It’s not very common to find novels that take place in Birmingham, Alabama. And of the ones that do, there aren’t a lot of mysteries. Author Billie Thomas (under use of a pen name, itself adding to the mystery) sets out to remedy this with Murder on the First Day of Christmas, the first in a series of Chloe Carstairs mysteries.
Bringing murder and intrigue to the Magic City, Thomas crafts a comical Christmas who-done-it where the Birmingham elite spend their holidays trying outdo each other by having the biggest party, spreading the most gossip, and making each other the likeliest suspects for two high-profile murders.
With Chloe Carstairs, Thomas gives us a lead character so likable and identifiable that you feel like you’re reading the adventures of a close friend. Like many in their thirties, her personal life hasn’t quite panned out like she planned, and her views on dating, relationships, and self esteem make her feel real as she remains ultimately optimistic despite several lessons in humility (occasionally involving underwear).
The mystery is fun, surprising, and well-crafted. The story takes the reader through various somewhat fictional pitstops around the city of Birmingham, providing a look at the city that non-natives may not have anticipated. As characters and motives are investigated and uncovered respectively, the story unfolds at an even and enjoyable pace.
But the heart of the novel lies with the mother/daughter relationship between Chloe and Amanda. The two make a great comedic duo as they partner in both decorating and sleuthing. Thomas gives the pair a very touching balance of tension, support, and love that feels very genuine. Chloe’s father and sister also fill out the family dynamic, and as no one in the family hesitates to speak their mind or argue when they feel it’s necessary, the unit doesn’t fall into the trap of feeling like too perfect of a family for reality. This is a family that loves each other, and continues to do so through life’s bumps, bruises, and missteps.