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A Holly, Jolly Murder: A Claire Malloy Mystery    by Joan Hess order for
Holly, Jolly Murder
by Joan Hess
Order:  USA  Can
Dutton, 1998 (1997)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

Claire Malloy is a widow eking out a precarious living as owner of a bookstore in Farberville, a college town. Said living is made even more precarious by the desires of her teenage daughter Caron. If you think that Claire's life is miserable, this is far from true. The lady has a lively sense of humour and a wry view of life. Anyone familiar with Hess's rollicking Maggody series will expect to be entertained by Claire Malloy, and will not be disappointed. Although the humour is less broadly drawn and the characters are less outrageous than the Maggody crowd, Claire's adventures make for a delightful read.

In Holly, Jolly Murder, Claire is pouting because she feels dowdy and dull. Her dashing swain, Lt. Peter Rosen, has hared off to prevent his wealthy mother from making a dreadful mistake (she appears to be succumbing to the charms of a new beau); worse still, his glamorous ex-wife Leslie has also been invited to spend the holidays with the Rosens. A phone call from Peter goads her into accepting an offer to celebrate the season with a group of neo-Druids - that should show Peter that she's no stick-in-the-mud.

This is faulty reasoning, of course, as any Hess fan will know. Claire finds herself once again entangled in murder, the victim possibly the only normal member of the Druid group. The suspects are a dizzyingly zany lot, and Rosen's unfortunate sergeant soon finds himself completely at sea. Desperate, he enlists Claire's help; and the two engage in a conspiracy of silence, well aware that Rosen will have their heads if he knows of Claire's involvement. (Claire is a mystery fan and dearly loves the chance to put theory into practice.) She does succeed in finding the truth, despite the confusion caused by some of the suspects who are doing their best to tamper with evidence and muddy the trail, in order to protect the youngest suspect. Claire is further distracted by her jealousy over Rosen's ex-wife, money worries, and a million-dollar lawsuit.

The lawsuit arises from Caron's new job. Caron and her best friend Inez are hired as reindeer at a local mall. When Caron restrains a hideously obnoxious child from running amok at Santa's photo op, her equally obnoxious parents sue, claiming that their child is physically and emotionally injured. Contractual technicalities leave Claire and Caron as the sole targets of the lawsuit. Caron proves herself a true daughter of her mother. Unwilling to tamely submit to an unjust claim, she undertakes her own investigation and succeeds in defeating the enemy. (Hess fans will recognize Darla Jean from Maggody, one of the witnesses Caron tracks down.) The tussles between mother and daughter will strike a chord with any parent - who will also appreciate what a determined teen can accomplish.

I am a confirmed admirer of Joan Hess and of Claire Malloy. This spunky heroine contends with all the challenges that life throws at her - economic worries, parenting concerns, romantic frustrations - and emerges a survivor. The reader can relate to her situation and enjoy the irrepressible humour with which she faces all comers. She's a darned good amateur detective, too.

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