involving | Christie-esque | entertaining
what it says on the cover …
Lily Armitage never intended to return to Endgame House – the grand family home where her mother died 21 Christmases ago. Until she receives a letter from her aunt, asking her to return to take part in an annual tradition: the Christmas Game. The challenge? Solve 12 clues, to find 12 keys. The prize? The deeds to the manor house.
Lily has no desire to win the house. But her aunt makes one more promise: the clues will also reveal who really killed Lily’s mother all those years ago.
So, for the 12 days of Christmas, Lily must stay at Endgame House with her estranged cousins and unravel the riddles that hold the key not just to the family home, but to its darkest secrets. However, it soon becomes clear that her cousins all have their own reasons for wanting to win the house – and not all of them are playing fair.
As a snowstorm cuts them off from the village, the game turns deadly. Soon Lily realises that she is no longer fighting for an inheritance, but for her life.
Twelve clues. Twelve keys. Twelve days of Christmas.
But who will survive until Twelfth Night?
PUBLISHED: 30th September 2021
SHELF: Murder Mystery
AUTHOR: Alexandra Benedict
FORMATS: Hardback | Kindle | AudioBook
Thank you to @ZaffreBook and #NetGalley for this advance-proof kindle copy of #ChristmasMurderGame by @ak_benedict
my review …
The Christmas Murder Game is a highly enjoyable and well-plotted whodunnit, whose locked-room plot exudes golden-age intrigue against a Cluedo backdrop. Whilst this is predominantly a cosy murder mystery – the roaring fires, afternoon teas, and pre-dinner cocktail gatherings all create the illusion of etiquette and bonhomie – the murders certainly stand out for their unexpected gruesomeness. And if the grizzly deaths don’t startle you out of your arm-chair comfort, perhaps the descriptive removal of dead bodies to the ice house in Endgame House’s extensive grounds might give you pause for thought.
The lavishly-catered, country house setting, with the trappings of bleak winter weather, and the gathering of a large, intensely dysfunctional and avaricious family all evoke a distinctly Christie-esque vibe. This sensation is enhanced by the enforced confiscation of all the characters’ mobile-tech devices by the family solicitor … all in the name of fulfilling the rather capricious last wishes of Aunt Lilian.
For twelve days, Lily and her cousins are pitched against one another in a deeply divisive treasure hunt, with daily clues each leading to a hidden key. The person who solves the most clues and holds the most keys at the end of this cut-throat contest will inherit Endgame House. For the greedy and competitive family members, it’s a game whose rules can be stretched to their very limit.
At the centre of the story is Lily; a quirky, non-conformist dress maker who eschews the company of others and relishes a simple, quiet life. Aged just twelve, Lily discovered her mother’s lifeless body in the famous Endgame House maze; an event that’s shaped her every waking moment since then. She was adopted by her mother’s sister, Liliana, and grew up on the fringes of a spiteful step-sibling relationship with her cousins. Lily was always led to believe her mother ended her own life, but a posthumous letter from Aunt Liliana inviting Lily to Endgame House some twenty years later for one final Christmas Game explains that her mother, Mariana’s, death was murder. This letter forms the opening scenes of the book, and I have to admit I realised I would have to bite my tongue just a bit … who on earth would send a letter with such a massive bombshell and then insist the only way to find out the truth behind the murder is to play a twisted, twelve-day long game?! Yes, it was a heck of a stretch … but there was something rather beguiling about the story-telling that kept me hooked.
In a deeply unsettling trip down memory lane, Lily is forced to confront the living and the dead, as a heavy snowfall traps her in the remote mansion house with her fractious family. Ghosts rattle round the rooms as she relives bittersweet childhood memories, bringing both her individual story and that of the family to life with compelling twists, and vividly descriptive scenes.
The author has really flexed her mystery-writing prowess with The Christmas Murder Game; not content with posing a puzzle for her characters to solve, there are also clues within the chapters for us to spot and decode. What a wonderfully inventive and fun way of embedding her readers right in the heart of the story. Our clues are both festively themed, and an homage to some of literature’s great country house Christmas mysteries. How she managed to weave the sinuous plot of the novel with all its puzzles and overlay it with an additional layer of complexity is genuinely admirable.
The Christmas Murder Game is brimming with atmosphere and foreboding, noticeably laden with illustrative metaphors and similes (the story wouldn’t have suffered for reining these in just a bit), and a cast of well-written characters. It’s an easy read, making it absolutely perfect for a spot of winter escapism, with twists and misdirections keeping me guessing throughout the well-plotted mystery. I’m afraid I didn’t keep up my end of the bargain though … I didn’t solve all the reader-puzzles as I have to say I found myself rather too absorbed in the goings-on at Endgame House, distracted from my quest by a very enjoyable story.
Alexandra Benedict read English at Cambridge and studied creative writing at Sussex. She composed film and television soundtracks, as well as performing as a musician before becoming a full-time writer in 2012. As A. K. Benedict, she published the critically acclaimed The Beauty of Murder and The Evidence of Ghosts.
She is currently writing scripts, short stories, a standalone psychological thriller and the sequel to The Beauty of Murder. She lives in St Leonards-on-Sea with her dog, Dame Margaret Rutherford.