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Readingomnivore Reviews

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by readingomnivore, Mar 25, 2014.

  1. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    DEAD IN THE WATER is one of Ann Granger's Campbell and Carter mysteries featuring Detective Inspector "Jess" Campbell and Superintendent Ian Carter. It was originally published in 2015 and reissued in digital format in 2018. The setting is just before Christmas, but the season plays little part in the story.

    A young woman's body recovered from a river in flood near Weston St. Albans presents first a problem in identification. She'd been knocked unconscious, stabbed in the heart, and her body placed in the river after death. There's no identification, no cell phone, no car, no missing person report. Neil Stewart, local writer, thinks she may be Courtney, a waitress at the gastro-pub The Fisherman's Rest, where members of his creative writing class and the Weston St. Albans Writers' Club had dined some weeks before. She's Courtney Higson, daughter of local hard man Teddy Higson, soon to be released from prison; she's reputed to be worried about her overprotective father's reaction to her current boyfriend. Campbell and Carter soon conclude that her murder is tied to theWriters' Club, but how?

    I like Carter and Campbell. Both are appealing characters, carrying emotional baggage as befits their ages but not angst-ridden like antiheroes of many current police procedurals. Details of personal life give them believability without overriding the mystery element. Their relationship is obviously evolving, but the book functions well as a stand alone. Sense of place is adequate.

    Plot in DEAD IN THE WATER keeps the reader focused away from the killer's identity and motive, so that they come as somewhat of a surprise, though the conclusion is logically supported. A solid read. (B)
     
  2. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    JANE AND THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS is the twelfth novel in Stephanie Barron's mystery series featuring Jane Austen as detective. It was published in digital and print formats in 2014.

    En route to Steventon Parsonage in Hampshire, to spend Christmas with Reverend James Austen and his family, the Austen women--Cassandra, Jane, and their mother--are involved in a carriage accident. To their surprise, when they accept the Chutes' invitation to a Twelfth Nigh house party at The Vynes, they meet fellow-victim Raphael West, oldest son of noted painter Benjamin West, come to make preliminary studies for his father's monumental paining commemorating the end of the Napoleonic Wars, in which William Chute had been highly involved. Lieutenant John Gage arrives with dispatches intended for the Admiralty and messages for his family from Admiral James Gambier at Ghent, to die the next morning when he resumes the journey. His dispatch--the signed original of the Treaty of Ghent ending the war with America--is missing. Jane and West, who's obviously engaged in more than sketching, reveal Gage's death as murder, which is quickly followed by the death of Miss Mary Gambier, with whom Gage had history. Jane overheard a blackmail attempt on Mary Gambier, and a French spy has been operating from The Vynes. Can Jane and West uncover the killer?

    The plot in JANE AND THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS is drawn out to fit the title. It takes much too long for the investigators to conclude the motive for theft of the treaty, The guilty secret involved in the blackmail attempt is an unnecessary embellishment. The conclusion is less than satisfactory because the killer is not punished. Sense of place and season are appropriately established.

    None of the characters in JANE AND THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS are appealing. Many are exaggerated versions of characters from the canon. Mary Lloyd Austen, the Reverend's wife, combines the worst features of Mary Elliot Musgrove and Caroline Bingley; Mr. Collins is the obvious prototype for the Reverend James; Cassandra makes Jane Bennet look assertive. The relationship between Jane and Cassandra seems obsessively unhealthy. While I'm willing to concede that Jane Austen was an early feminist, Barron takes her all the way to modern, rather than Regency, in attitude.

    I don't plan to follow up on the series. (C)
     
  3. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    LARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING is Donna Andrews's annual Christmas novel in her Meg Langslow mystery series set in Caerphilly, Virginia. It was published in print and digital formats in 2018.

    Things are quiet in Caerphilly in the week leading up to Christmas. Local police are on the lookout for fugitive Mark Caverly wanted in neighboring Clay County for murder. While tourists swarm the Caerphilly Christmas festival, Meg leads rehearsals for Trinity Episcopal's annual Christmas pageant, only to discover that an unknown baby girl has been substituted for baby Jesus in the manger. Chief Burke of the Caerphilly police has reason to suspect that Caverly is being framed to cover corruption in Clay County and that, should Clay County law officers apprehend him, he'd be unlikely to survive. So two major problems--locate baby Lark's parents and find Caverly for his own protection. Meg, of course, winds up in the middle of both cases.

    LARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING is one of the stronger Meg Langslow novels, especially of the last few years. The plot fits together logically; the characters, while quirky, are believable and refrain from excessive TSTL moments. There's no real mystery about the murderer, but good suspense from how the miscreants can be brought to justice. Sense of place and season is excellent.

