Thursday, November 29, 2018

Story Review - Tasha Alexander's Amid the Winter's Snow

That Silent Night by Tasha Alexander
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Kindle, 71 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Colin has returned to Anglemore Park to spend the holidays with his family and eat his weight in mince pies. Of course nothing in Colin and Emily's life ever goes to plan, as is evidenced by the torch wielding villagers that have arrived at their door. Thankfully they are not about to be plunged into a Gothic drama as their butler Davis worried, because they are without pitchforks and have come for their liege's help. A dozen of the residents of Dunsford Vale, one of Anglemore Park's estate villages, are awkwardly seated in the cinnamon drawing room when they reveal that their problem is the arrival of a beast born out of local legend. Dunsford Vale is being plagued by a barghest. Emily almost laughs at the suggestion of the mythical monstrous black dog that folklore says heralds death and can be warded off with coffin nails. Seeing as she's only lived in Derbyshire for eight years her stance on the barghest is expected by the locals. What Emily doesn't expect is for Colin to believe them! He's an agent of the crown, a sensible man who has thrown all sense out the window. Could Colin be appeasing the villagers while planning on doing a proper investigation under the guise of a barghest hunt? As Emily and Colin dig deeper into the sightings, the missing food, the dead sheep, one person in the village seems more troubled by the beast than any other, the unfortunate Miss Fletcher. What could the beast have to do with Miss Fletcher? And can they solve the riddle of the barghest before Christmas so that things can get back to normal?

The second Davis asked if Emily and Colin were about to be plunged into a Gothic drama my first reaction was to snort with laughter, my second was to hope it was true. AND IT WAS! Not the ghostly Gothic in a foreign land, but the monstrous Gothic complete with a fainting heroine! It was Lady Emily does The Hound of the Baskervilles! Seeing as I revel in anything the slightest bit Gothic and I had literally just re-read The Hound of the Baskervilles for book club this mash-up was right up my alley! I can't believe I'd never heard of a barghest before as it fits neatly under the black spectral dog haunting that covers everything from the grim, made famous in my mind by Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, to the ghostly huntsman and his hounds who inspired Arthur Conan Doyle, to Yeth Hounds, a possibility that Emily's most astute son points out when no one has died from seeing the barghest. While I love all Emily's adventures I have become really invested in these Christmas tales. Tasha seems to free herself of all constraints and it's go big or go home time. The more absurd, the more fantastical the idea, the more humor, the more heart, the more holiday she is able to infuse it with. Missing jewels and Sebastian the gentleman thief baiting Emily's mother, a true ghost story, and now a spectral hound!?! When are these tales going to be collected in one volume that I can place on my bookshelf? I seriously need to know because these tales are the perfect concentration of everything I love most about Tasha's writing.

Though the true test of Tasha's writing is that she is able to create these characters we never want to let go. Every time I start one of her stories I hope my favorites will appear. I know it doesn't make sense to have Jeremy, Cecile, Margaret, Ivy, Davis, Nanny, the boys, and everyone else ever featured in every story, but that doesn't mean I don't hope for the revolving cast of characters to all appear at once. This attention to character is what makes Amid the Winter's Snow standout for me. The best stories, the best mysteries, in my mind are the ones where you could just hang out with the characters forever. Who cares if the culprit is caught so long as you are entertained by the inhabitants of the pages. This is why my most favorite British TV show of all time is Midsomer Murders. Yes, it strains credulity that they still have any population after all the murders and murderers in their midst. But all these quaintly named little towns are peopled with the most eccentric folks. That is how I felt about Dunsford Vale! This was like a turn of the century Badger's Drift haunted by a hound! The little old lady who cursed the hound away, the young girl who lost her fiance but still found solace in baking for the town, the sheep farmer who was willing to admit his sheep might have just wandered away instead of falling victim to a barghest, the shopkeeper who is viewed as an outsider because he moved to town at three months old. I felt intrigued and invested in each and every one of these characters. Of course now I'm going to want them to come back... damn, it's a double-edged sword falling in love with Tasha's characters...


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