Murder mysteries celebrate holidays & Maine’s winter

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Barbara Ross

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BOOTHBAY HARBOR — Has your holiday eggnog ever failed to deliver? Too eggy or too spicy or so much rum the glass walks itself off the table? Has your eggnog ever killed anyone?

In the spirit of mixing mayhem with merriment, at least on paper (or online), the book “Eggnog Murder” fictionalizes three coastal villages grappling - iday murders. Organized as an anthology celebrating Christmas in Maine, “Eggnog Murder” includes mystery novellas from three authors, including Boothbay Harbor’s own Barbara Ross.

“I think combining Christmas and murder isn’t so strange,” said Ross. “New England and Maine have a strong village mystique … a romantic tradikiller concoction for a Tinker’s Cove local.

In Lee Hollis’ “Death By Eggnog,” a grouchy town librarian is felled by n o n - d a i r y e g g n o g and it’s up to the t o w n ’s f o o d c o l u m - nist to ladle out some justice.

Ross was surprised when she was offered the opportunity to join colleagues in a holiday c o l l e c t i o n of stories. “When my agent called me to say that ‘kinda out of the blue,’ Kensington P u b l i s h - ing had asked me to contribute a novella to a collection called ‘Eggnog Murder,’ I was thrilled,” she said. “My novels are always too short and my short stories always too long, so I suspected novellas were my true calling. But another reason I was pumped was because I had been sitting on a gem of an eggnog anecdote for almost 30 years. Many moons ago, I interviewed a young woman seeking a sales position after she had accidentally poisoned her entire office with a homemade eggnog recipe.”

All three authors were asked to use the eggnog in their novellas’ titles and Ross’s story, “Nogged Off,” begins when a character named Imogen Geinkes makes a concoction called “Killer Eggnog,” giving her co-workers food poisoning at a holiday party.

Readers will recognize much of Boothbay as the action moves to the fictional village of Busman’s Harbor when Imogen’s boyfriend shows up dead in Julia Snowden’s van.

Julia Snowden is Ross’s central character in all four of her previous mysteries: “Clammed Up,” “Boiled Over,” “Mustion like Currier and Ives or a Norman Rockwell scene. These communities promise a reliable order to life until a mystery comes along and upsets what’s comfortable. In the end, order is restored, but a holiday setting makes disorder more unsettling.”

In “Eggnog Murder,” by Leslie Meier a gift-wrapped bottle of eggnog - allegedly from the Real Beard Santa Club - proves to be a seled Out,” and “Fogged Inn.”

Her next full length mystery, “Iced Inn,” comes out Dec. 27, showcasing Ross’s deep awareness of how winter might - and might not - change a small community dependent on tourism, as well as the sea.

“Much of the coast is romanticized like it was a perfect August day, but in Boothbay and places like it, it’s kind of like ducks. There are all these people like ducks’ feet underwater paddling like crazy to provide this wonderful, memorable vacation. It takes so many people, kind of paddling hard out of sight to make the romantic illusion work,” Ross said.

Perhaps that’s why “Iced Inn’s” opening lines sound familiar. “Everyone who could leave town had left. The summer people were long gone, from the day-trippers to the seasonal home owners.”

But in town, the Snowden Family Clambake Company proprietor Julia Snowden and her mother are hunkered down for the winter when a mysterious package arrives — heating up February with an unexpected case of murder and a life threatening blizzard.

Ross laughed as she said, “I don’t have to murder every person in Busman’s Harbor because tourists, retirees, and seasonal staff come and go and there are conferences, weddings, and family reunions.”

That’s good news for local residents who are not recognizable characters in Ross’ mysteries, but they are “recognizable types.”

Ross hopes that this season readers will patronize local book stores in search of holiday mystery.

Sandra Neily is a Coastal Journal contributor who lives on Westport

Island. She can be reached at her blog, ValueNature, at sandyneily.com.