Twelve Drummers Drumming is the first of 12 planned murder mysteries starring an Anglican priest known as Father Christmas. The next book is to be Eleven Pipers Piping. The last, presumably, will have something to do with a partridge in a pear tree.
Fortunately, the first entry by Winnipeg author C.C. Benison (the pen name for journalist Douglas Whiteway) is far less cutesy and cloying than the title and hero’s name would suggest. Actually, Father Christmas is a rather ordinary clergyman, lacking the usual eccentricities of amateur detectives (although he once worked as a magician). He also continues to mourn his wife, who was murdered some years ago, leaving him a single parent to adorable Miranda. One can only hope the intrigues in the reverend’s past will be given greater prominence in future instalments.
Drummers begins with Father Christmas discovering the body of a young woman stuffed into a giant drum. Christmas, being the curious clergyman he is, starts poking around his bucolic village, where everybody knows everybody and, of course, everybody has a dark secret waiting to be revealed.
The plot moves rather ponderously in the first half, but picks up speed in the home stretch and delivers some surprises that make the trip interesting enough to build anticipation for the next book.
Benison’s publisher is, rather dubiously, trying to compare this new series to Alan Bradley’s phenomenally successful Flavia de Luce mysteries. In truth, Bradley’s books are far quirkier than Benison’s and are appropriate for all ages. Judging by the first book, Benison’s new series is oriented much more toward adults. The widowed Father Christmas has an eye for the ladies, and there is every indication he will get to know one or more in the biblical sense before that partridge lands in its pear tree.