    Andrews uses humor to enliven characterization: "Technically, the shelter's new decorations were still hand-me-downs, but no one could have guessed it. Mother had done a fabulous job of taking the very random-looking collection of decorations donated by at least a dozen families and figuring out a way to use all of them in a well-coordinated design. Well, most of them. A couple of families had donated items she considered bland, too cutesy, or downright tasteless, like the blown-glass skunk ornament, the yodeling pickle, the twerking Naughty Reindeer, and the plush Pull My Finger Farting Santa doll. After opening the box that had contained the last two items, Mother had been forced to retire to her bed with a cool cloth over her forehead for several hours." The rescue of prisoners from the Clay County Jail is worth the price of the book.

    Jolly good fun for the season! (A-)
     
  4. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "Trouble under the Mistletoe" is Rebecca Barrett's short story set on Christmas Eve in Turnout, Mississippi, published in 2017 in free or inexpensive Kindle format. It's part of Barrett's Familiar Legacy series.

    Trouble is the first person narrator of "Trouble under the Mistletoe," a black cat whose idol is Sherlock Holmes, for whom Billie Dean Bailey is cat-sitting for her cousin Tammy Lynn. Trouble is suspicious of Evan Russell, the leading salesman for Bubba Bailey's Auto Sales and is glad to meet Teddy Adamson, Billie Dean's high school sweetheart, home on leave from the Marines. The business is in bad financial straits, the Baileys' home is about to be foreclosed upon, a mysterious guest attends the annual Christmas Eve party, and the dealership's mechanic Scooter is poisoned. Trouble snoops, deduces, and uncovers the facts behind Scooter's murder.

    I'm whimsy challenged, so I don't particularly care for plots with an animal as detective or as narrator. Nothing in "Trouble under the Mistletoe" leads me to change my mind. Trouble is the only developed character. The humans are definitely secondary. Short story length also precludes extensive development of the problem, so that there's almost no foreshadowing of what may be going on at the dealership. It's not clear exactly how the humans reach the same conclusions as Trouble. Introduction of the Tizzington sisters is awkward, unclear for some time even how many there are.

    Sense of place is by far the most developed element of the story, though only the humans give evidence of Southern speech patterns and expressions; Trouble uses standard informal English. Setting is insufficient to redeem the story. Don't bother. (D)
     
  5. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MURDER SOLSTICE is the third book in Keith Moray's police procedural series set on West Uist, featuring Inspector Torquil "Piper" McKinnon of the Hebridean Constabulary. It is available in print and inexpensive or free digital formats.

    MURDER SOLSTICE opens at the winter solstice, when Calum Steele, editor of the West Uist Chronicle, discovers the body of his old school friend Esther Harrison Noble handing on a dog chain from the bannister of her staircase at Hoolish Farm. Subsequent search reveals the body of husband Rab Noble, an apparent shotgun suicide. Flash forward to the time before the summer solstice. Hoolish Farms is now owned by Tavish McQueen, who's converted it into an inhumane battery chicken farm producing eggs; on nearby Goat's Head Farm, Pug Cruikshank runs a dairy herd and a pig farm along with breeding dogs for fighting, while brother Wilfred grows marijuana. Dunshiffin Castle is now UK headquarters for the "Daisy"--DZY, the Divinity and Spirituality Institute--headed by Logan Burns, who finds in the ancient megalithic circle known as the Hoolish Stones confirmation for his theories, to be revealed at the summer solstice. Piper's bête noire Superintendent Lumsden has seconded Sergeant Lorna Golspie to spy on the West Uist Division. Then local historian Finlay MacNeil, who'd been critical of Daisy, dies from an apparent fall over the cliffs near his home while drunk, and local inceptor Nancy McRurie dies from a fall from the castle tower while keeping vigil over the Hoolish Stones. Do any, or all, of these happenings link up?

    I have enjoyed all five books in this series, my major serious complaint about them being the number of characters. Piper's subordinates, the townspeople, his uncle Lachlan "the Padre" are all interesting and individual, but every person does not need to be in every book. Shifting between so many characters makes for a choppy story line. MURDER SOLSTICE is no exception. Characterization is less developed, mostly centered on Piper and Sergeant Golspie.

    Moray plays fair in foreshadowing and linking story lines in MURDER SOLSTICE while still producing a slight surprise in the identity of the killer. He skillfully builds suspense about what may happen at sunrise on the solstice. Sense of place is good but not as atmospheric as in earlier books in the series. Still, a good read, if only marginally set during Christmastide. (B)
     
  6. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS is the fourth book in Steven F. Havill's long-running Posadas County mystery series. The series initially centers on Undersheriff/Sheriff Bill Gastner, focuses on current Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman and Sheriff Bobby Torrez. Originally published in 2006, STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS was reissued in digital format in 2011.

