Title: A Recipe For Murder
Author: Jo A Hiestand
Genre: British Mystery
December bullies its way into the village in a swirl of snow and biting wind, threatening to cancel the annual St. Nicholas festival. But winter’s slap pales when a body is discovered in the candlelit church. Someone is not living up to the seasonal wish of ‘peace on earth, good will towards man.’
But the village harbors more than Christmas gifts, DS Brenna Taylor discovers as she and her colleagues from the Derbyshire Constabulary begin working the case. There is the feud between two rival authors; a wife’s open disdain of her husband and his secret comfort in the arms of another woman; the pent-up emotions of a vicar’s wife forced to conform to idealistic conceptions; the tacit threat of a troubled teenager and his delinquent girlfriend.
Brenna also discovers emotions she didn’t know she had when DS Mark Salt, her harassing macho cohort, makes overtures of genuine friendship. Now Brenna must not only examine her love for her boss, DCI Geoffrey Graham, but also consider the likelihood of its ever being returned.
As if sorting through the affairs of the heart and the tangle of motive and suspects in the case weren’t hard enough, a series of arsons threatens the very village itself. And Brenna wonders if they are looking for two felons or just one very disturbed individual.
“Alright, then.” Graham poured himself a second cup of tea. The aroma mingled with the scent of hot bread, inducing feelings of home on a wintry night. “Let’s take them one at a time, Taylor. Reel them off again.”
Manchester Jazz faded away in a soft chord of clarinet, trumpet, trombone and piano. I repeated the villagers’ names, giving him time to jot them down. “David, Nelson, Owen, Trueman and Olive.”
“Fine,” Graham said, looking up. “First is David Willett.”
“Physician and local writer turned famous.”
“The Ancient Art of Derbyshire Customs, if I remember correctly. His publishing party is tomorrow evening, with the entire village invited.”
“I asked Olive about his book. While St. Nicholas isn’t included in it, Father Christmas is but purely as a character in most mummers plays. There are themes on him, certainly, but it’s always the same character, no matter his name or dress.”
“And you think that’s enough to put David on your list of those who have information on St. Nicholas and his helper, Taylor?”
“No, sir. But he does play St. Nick at the church festivity each year. He has a sack.”
“Has it gone missing? Is it the one pushed over Joel’s head?”
I admitted that it wasn’t the same sack, but that didn’t preclude David using another sack for the deed. “He has an authentic costume, sir. Quite authentic, to hear Olive talk.”
“Presumably that took a lot of research, then. David would learn something, but did he know of the Germanic helper? What’s its name, by the way? I hate to keep calling it the Germanic helper. That seems rather impersonal if we’re going to include him as part of the case.”
I told him there were several listed in the book. “Each country has its own gift giver and dark companion. He’s Schmutzli in Switzerland. He’s dressed in brown, has brown hair and a brown beard and his face is darkened with lard and soot, He carries a switch and a sack. Naughty children are beaten with the switch and then toted off in the sack, where he eats them in the woods.”
“Amazing. Any others, Taylor?”
“Many. Knecht Ruprecht is St Nicholas’ most common attendant in Germany.”
“No, sir. His name means Farmhand Rupert, or Servant Rupert. He’s clothed in varying costumes, from a long brown hooded robe, fur, or straw. He carries a pack of presents or a sack of ashes. He gives the gifts to the good children and beats the bad children with the sack of ashes.”
“I thought St. Nicholas gave out the presents.”
“I wouldn’t know, sir. Knecht Ruprecht also carries switches, which he either uses on the disobedient children or leaves for their parents to use. Occasionally he has his own companions, fairies or dark-faced-men made up as old women. What that signifies, I don’t know. Pelznickel lurks in Germany’s Northwest area. His name means “Nicholas in Furs,” and he’s a variant of Ruprecht. He usually dresses in dark or shaggy clothing, or furs or animal skins. There are versions of this, though.”
“I hesitate to ask, but go on.”
“He wears a long, pale robe and a tall, peaked witch hat. He carries away bad children, variously to his home in the Black Forest or to be tossed into the river.”
“I’m astonished the kids back then could sleep at night.”
“I think only the naughty lads and lasses had anything to fear. There’s one more I find fascinating, if you’d like to hear it, sir.”
“I’ve gone this far…”
“Yes, sir. It’s Krampus.”
“These names are something else. Okay, what’s he like?”
“He’s a devil-like figure residing mainly in Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and southern Germany. He has goat-like horns, a long red tongue, and he holds chains or switches.”
“Presumably to use on those naughty children.”
“Yes, sir. He stuffs them into his basket.”
“To be taken away to some terrifying doom, no doubt. I’m afraid to ask if there are others.”
“Yes, sir. Holland, France, Spain, Italy for certain. I think each country or region has its own character to infer punishment if the child stepped out of line.”
“Maybe the police should use him, Taylor. It might scare certain folks into going straight.” Graham shook his head, staring at the notes he’d taken. “Who would’ve thought kindly St. Nicholas had such dark companions?”
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Share a holiday family tradition:
We always had chilli for Christmas Eve supper. It perked in the slow cooker as we went to early church service so it was ready for us when we got home. Christmas Eve is when we had the first of the Christmas cookies we’d made the ensuing weeks (and frozen so no one was tempted to each them early!). Dad always made a fire in the fireplace and put Christmas music on the stereo. We’d sit around the fire, sipping hot cocoa, listening to the music and then hang up our stockings right before bedtime.
Why is your featured book perfect to get readers in the holiday mood:
The book opens with a snowstorm, which gives a wintry feel to the story. The village church is being decorated for the annual St. Nicholas festival and that should get readers into the holiday mood too. The entire book centers on St. Nicholas’ festival and readers learn a bit about him and his dark companions. I think the whole story will plunge readers into the holiday. Mystery writer Ann Cleeves thinks so…she said “Very atmospheric—the first scene was stunning!”
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Runs December 1 – 31.
Drawing will be held on January 3, 2020.
Books, Girl Scouts and music filled Jo A. Hiestand’s childhood. She discovered the magic of words: mysteries, English medieval history, the natural world. She explored the joys of the outdoors through Girl Scout camping trips and summers as a canoeing instructor and camp counselor. Brought up on classical, big band and baroque music, she was groomed as a concert pianist until forsaking the piano for the harpsichord. She also plays a Martin guitar and has sung in a semi-professional folk group in the US and as a soloist in England.