Intrigued by the cover photo of Billie Thomas’ Murder on the First Day of Christmas, a photo of poor Santa lying face down in the snow with a Lucite icicle to the back, and then learning this book won a Shirley You Jest! Shirley HAH Award for fiction, I gathered my post-it notes, highlighter, and pen before turning pages.
My frenzied highlighting and belly laughter began on page four, paragraph five when Thomas describes the troublesome neighborhood chocolate lab:
Starting life as Lady Marmalade, the discovery of an un-dropped testicle had resulted in one of the few documented cases of canine sexual reassignment and his name change to Lady Chablis, as in the drag queen from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Besides bringing such life to a canine, a key player in this mystery, my heart went pitter pat at Thomas’ use of allusion above and in reference later to the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.
Further visual descriptions ensue throughout this novel:
He wasn’t much taller than my five-foot-three-inches and had a body like a toothpaste tube, all his weight squeezed from the bottom to a bulging middle- not a figure that looks good in a squat. (8)
My mother worked with guilt the way she worked with Venetian plaster, subtly and with a sure hand. (12)
. . . a couple of aging debutants [sic], both of whom had indulged in a lethal cocktail of Botox and bronzer for the evening. (27)
Besides the phenomenal second-order writing, the plot, a mystery involving three murders left me clueless until the protagonist, Chloe Carstairs and her mother solved it for me.
A well-rounded character, the reader learns all aspects of Chloe’s life, not simply her looks. On a break from her boyfriend Jacob, Chloe contemplates:
I wasn’t ready to give up on Jacob. As his workout partner, I had given him abs of steel. As his decorator, I had glazed two rooms in his house and tiled a bathroom. I had gotten him into his first pair of flat-front khakis, increased his sense of humor by 25% and broken him of his embarrassing habit of going “Woohoo!” every time he saw cleavage. A significant investment had been made in the man, and if any woman was going to reap the rewards, it was going to be me. (44)
A personal trainer as well as a decorator, Chloe’s reasoning as to placement of her exercise equipment makes perfect sense to any logical reader:
I sat my bench in the middle of four guys, so I could watch myself in the mirror and pretend I had backup dancers. (92)
A fan of Thomas’ manipulation of language for the purposes of decription, my inner grey hair pulled taut into a bun English teacher reeled at the occasional spelling errors and repetition of lines in this piece of writing. Revise, revise, revise . . .. Okay, I am feeling better now that that has been discussed.
For the purposes of book club, Scotch and chocolates are out of the question for health reasons, of course. However, readers cannot resist lobster puffs, crab cakes, wasabi-dressed asparagus, and Gruyere quiches in order to spark conversation about Saul’s Christmas party, where the mystery begins.