    Christmas weekend in Posadas, New Mexico, is anything but silent and holy. Christmas Eve retired police chief Eduardo Martinez, suffering a heart attack, is left on a parking lot to die while two fugitives from Indiana steal his new Buick. Sheriff Torrez develops a pulmonary embolism and must be treated in Albuquerque. Christmas Day afternoon, Estelle's teenaged neighbor Butch Romero, testing his new dirt bike in an arroyo near their home, discovers Janet Tripp, shot once in the head with a small-caliber gun and her body dumped. Janet and Deputy Mike Sisneros had been planning to marry in the spring. Christmas night someone attempts to kill Bill Gastner with a piece of rebar. Robbery does not appear the primary motive for attacking either Janet or Gastner. Things become even more complicated when Sisneros discovers his .22 pistol is missing, then he disappears himself. Surely so much happening in such a small town in such a short time must be connected, but how?

    Characterization and sense of place are outstanding in this series, reasons for its successful run. The stories function well as stand-alones, but it's better to read them in order because characters evolve. Havill has created a viable community of law enforcement professionals while giving enough details of personality and home life to make them believable. In this installment, Estelle and husband Dr. Francis Guzman begin to face their responsibilities to six-year-old son Francisco, a musical prodigy rapidly surpassing the capabilities of the local piano teacher. More advanced instruction is necessary, but how in such a small and isolated area? The Posadas County Sheriff's Department is like a group of old friends with whom it's always good to visit and catch up.

    Havill is skilled at setting the scene, creating images that linger. "Estelle stood for a minute in the front yard of the spreading, much added-to home, enjoying the chill of that December night. Light curtains of mist slanted through the wash of street light and drew halos around the Christmas lights on porches and rooflines. The tropical disturbance hundreds of miles south had pumped the dank air northward, but the temperatures had refused to cooperate by chilling the mist and rain into snow. The neighbors across the street had set out luminarias, using the traditional paper bag and candles. The bags sagged from the dampness, with half the candles drowned. One of the bags had sagged against the lighted candle inside and flamed briefly, then subsided into a puddle of charred paper as the little bonfire winked out." (7)

    STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS is a real Christmas gift for me because, while looking at Havill's new release (Lies Come Easy), I found STATUTE and two others in the series I apparently have not read. Most excellent! (A)
     
  7. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    UNWRAPPING MR. DARCY is L. L. Diamond's Christmas retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice set in modern New York City. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    Diamond does an admirable job of updating the story. Darcy is head of Darcy Holdings; Elizabeth Bennet is a corporate lawyer, a new hire from the well-known firm of Longbourn, Netherfield, and Haye whom Darcy alienates on her first day. Upset by a confrontation with George Wickham, which Elizabeth sees, Darcy refuses to meet her and refers to her hiring as getting her sister's boyfriend to get her a job. (Charles Bingley is Vice President at Darcy Holdings and lives with Jane Bennet, a nurse.) As in the canon, Elizabeth takes offense, convinced that Darcy's close observation is based on dislike, while Darcy is smitten, determined to get to know her. To this end, he demands that Bingley rig the office's Secret Santa.

    Many of the characters besides the protagonists are carried over from the original--James Hurst is retiring head of the Darcy Holdings' legal department; Charlotte Lucas is Elizabeth's assistant, while Mrs. Reynolds is Darcy's; the Darcy housekeeper is Mrs. Hill; Ana is studying cello at Julliard. Others are mentioned but do not appear in the story--Caroline Bingley, still scheming; Bill Collins, working for de Bourgh and dating Charlotte; Mrs. Bennet, living in Florida and pestering Elizabeth with her nerves and her gossip. Elizabeth's black long-haired cat Grunt is a fun addition.

    Editing is good. My major complaint is that the novel lasts longer than the action. Much deals with Darcy's angst over what to give Elizabeth as her Secret Santa and how she's responding to them and with Elizabeth's angst over who her Santa is and how much he's spending on her gifts, one for each day of December; Point of view is split between Elizabeth and Darcy, so we see both the choosing and the receiving of most every gift. Repeatedly, Charlotte and Jane give Elizabeth, and Bingley gives Darcy, the same advice on dealing with their respective situations.

