Look, I appreciate the idea of having a Christmas themed mystery with dear Flavia and her community of imaginary fellow Britons, and while Bradley doesn’t disappoint with the characters, he totally drops the ball on the mystery in this one. It’s so short and thrown in there he might as well have not done it at all. His inattention to the mystery on this one made it feel more like a cash grab than a novel. When Doctor Who does a Christmas special, it’s still got a monster in it, you know? And usually a really good one.
It’s Christmas at Buckshaw, and the De Luce family is in dull spirits. They’re still having money issues, and as a result, Colonel De Luce has hired out Buckshaw for Christmas. Famous movie star Phyllis Wyvern is shooting her latest film there, and the whole village is practically twitter-pated about it (including Flavia’s sisters, Daphne and Ophelia).
So of course Flavia develops a special bond with Ms. Wyvern (who is a bit of a bitch, but who has interesting hints of depth that never get explored), and of course she turns up murdered half-way through, and of course it’s Flavia who finds her body. I want to make it clear, though, that I’m only complaining about those things being predictable because of how it turned out. You expect a certain amount of repetitive predictability in stories like these, but the mystery is solved in the blink of an eye, and most of the leg-work happens off page, so that we as readers have absolutely no chance of solving it ourselves (which annoys me in mysteries to no end). It’s just there BAM all of a sudden, and then it’s over.
Luckily, the parts with Flavia’s family were good. Flavia has a couple of revealing moments with her sisters and with her father that lead me to believe interesting things are coming in future books. Dogger also gets some nice characterization, although we still don’t know exactly why it is he knows so much about birthing babies (there can’t have been much need in the army for a gynecologist, if that’s what he is by training).
Anyway, moral of the story: if you’re going to write a mystery novel, make sure you actually care about the mystery part. Otherwise you get pissed off readers who want to punch you in the stomach.