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Eleven Pipers Piping: A Father Christmas Mystery    by C. C. Benison order for
Eleven Pipers Piping
by C. C. Benison
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

C. C. Benison is my new favorite cozy mystery writer. His latest, Eleven Pipers Piping, follows Twelve Drummers Drumming as the second in a series starring Father Tom Christmas (vicar and accidental sleuth) in the village of Thornford Regis, in England's West Country. Titles are aptly taken from the carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas.

The vicar's pediatrician wife was mysteriously murdered before the series began. Now Tom Christmas lives with his teen daughter Miranda, their dog Bumble and Madrun Prowse (the housekeeper and talented cook who came with the vicarage). As in the first episode, chapters are prefaced by informative daily typewritten letters from Madrun to her Mum in Cornwall. And throughout this episode, Madrun wrestles with her new difficulty in cooking a successful Yorkshire pudding - she keeps making dropdeads.

Eleven Pipers Piping opens one chilly day in January. Father Tom anticipates with dread the need to cheerfully eat a haggis dinner at an annual Robert Burns Supper. It's obligatory that he attend as chaplain to the Scottish pipe band. The dinner is held at The Thorn Court Country Hotel, run by Caroline and Will Moir. And, though Father Tom is pleasantly surprised by the food, the evening ends badly when Will is found dead, soon after the unexpected arrival of elderly Judith Ingley, whose family used to work at the hotel.

Once it's determined that Will was poisoned the police are involved, causing mixed feelings in Father Tom, who finds Police Community Support Officer Mairi White attractive. Who might have had it in for Will Moir? Victor and Molly Kaif still blame him for their son's suicide. Caroline's brother, Nick Stanhope, has an interest in the hotel and is pushing to sell it. And Judith has a mysterious history with the Stanhopes.

As Father Tom goes about his regular duties in the village, clues come his way and the tangle steadily unravels to a surprising conclusion. As in all the best cozy mysteries, I enjoyed spending time with Father Tom and his parishioners just as much as resolving the whodunit. This is a wonderful new series, perfect for holiday reading. And I can't wait for the ten lords a-leaping (out of airplanes it appears!)

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