    UNWRAPPING MR. DARCY reads like a short story that was padded into a novel. It's not a bad read. (B)
     
  8. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MR. DARCY'S CHRISTMAS BRIDE is Elizabeth Goodrich's novella variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    When she hears Fitzwilliam Darcy's grumpy attitude toward the upcoming ball and Christmas at Netherfield, without knowing the reason he lacks the Christmas spirit, Elizabeth Bennet decides to instill it within him. To this end, she includes him in snowball fights, collecting mistletoe and holly, and helping to decorate Netherfield and Longbourn for the holiday, introducing Christmas trees to Meryton. Told by George Wickham that Darcy had lost the woman he loved best in the world at Christmas, Elizabeth thinks she understands his melancholy when she sees him leaving the churchyard, where the only grave not covered with snow is that of Cecelia Dowd, a young friend who'd died in London the Christmas before. There's a fresh red rose on her grave. Already half in love with Darcy, Elizabeth decides to encourage him to grieve for his lost love and move on. But what if she's wrong?

    Caroline Bingley's determination to be the fashion maven explains the presence of German-style decorated Christmas trees long before they became common in England. But popcorn garlands for the tree is an anachronism. The first reference to popped corn dates from an American dictionary of 1848 (bow here to Wiki!).

    There's not much external conflict in MR. DARCY'S CHRISTMAS BRIDE. Elizabeth is not taken in by Wickham, and Collins soon becomes genuinely enamored with Charlotte. Caroline and Darcy do not interfere between Jane and Bingley. The focus remains on Netherfield and Longbourn--no de Bourghs, Gardiners, few Merytong neighbors, and no opposition to Elizabeth and Darcy.

    Goodrich tells the story exclusively through Elizabeth and Darcy, mostly Elizabeth. All characters are much more modern than Regency, and several are considerably softened, including Mrs. Phillips, Mr. Collins, and Lydia. Goodrich's Elizabeth is more impulsive, more than ever convinced of the accuracy of her judgment, eager to impose her own ideas about Christmas on Darcy. Darcy, in turn, fights his attraction to Elizabeth, remaining enigmatic and offering no explanation for his lack of spirit. Each's self-imposed angst carries on almost to tedium. Still, it's a pleasant read. (B)
     
  9. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    12 DAYS AT BLEAKLY MANOR is the first book in Michelle Griep's Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series. It was published in digital and print formats in 2017. The characters have Dickensian names and attributes, the plot bears little similarity to real life, sentiment about Christmas abounds, and elements from many of Dickens's work echo.

    Clara Chapman, dependent on an elderly aunt for whom she is a paid companion and devastated by being left at the altar (literally) nine months before, is surprised to receive an invitation to spend the Twelve Days of Christmas at Bleakly Manor. If she does so, she will receive £500. Aunt Deborha Mitchell insists she accept. Benjamin Lane, Clara's fiancé, has been imprisoned for nine months, having been arrested en route to his wedding. He had been tried for embezzlement and theft in the equivalent of a Star Chamber trial, in which he was not represented by counsel, did not know who'd prosecuted him, or seen the evidence. He's due for transportation to Australia when he receives a summons to Bleakly Manor, with freedom as his prize for staying the Twelve Days. Both bitter, Clara and Ben struggle with blame, guilt, and love as strange events transpire at Bleakly Manor.

    The mystery element in 12 DAYS AT BLEAKLY MANOR is fairly standard manor-house party with an assortment of odd secondary characters and an echo of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians). Neither who's responsible for the incidents at Bleakly Manor nor who'd framed Ben Lane is difficult to figure out. Charles Dickens's role is improbable. Characters are more stereotypes than individuals. Little use is made of atmosphere.

    12 DAYS AT BLEAKLY MANOR is at best a time-filler, requiring too much suspension of disbelief to be memorable. (C-)
     
  10. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "A Very Meryton Christmas" is Olivia Kane's 2018 short story variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in digital format.

    After his insult at the Meryton Assembly, Elizabeth Bennet is most unimpressed with Fitzwilliam Darcy, but she's eager to promote Jane's relationship with Charles Bingley. So she and Jane carry Mrs. Bennet's gift of Longbourn's special fruitcake to Netherfield. There Darcy offends her further by refusing even to taste the fruitcake. George Wickham later tells her that Darcy's lack of holiday spirit comes from the illness and sudden death of his father during December some five years before. Determined to improve his spirits, Elizabeth makes a point of friendly overtures to Darcy and when he dances only one dance at the Meryton Christmas assembly, with her, gossip of an attraction rapidly spreads. But with a Netherfield house guest intent on becoming Mrs. Darcy, and Darcy's determination to leave Hertfordshire after Christmas, is there hope?

