Introducing Father Tom Christmas, the wise, warmhearted new vicar of a picturesque English village that seems to be a haven of peace. But appearances can be very deceiving. . . .
Thornford Regis has never been lovelier: larks on the wing, lilacs in bloom, and the May Fayre in full swing. But inside the empty village hall, the huge Japanese o-daiko drum that's featured in the festivities has been viciously sliced open--and curled up inside is the bludgeoned body of Sybella Parry, the beautiful nineteen-year-old daughter of the choir director.
That she was too young to die, everyone agrees. But did Sybella's apparent affinity for Goth and the black arts, and her rumored drug use, attract a shady element that led to her distressing demise?
Father Tom Christmas, still haunted by the tragedy that has left him a widower and his nine-year-old daughter motherless, soon realizes that this idyllic village is not the refuge he'd hoped for. He also comes to a disturbing conclusion: Sybella's killer must be one of his parishioners. No one is above suspicion--not Sebastian John, Father Tom's deeply reserved verger, nor Mitsuko Drewe, a local artist, nor irritable Colonel Northmore, survivor of a World War II prison camp. One by one, infidelity, theft, and intrigue are exposed. And over all, like an approaching storm, hangs the long-unsolved mystery of a sudden disappearance, one that brought Father Tom to a picture-perfect place to live--or die.
Smart, funny, edgy, and packing a terrific emotional charge, Twelve Drummers Drumming is a brilliant launch for C. C. Benison's series starring Father Tom Christmas, an appealing new detective on the mystery scene.
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October 25, 2011
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Excerpt from Twelve Drummers Drumming: A Mystery by C.C. Benison
"Thinking of stealing that book, Father?"
The voice at his shoulder startled Tom Christmas. He looked down to see Fred Pike, the village's elfin handyman, smiling at him with a kind of manic glee.
"Stealing that book?"
Tom blinked at Fred, then snatched his hand from the book. Steal This Book was the title. Someone named Abbie Hoffman was apparently the writer. The cover said as much.
"Despite the title's invitation, I don't think so," Tom said, running his finger between his neck and his dog collar. He put the book down next to a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook, which was being offered for thirty pence. In the middle distance, between two rows of stalls, a hefty lad he recognised as Colm Parry's son Declan, all got up like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, was struggling to push a large drum on a trolley across the lawn towards the stage. Another lad, similarly dressed, was pulling at the other end.
"Thou shalt not steal," warned Fred.
"Yes." Tom nodded agreeably. "I've heard that."
Grinning, Fred passed on towards the display of cider-making machinery, near the stage where the two boys were still struggling with the drum. Tom scratched his head, then turned to look at the other titles, all of them political in nature. He picked up a small volume with a red plastic slipcover. Quotations from Mao Tse-Tung. Well-thumbed, it opened at a page that proclaimed, "Political power comes from the barrel of a gun." Gently, Tom replaced the book. The other bookstalls were a sea of used Jeffrey Archer and Barbara Cartland, but this was a stall of another colour. He thought he knew whose books these once were. But who in a village nestled in the South Devon hills could be enticed to buy them? Even at prices many pence shy of a pound?
"This is quite the collection," he said to Belinda Swan, the publican's wife, who was minding the stall. She reminded him of the Willendorf Venus, fleshy and voluptuous in a way that would have stirred a skinny hunter-gatherer, only attired in the modern way: sealed in stretch trousers and miraculously buttressed beneath a deeply scooped blouse.
"Not very Christian, are they?" she responded, picking up Confessions of a Revolutionary and regarding it askance. "We did wonder, but as it's for the church, we thought you wouldn't mind, Father."
"I wish you wouldn't--"
"Vicar, I mean."
"Tom is fine."
"Right. Tom it is. I'll remember this time. But with your family name, you know, sometimes we can't--"
"Help it," he said, finishing her thought. It was a bane of his existence. Once, as a teenager, he'd gone to a fancy-dress party kitted out as Father Christmas, all white cotton-candy beard and hair and itchy red wool, and the honorific--or gibe--clung to him ever after. At the vicar factory at Cambridge he was Father Christmas. As curate in south London he was Father Christmas. In his ministry in Bristol he was Father Christmas. This though he wasn't High Church. The mercy was his late wife hadn't been named Mary. His adoptive mother had been, but she had wisely retained her maiden name.