in the end, settlers decided that they had the right to the land they took, and Native Americans, which term I just heard was coined by President Lincoln, were shoved into tiny ‘reservations’ (sounds like making sure one gets a table at a restaurant). So when did the sharing of the harvest take place? In the tiny time span between before slaughtering and relocation? I wonder how many Indians today whip out a turkey and serve it up in thanks for all their bounty? Do they sit on a nice new 2 seater sofa watching football as well ?
Regardless of my cynicism, the holiday is held sacred here in the U S of A, everything is closed, everyone is supposed to be gluttonous, and all relatives that gather are to bicker and fight. That’s Tradition, with a capital T, and you dare not buck Tradition.
So, what tasty deaths are served up for us? I’ll start off with the most benign one. A Fatal Feast–notice the alliteration? By uh, ‘Jessica Fletcher’ and Donald Bain, the later the only of the two that really exists–Jessica being a fictional character on TV beloved by elderly fans countrywide. Apparently the canceling of the show did nothing to diminish its fans, so a series of books supposedly written by her and Mr. Bain happily carry on capers in Cabot Cove–take that alliteration Gods! Jessica has a lot on her plate, ugh, when hosting a Thanksgiving meal for the entire town and a visiting friend, an inspector from Scotland Yard. They stumble, (does this ever literally happen in mysteries–stumbling over bodies?) over a corpse garnished with a carving knife in his chest. Now there’s an exciting Thanksgiving.
Here’s an original title–Death of a Turkey. Kate Bordon. This a title in the Berkeley assembly line of mystery series. They seem to have commissioned a bunch of authors to pen different themes and locales targeted to specific audiences. This one is set in New England and is in the Peggy Jean Turner Mysteries. Usually the series’ are named after the theme–cooking, tea, scrap-booking, knitting, sewing, baked goods, bookstores, cats, cats and curios, bookshop cats, black cats in a bookshop, cats in trouble, physic cats, and my favorite–magical cats. Anyhoo, I’ve no idea if there is a cat in this one, just a Thanksgiving reenactment in a historic town now a tourist attraction where someone dies.
A Catered Thanksgiving, Isis Crawford involves–yes! What an astute guess–a catering company. Billed a Mystery With Recipes, the surprise here is the publisher isn’t Berkeley, but Kensington. Sisters Bernie and Libby Simmons are providing the Field family with a cornucopia of Thanksgiving treats and everything must be beyond perfect, or a member of the Field family will be unceremoniously cut out of rich and domineering Monty’s will. Ok, this may be a first, death by turkey–not poisoned, oh, no, nothing as mundane as that–but a turkey hurled in the face. Now, I know turkeys can be heavy, but how hard must the throw have been to knock this guy’s block off? Maybe I’m misunderstanding the synopsis.
Thanksgiving Day Murder, by Lee Harris is a bird of a different color. Ms. Harris is a seasoned well reviewed prolific mystery author that include many titles that have a holiday theme. The plot sounds very intriguing. Her protagonist is ex-nun Christine Bennett–interesting just for that fact–and the story deals with the famous Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, NY.
“More than a year ago Natalie Gordon went to buy a balloon at the Thanksgiving Day Parade and dissolved into thin air. The police and a private investigator still have no leads. So when Natalie’s despairing husband pleads with ex-nun Christine Bennett to help, she can’t say no. Not only are Natalie’s present whereabouts a mystery, but so is her past. Someone has stripped her personnel file in her old office. Even her husband knows strangely little about her.” See what I mean–enticingly interesting.
Louise Penny’s award winning novel, Still Life, is listed as a Thanksgiving mystery, but in all the synopsis’ I’ve read, not a word about the meal is included. And if is does have a tangental Thanksgiving within, it definitely would be on Canada’s day for celebration as the series takes place in Three Pines Canada, and stars Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. People rave about Ms. Penny’s writing, and I regret to say I’ve not yet had a chance to delve into one–perhaps I should start at the beginning–here. A woman is found shot through and through with an arrow, and at first the death is mistakenly ruled as a hunting accident.
Okay, a little bait and switch–a book called Thanksgiving by Janet Evanovich, an exceptionally popular and fun author, is listed as a mystery, but upon closer perusal, turns out to be a romance written by her under a pen name, long before she wrote the wild bounty hunter series just made into a film. It seems a fairly simple book–rabbit eats woman’s dress. Woman meets rabbit’s owner. Woman falls in love. The End.
Owning a huge dollhouse decorated for each holiday, I was thrilled that a mystery of the same theme was written by Malice Domestic winner Robin Hathaway, The Doctor Makes a Dollhouse Call. Two elderly sisters own a priceless dollhouse that is decorated for Thanksgiving–however the dining room is in disarray, and the doll that represents a niece is obviously dead. When the live niece dies, the sisters turn to Dr. Andrew Fenimore who detects on the side. The setting is Philly and the surrounding areas, such as down the shore, as we call the New Jersey beach-line. So, another plus for me as a reader. If you are landlocked in Kansas or somewhere–it’s still interesting to take a peak into miniatures. And by the way, the book was written long before CSI TV show did a whole story arc on the ‘miniature murderer’.
As you may have noticed, these titles are fairly tame in content–I haven’t come across any turkey day hard boiled books yet. Maybe a gangland shooting took out a turkey processing plant in Chicago in some book, or Sam Spade tries to find The Maltese Turkey, if so, I’ve not found it.
So, here’s my last course of the meal–Natural Suspect--created by William Bernhardt and carried on by the authors below:
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Now, here’s a legal thriller wherein each succeeding chapter has been created by recognized pros in the genre. The roster of authors includes Leslie Glass, Gini Hartzmark, John Katzenbach, John Lescroart, Bonnie MacDougal, Phillip Margolin, Brad Meltzer, Michael Palmer, Lisa Scottoline and Laurence Shames all of whose contributions appear without bylines. Saluting and satirizing the tricks of the trade, Bernhardt starts the story off on a Long Island estate as oil mogul Arthur Hightower threatens to divorce his martini-soaked wife, Julia, and cut off his wastrel children. Before he makes good on the threat, Arthur’s frozen corpse is discovered in the basement freezer. –(just a footnote here–Arthur makes his announcement at Thanksgiving dinner, hence the reason he is in a basement freezer) Julia hires Devin Gail McGee to defend her in court, not knowing Devin once shared a hot tub with the handsome prosecutor. Bernhardt laces his opener with possibilities, then each author in turn uncovers clues and miscues, from the toe cut off by the movie-quoting thug in clown costume to one lawyer’s unseemly devotion to his voyeuristic pet rabbit. The fun for readers of this team tour de force is not to solve the case but to guess which author penned which chapter. Remarkably, the ending ties up more loose ends than anyone has a right to expect. More publishing than literary event, more mind game than artistic accomplishment, the book is an over-the-top diversion, with each author attempting to be more clever than the one before. There are some hits and some misses, but most of the curveballs are fun.
I hope there’s enough for you to chew on for awhile, and that the aftermath won’t put you to sleep.