    The plot of "A Very Meryton Christmas" is slice of life, focusing on events of the Yuletide season and the evolving relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. The shift to the motives and preparation for the Lucases' Christmas Even dinner weaken the plot structure. Kane sets up without developing interesting possibilities in the machinations of Miss Agnes Warwick, who accepted Caroline Bingley's invitation only because Darcy is in the party. Miss Warwick is worse than Caroline in her behavior, but she is a false note in the story--Austen's Caroline would shave her head and join the militia before she'd entertain as a guest a competitor for Darcy. Otherwise, the characters are reasonably faithful to their originals.

    "A Very Meryton Christmas" is a cozy read, marred by "Bennet" occasionally spelled "Bennett" and by Sir William being called "Sir Lucas." It's in no way remarkable. (B-)
     
  11. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    DECKED IN THE HALL is J. New's Christmas cozy published in digital format in 2018. It is the third book in her Finch and Fischer series.

    Penny Finch drives a mobile library van through the villages around Winstone. When much disliked Julia Hargreaves drops dead at a village Christmas event, Penny, who's a devoted fan of mystery fiction, smells bitter almonds and suspects murder. When her suspicion is confirmed, newcomer Detective Inspector John Monroe welcomes her help, and she solves the case.

    DECKED IN THE HALL is fine if you don't mind formula writing, which it carries to the nth-degree. Characters are standard cozy. Penny Finch is entering middle age, involved in a dead-end relationship (for Christmas, her fiancé of six years gives her a box of handkerchieves and a free planner from his business), and has no reason except curiosity to become involved in the murder. She and Inspector Monroe begin to develop a relationship. Her closest relationship is with Fischer, her six-month-old Jack Russell Terrier who's smarter than the average dog. She has a best friend who's in the throes of divorce and assorted quirky elderly friends. Nothing makes any of the characters distinct individuals.

    The plot is improbable, ignoring police procedures in encouraging amateur involvement and in preserving the chain of evidence. Foreshadowing of the killer's identity is inadequate. the motive seeming insufficient to merit such a reaction. The key information on which Penny bases her identification of the killer is not disclosed until the tell-all explanation.

    Sense of place is not developed. Christmas activities are referred to, but there's no sense of holiday atmosphere and little sense of geographic location. Generic all the way! (D)
     
  12. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    HOW MR. DARCY SAVED CHRISTMAS is Rose Fairbanks's Christmas novella variant on Jane Austen'sPride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    During Christmas in Lambton with the Gardiners, visiting Aunt Gardiner's family, Elizabeth Bennet is disappointed in the lack of Christmas spirit--no decoration, no festivities. This is attributed to the lack of interest exhibited by local landowner Fitzwilliam Darcy, who's ended the Yuletide activities sponsored by his deceased parents and continued by his sister. Following Georgiana's death in childbirth on Christmas Eve some three years before, she having married George Wickham at Gretna Green, Darcy's guilt and grief have precluded celebrating the season. Elizabeth herself is grieving the death of youngest sister Lydia, also in childbirth after her elopement from Brighton with a militia officer. Believing his story of true love for his dead wife, Elizabeth helps George Wickham plan to restore Christmas joy to Lambton with a Twelfth Night ball in her honor. Can Elizabeth and Darcy come to healing and understanding?

    Elizabeth's belief in the curative power of the Christmas spirit owes more to Dickens than to Austen. That Darcy's attitude is changed by a heavy petting session with Elizabeth in the Pemberley wood trivializes both their feelings and the genuine sentiments of the season.

    The Wickham scenario is hardest for me to accept. I simply do not think Austen's Wickham so easily redeemed by love, neither do I believe he would legally marry Georgiana without claiming her fortune, which is by law his despite her early death. The role of Wickham. Sr., in the ill feeling between George and Darcy makes little sense. Darcy's volte-face on Wickham and his motives is too swift and too complete to be believable. Bah, humbug! (F)
     
  13. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "The Partridge in a Pearl Tree" is the opening holiday short story in Roger Riccard's anthology SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS. It is available in digital format issued in 2018. Its premise is that Riccard developed the stories from Dr. Watson's case notes left in a trunk bequeathed to Riccard's grandmother Mrs. Ruby Hudson.

    When a fabulous crown featuring a partridge-shaped ruby set into a Christmas tree of pearls is stolen from St. Paul's Cathedral, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard calls in Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to assist in his inquiries. Background and financial checks on the limited number of suspects reveal nothing suspicious, but then Sister Margaret, the nun who returned the crown to its case, goes missing. Can she possibly be involved int he theft?

    A neat little story, one in which Sister Margaret has a profound effect on Holmes's life, as she challenges him to restrict his use of cocaine until he's deduced the answer to a theological question. His paraphernalia is Dr. Watson's best Christmas gift. (A)
     

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