The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict: Fast-paced, tension-packed and cleverly plotted - book review -
For the first time in twenty-one years, Lily Armitage has the chance to discover the truth behind her mother’s untimely death.
But it means returning to creepy Endgame House in a remote corner of the Yorkshire Dales to play a dangerous Christmas game with her fractured family… a game that will see her fighting a life and death battle.
If a classic festive murder mystery rings your jingle bells, then settle back in your armchair and enjoy a brilliant claustrophobic crime caper – complete with wicked word games – that will test both your pulse rate and your little grey cells.
Award-winning writer Alexandra Benedict, who also pens critically-acclaimed gothic novels – bewitches and beguiles us with a locked-room, Agatha Christie-style whodunit dished up with a contemporary twist and a delicious side-serving of anagrams and puzzles.
Lily Armitage, a costume maker who lives in London, never intended to return to Endgame House in rural Yorkshire, the grand family home where her mother Mariana died in the middle of the garden’s intricate maze twenty-one Christmases ago.
Her vow to never go back is finally broken when she receives a letter from her mother’s sister, Aunt Liliana – who adopted Lily after Mariana died – asking her to return to the house to take part in what has become her family’s annual tradition… the Christmas Game.
The challenge is to solve twelve clues and find twelve keys, and the prize this year is the deeds to Endgame House. ‘Endgame has kept our secrets for half a century, now it’s time for it, and its secrets, to have a new owner,’ she writes, adding that the answers to Lily’s questions about who killed her mother will be there in every clue of the game, ending all that has haunted the family for twenty-one years.
So, for the twelve days of Christmas, Lily must stay at Endgame House with her estranged cousins and unravel the riddles that hold the key not just to the family home, but to its darkest secrets. However, it soon becomes clear that her cousins all have their own reasons for wanting to win the house… and not all of them are playing fair.
As a snowstorm cuts them off from the village, the game turns deadly. Soon Lily realises that she is no longer fighting for an inheritance, but for her life. How many of them will die before Twelfth Night?
The Christmas Murder Game has all those much-loved trademarks of traditional crime mysteries and comes liberally sprinkled with snow, a thick layer of skulduggery, a scattering of intriguing clues and puzzles, and an entertaining cast of deeply dysfunctional characters.
In Lily, Benedict gives us an inspirational heroine to shout for – brave, determined and intensely human – as she sets her sights firmly on digging out the truth even as the bodies mount and her chances of surviving the twelve days of Christmas seem to recede by the hour.
Fast-paced, tension-packed, cleverly plotted, and set against the rugged backdrop of wintertime Yorkshire, this is a murder mystery just dying to be read!
(Zaffre, hardback, £14.99)