Santa Clawed Review
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Now that the clocks have been turned back and the summer’s shorts and T-shirts have been traded in for the winter’s jeans and sweaters, it’s the perfect time to curl up on the couch (in front of the fireplace, if you happen to have one) and get lost in a cozy mystery. And I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t get much cozier than a Christmastime mystery that was co-authored by a cat.

Santa Clawed, the latest from Rita Mae Brown and her feline friend, Sneaky Pie, takes readers to the small mountain town of Crozet, Virginia, where holiday preparations are well under way. But when Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen finds a dead body among the Christmas trees at the tree farm, Crozet’s Christmas suddenly becomes a little less merry.

The victim, Brother Christopher Hewitt, was a member of The Brothers of Love—a group of men who have dedicated their lives to running a hospice in Crozet. But Brother Christopher’s past was marred by scandal before he turned his life around—and it looks like not everyone thought he deserved a second chance.

Since she found the body, Harry can’t help but do some sleuthing. And her animal friends—her cats, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and her corgi, Tucker—are there to help. But when Harry gets a little too close to the killer, they all end up in danger.

Santa Clawed has that cozy, small-town feel—but it’s anything but stuffy. Instead, Brown gives the story an updated edge. This isn’t a neat, straightforward mystery, where the good guys are always good and the bad guys are always bad. There’s more to these characters than first meets the eye. The Brothers may be good men who care for the sick, but each one once had his vice. And even the most respected people in the town of Crozet have their faults.

Of course, the animals are important characters, too—characters who talk (though only their fellow animals can understand them), think, and take an active part in the story. Some readers may find that a bit too cutesy, but animal lovers will enjoy the four-legged friends’ antics—and it certainly adds to the coziness (and the fun) of the story.

In addition to her distinctive cast of characters, though, Brown also writes her dialogue in a distinctive way—one that, for me, wasn’t quite as cozy. It could just be because I don’t live in the Blue Ridge Mountains—but I was often distracted by the characters’ one-word answers (like “Did.” or “Have.”). And even more distracting was Brown’s tendency to cut into the characters’ dialogue to explain what they’re talking about. The characters often mention people or things that have nothing to do with the story, and Brown sometimes breaks into the middle of a sentence to explain. While that may be natural in everyday conversation, it’s just unnecessary in a novel—and the extraneous details only slow down the story’s pace.

Still, distractions aside, Santa Clawed is just the thing to help you unwind during the hectic holiday season. It isn’t heavy or intense, and it doesn’t require a whole lot of thought—which is the last thing you need after a long day of work, followed by a long night of battling the crowds at the mall. It’s just a light, casual mystery—one that goes well with a mug of hot chocolate and your favorite afghan.

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