A Holly Jolly Murder: A Claire Malloy Mystery, by Joan Hess

I gave this book more than enough chances to wow me. I started it, set it aside, plugged along a little more, read something else, came back to it, all the time hoping to at least finish it despite the fact that I was clearly bored. The premise was cozy enough: a book shop owner gets roped into helping a bunch of neo-Druids solve a murder at Christmas time. I expected the Druid characters to be delightfully weird for weird’s sake–like how they’d be portrayed by the writers of Law & Order or any other fuddy duddy show on NBC (which, don’t get me wrong, I love nearly universally)–and they were, but that wasn’t why I eventually stopped reading.

The main character, who it seems has her own series, is unreadable. And by that I don’t mean the colloquial “I can’t get a read on her motives,” I mean I cannot read about this character for an entire book! She runs a bookshop and yet closes it several times a day to run the most trivial of errands, then wonders why she has no customers! It’s the week before Christmas and there are days she only makes seventeen dollars in sales all day! Then she complains about the financial difficulties of being a single mother! She has no employees (hence the frequent closing of the store based on her own schedule for the day) but when her teenaged daughter is desperate for work she never suggests she come to the shop! Honestly, how on earth could she afford a can of tuna, let alone her store rent and home mortgage? It boggles the mind.

Beyond that the rest of the book just wasn’t very good. The author doesn’t do even a passable job of explaining why any of the characters would be investigating the murder in the first place, why they would consistently withhold information from the police, or why Claire would feel any loyalty to any of them (She doesn’t know them!). It seems like the fact that a total stranger has been accused (rightly?) of killing another total stranger is of far more importance to her than, say, the fact that her own daughter has not only been fired but is being sued, or the fact that her boyfriend is skipping Christmas to spend more time with his ex-wife (this story line is treated as though Claire is being “an irrational female” who is over-reacting, which I found particularly implausible).

Okay, bottom line: No more Claire Malloy mysteries!

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