GINGERDEAD MAN: Five-Ingredient Mystery #7
"A Christmas Carol" by Dickens explores death in the midst of a joyous celebration and inspires a holiday mystery.
When I was asked to write a holiday mystery, I grappled with how to inject death into the “holly, jolly ... best time of the year” without killing the spirit of the season. Then I realized that Charles Dickens showed the way. Death permeates his iconic holiday story, A Christmas Carol. From its first line—“Marley was dead: to begin with”—it takes us on a bleak journey to a brief happy ending. Mysteries take readers on a similar journey. In my seventh Five-Ingredient Mystery, Gingerdead Man, the Dickens tale is central to the story.
The book begins during the Dickens of a Holiday festival in Bayport, Maryland. Val is catering English tea parties, and Granddad is greeting festival visitors in his Victorian garb. He isn’t just playing Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s genuinely grumpy because a newcomer has usurped his role as the town Santa. This year’s St. Nick imbibes from a flask, ogles Val, and spreads germs with his almighty sneezes. The dark roots of his beard hint that the Santa role doesn’t come naturally to this man who's more nasty than jolly.
As the festival winds down, Val hosts a tea party for the costumed volunteers dressed as Dickens characters, from Madame Defarge and Miss Havisham to Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past. Santa and Mrs. Claus round out the party. Then an unexpected guest arrives “shrouded in a deep black garment” like the last ghost in A Christmas Carol. Face hidden, the figure distributes gift bags to each volunteer. In the Dickens story Ebenezer Scrooge recoils from this figure dressed like the Grim Reaper. But in Gingerdead Man Santa learns too late to beware of ghosts bearing gifts.