THE TWELVE DOGS OF CHRISTMAS: AN ANDY CARPENTER MYSTERY

By David Rosenfelt

Minotaur, 2016

336 pages, $24.99

ISBN 978-1-250-10676-6

Who doesn’t like a cute dog story at Christmastime? The only way that story could be better is with a juicy murder conspiracy. And Maine author David Rosenfelt has just the recipe for both.

“The Twelve Dogs Of Christmas” is Rosenfelt’s 15th novel in his excellent “Andy Carpenter Mystery” series, starring a brilliant, lazy and cowardly defense attorney who scrupulously escapes any form of work and tries not to get beat up or killed.

Rosenfelt’s mysteries have won both the Edgar Award and the Shamus Award with clever, original plots, enduring characters and edge-of-your-seat suspense. His stories just keep getting better and better.

It’s the Christmas season, and Andy is looking forward to avoiding any legal work, instead spending time with his family and caring for rescue dogs. However, when fellow dog rescuer Martha “Pups” Boyer is arrested for murdering her neighbor in a curious zoning dispute, Andy feels obligated to represent her in court. But he is working against a fast-running clock.

The evidence against Pups is overwhelming, including discovering that the murder weapon is the same gun used to kill her husband 18 months earlier. And Pups had recently threatened to kill the neighbor. However, Andy smells a rat when he learns the zoning dispute is a set-up.

Andy’s investigation is aided by a nerdy accountant who wants to shoot somebody, a silent bodyguard who beats up people, his pistol-packing, ex-cop wife, four elderly computer hackers and a surprisingly helpful street gang with its own lethal motivation. Clues lead to clever misdirection orchestrated by a criminal enterprise, a double-cross, perjury and fabulously intricate and entertaining courtroom drama.

In a nice twist, the author even makes a subtle cameo appearance in this exciting, fun Christmas mystery.

EGGNOG MURDER

By Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis and Barbara Ross

Kensington Books, 2016

343 pages, $25

ISBN 978-1-4967-0447-4

Everybody knows that Christmas eggnog is incredibly fattening, but who would have thought of it as a murder weapon? Well, three Maine mystery writers thought of it, and they wield a cup of eggnog as deftly as a gun or knife.

Just in time for the Christmas holidays, “Eggnog Murder” offers three, delightfully fun, murder-mystery novellas sure to spice up a cozy winter night’s reading. Don’t take these stories too seriously, but skip that unlabeled gift bottle of eggnog from creepy Uncle Bob.

“Eggnog Murder” by Leslie Meier finds part-time newspaper reporter Lucy Stone witnessing a festive, office Christmas party and a gulp of eggnog that kills a most unpopular citizen. The cops say it’s accidental, but Lucy thinks it’s homicide. But was the murder victim the intended target? A paralyzed veteran, a wartime photo and a bunch of old fat guys with Santa beards lead Lucy to a surprising revelation. And an ugly Christmas sweater saves the day.

In “Death by Eggnog” by Lee Hollis, a swig of eggnog knocks off a mean, nasty, old woman, but Haley Powell launches a tongue-in-cheek investigation that reveals a drunken pastor leading a saucy conga line at church, a raucous cupcake food fight and a very funny toilet paper mishap. This story is hilarious as Haley uncovers a wacky romance, a gay police chief who mangles the English language and a diabolical murder conspiracy.

Barbara Ross’ “Nogged Off” has Julia Snowden trying to figure out who stuffed a dead body into her moving van two days before Christmas. This tale is the most intricate and suspenseful, as Julia and her family are in deadly peril, facing tampered eggnog and shifty psychopaths. Fortunately, a popping champagne cork solves the mystery.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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