Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review: Not a Creature Was Stirring

By Jane Haddam

Not a Creature Was Stirring by Jane Haddam is the first book in the long-running Gregor Demarkian holiday mystery series.  It was nominated for both an Anthony Award and the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award.


Former FBI Agent Gregor Demarkian has returned to the Armenian neighborhood of his childhood where the lonely widower seeks the comfort of ethnic tradition.  But a mysterious Christmas Eve summons to the home of multi-millionaire Robert Hannaford brings a very different kind of holiday experience.

Arriving at the isolated country estate only to find his host murdered, Demarkian observes the next generation of Hannafords.  From a famous author of fantasy novels to a greed-ridden money manipulator, from a scandal-plagued minor academic to a gambling-addicted DJ, the Hannaford offspring present a variegated and self-absorbed assortment of siblings who have in common only being heir to a legendary fortune.  Or are they?

Invited on the case in the freewheeling role of consultant, Demarkian predicts that whomever killed old Hannaford isn't through yet.  When a second slaying follows the first, Demarkian looks for a motive in the twisted inheritance intrigues of a tormented dynasty.

My thoughts:

Fans of the cozy/traditional mystery genre will find much to like in Not a Creature Was Stirring, which introduces Bennis Hannaford, one of Robert Hannaford's daughters, and her dysfunctional family.  Each sibling has a minor subplot, not necessarily related to the murder.  In spite of not liking the Hannafords very much, I was fascinated by this Pennsylvania Main Line family.

Gregor Demarkian, who is still grieving over the death of his wife, is a sympathetic and likeable character.  "Socializing had never been one of his strong suits.  While he'd had Elizabeth, she'd been enough.  Once she was gone, he'd found it hard to connect with other people."

Demarkian's neighbors in the Armenian neighborhood of Cavanaugh Street add much interest to the story.  One example is 86-year-old George Tekamanian, with his lavishly decorated apartment:  "George's grandson Martin had made a killing in the stock market and since George had adamantly refused to leave Cavanaugh Street for the Main Line, Martin had decided to bring the Main Line to George."

Another of my favorite characters is Armenian priest, Father Tibor.  George tells Demarkian:  "I think this man may be a saint . . . A real one, not the plasterboard kind they like to tell us about in church."  Father Tibor puts his faith into action by frequently offering shelter in his own home to the homeless:  "Christ said, 'Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless.'  Not, 'Be sure to vote for the congressman who promises to build the most low-income housing.'  If the people who called themselves Christians behaved like Christians, there wouldn't be any people sleeping on the street."

The mystery is well plotted and interesting.  Some sections move a little slowly, but that is because much attention is given to character development in this first volume.  This novel is clean, with very little profanity.  Highly recommended.  I look forward to the next installment, Precious Blood.

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