Book Review: The Christmas Killer

I had high hopes for this book … so much so that I even bought a box of M&S’s most premium (and expensive) mince pies to truly immerse me in the occasion.  Well, thank goodness I forked out for the mince pies because sadly the book didn’t fill me with seasonal cheer.

mystery | thriller | crime

Rating: 2 out of 5.

the blurb

DI James Walker is ready for a quiet family Christmas in the sleepy village of Kirkby Abbey.

But when he opens an early Christmas present left on his doorstep, he soon realises it is no gift. Inside is a gruesome surprise, and a promise – twelve days, twelve murders. Not long after, the first body is found, half frozen in the snow.

As the blizzards descend, panic spreads through the remote Cumbrian village – there’s a killer amongst them, and with eleven more victims to go, anyone could be next….

Can James stop the killer before they strike again?

The first in a new series, Alex Pine has written a dark, atmospheric crime novel, set in a snowed-in Cumbrian village, for fans of Val McDermid, Ross Greenwood and LJ Ross.

Author Alex Pine | Published by Avon Books UK on 29th October 2019 | 400 Pages (kindle)

I would like to thank #NetGalley and Avon Books UK for providing me with an advance copy of #TheChristmasKiller in return for an honest review.

my thoughts

The Christmas Killer gets off to a promising start with an intriguing enough prologue that serves to introduce us to the two main characters; James and Annie Walker.  James (a Met Police officer) and Annie (a school teacher) are horrified to learn that one of James’s most dangerous and high-profile ‘collars’, Andrew Sullivan, has been released from prison having apparently been wrongly convicted.  Sullivan is seeking retribution, and it doesn’t take long before the first threat arrives … through the lounge window.  In remarkably quick fashion the couple move up to Cumbria to start a new life.  I was a little surprised at the speed of their move, but the baddie in question is clearly a very nasty piece of work, so their quick decision appears a wise one.

The book itself picks up one month later, with the couple living in Annie’s mother’s house, having been willed to her 18-months previously.  The village of Kirkby Abbey is chocolate-box in its description, with a lovely old village square, a charming dusting of snow, and villagers full of festive cheer.  The decorations are up, the school nativity in full swing, and carol singing in just a few days time.

But a storm is brewing … literally and figuratively.

When James Walker receives a grizzly festive parcel and a menacing warning, it becomes clear that the idyllic Christmas he and Annie were planning was going to be less ‘Silent Night’ and more ‘Unholy Fright’.  Their plans to host a family Christmas are quickly postponed, although Uncle Bill makes a somewhat unwelcome arrival despite the impending disaster.

Here’s a Christmas gift for you, detective Walker. It’s a little early, I know, but I just couldn’t wait. My very own take on the twelve days of Christmas, complete with dead partridge. Twelve days. Twelve murders. Twelve victims. And they all deserve what’s coming to them.

At first, I’m getting nice, light-hearted feelings of a Midsomer Murders kind … albeit with a cast of characters who seem to be using swear words like a tweenager out of Mum’s earshot.  The chapters are short, the story rolls along at a nice pace, and I find the immediate sense of “oooh, scary” reasonably pleasing.  As the chapters unfold we’re introduced to just enough characters to keep it interesting, and plenty of them are acting secretively enough to spoon-feed me with a list of potential ‘bodies’ or ‘baddies’.  The twists and turns in the story continue throughout the book, with Uncle Bill and the snow storm both serving to complicate matters.

As I get further into the book, however, I’m finding the otherwise enjoyable structure of the story is let down by the complete lack of personality for any one of the characters.  The sum total of Annie and James’s backstory is dealt with in the first couple of chapters, and the only character development they undergo as the book progresses is that Annie becomes increasingly whiney and insipid.  The friction between James and the DS he usurped is lack lustre, and the characters we’re clearly meant to feel strongly against are about as menacing as wombles.

The author did a good job of keeping me guessing about the murderer until very late in the book, and when the reveal happened I felt he’d made a great choice.  However, the sudden rush of events this discovery triggers was … well … a sudden rush.  Any sense of plausibility was completely lost to me by the time I reached the epilogue.  At the outset of the book I was thinking “ooh, this will be a 4-star” … then as it progressed I found myself wavering towards a 3-star … but the ending, I’m afraid, left me deflated and frustrated.  

I SO wanted to enjoy this book and I had really high hopes for the story’s premise based on the blurb.  I still maintain that the plot is a good one, with the setting and the cast of characters well matched.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any depth or personality to the characters (surely, in a character-driven plot that couldn’t be more fundamental), and became a little frustrated at the sometimes awkward narrative, particularly the overuse of ‘perp’.

Thank goodness I had those mince pies to keep me in a good mood, eh!? Now they were worth it.

The Christmas Killer by Alex Pine

The Christmas Killer will be available from Waterstones (paperback only) and Amazon in paperback, kindle and audiobook formats from 29th October 2020.

about Alex

Alex Pine was born and raised on a council estate in South London and left school at sixteen. Before long, he embarked on a career in journalism, which took him all over the world – many of the stories he covered were crime-related. Among his favourite hobbies are hiking and water-based activities, so he and his family have spent lots of holidays in the Lake District. He now lives with his wife on a marina close to the New Forest on the South Coast – providing him with the best of both worlds!

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