Gumdrop Coal has gotten the axe. Founder of the Coal Patrol, those elves who deliver coal into bad little kids' stockings, Gumdrop is out on his ear when Santa decides that every child deserves a real gift on Christmas. Gumdrop takes it hard. His methods might be harsh, but he believes they're fair and they mostly get results.
He's promised Santa that he'll stay away from children, but he hasn't made any promises about parents. Let's face it--someone is responsible for little monsters turning out the way they are. After a few violent encounters, parents and children have changed their ways for the better.
Then one of the parents Gumdrop roughed up is found dead. Everyone in Kringle Town thinks Gumdrop did it. Gumdrop sets out to clear his name. Can he nab the culprit before his own goose is cooked?
This was fun, if a little hard to sustain over the length of a short novel. I can't say that I've actually read any noir, but I'm somehow familiar with the tropes, either through movies or the collective subconscious. Harmon stayed true to what I know. The good-looking dame with questionable motives. The hard-boiled MC. Over-the-top villains. Very cool.
What was a lot of fun was seeing how Christmas lore fit into the book. There can't be many Christmas songs and stories that Harmon didn't work in here. Tiny Tim, Ralphie, It's a Wonderful Life, "The Twelve Days of Christmas"--he really covered a lot of ground.
I mostly liked the way that familiar sayings had a Christmas twist. "Son of a blitzen." "I didn't know it yet but someone back at the North Pole was about to start playing reindeer games for keeps." "For a little while, things seemed too foggy even for Rudy's schnoz and the whole tale was about to get more twisted than a cheap string of lights." It did get a little old if I read the book too long at one time. But when I put it down and came back after a little break, I was entertained again.
I was surprised that there was a true Christmas message worked in, with talk of the Child, and the First Gift, and the true meaning of Christmas. I liked it.
As for the mystery, I didn't really follow all the twists and turns. I went with it, but now that I'm sitting here thinking about it, I'm not sure that everything really worked together. That might be my fault for reading without thinking too much, I don't know. It happens.
If you're looking for a different kind of Christmas read, go ahead and check this out. It's a nice change from the sickeningly sweet fare that's usually offered up at this time of year.
Find author Ken Harmon on his website and Facebook.
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