Review: Murder on The Christmas Express by Alexandra Benedict

Murder On The Christmas ExpressMurder On The Christmas Express by Alexandra Benedict
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Murder on The Christmas Express is an engaging and dramatic Locked Room Mystery by Alexandra Benedict.

This story is set aboard a Sleeper Train, traveling from London to the Scottish Highlands, on Christmas Eve.

I have a thing for stories set on trains. It’s one of my favorite set-ups and this story did not disappointment in that regard.

I was a little nervous starting this one, since the overall rating seemed on the low-end for a newer release. I almost didn’t pick it up because of that. I’m so glad I ignored the rating and gave it a go. It sure paid off for me.

This story mainly follows Roz Parker, a former Met Detective, who is about to become a Grandmother for the first time. She’s traveling on the train to try to reach her pregnant daughter’s side before Christmas.

Unfortunately, due to a severe storm, the train schedules are a mess, with many routes cancelled. This Sleeper Train is the only way to get to the Highlands for the holiday.

Eighteen passengers. Seven stops. One killer.

That tagline sold me, and for the most part, I feel like this story delivered on that. It did give me what I was looking for. I’ll admit, initially, the writing style did feel a little wonky. It took me a minute to get myself grounded in this author’s style and to connect with the narrative voice.

I did end up enjoying Roz quite a bit. Her no-nonsense attitude drew me in. She’s tough, but she’s also at a turning point in her life and still grappling with some earlier trauma that’s had a hold on her ever since. In that regard, I found her realistic and relatable.

We did get various other perspectives as well and some of those were a little strange. I did feel most connected when I was reading from Roz’s perspective.

The other passengers are quite a mix and it was fun watching them all interact. There’s some real jerks aboard, make no mistake about that. I tend to really enjoy an unlikable cast of characters though, and that was definitely the case here.

There is a murder foreshadowed in the beginning and then it takes a wee bit to catch up with that event. I had a lot of theories as the story was building-out.

I liked how this is a true locked room mystery. That type of set-up, figuring out how the killer would have been able to achieve their goal is always so fun for me and I enjoyed Roz trying to piece it together here.

There were many red herrings and false leads. Enough to keep me engaged and guessing throughout. Some things I got right, others I didn’t, but regardless of the outcomes, I enjoyed scratching my head about it.

I think some Readers may have been turned off by the repetitive theme of sexual assault and its aftermath. I think perhaps this was marketed as a Cozy Mystery and you generally wouldn’t explore that type of thing to the depths that this story does in a Cozy.

I will say, for me, I didn’t think this was a Cozy going in, so didn’t end up having that experience with it. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Cozy with a black cover, so when I picked this up, I was just expecting a straight-forward Adult Mystery, which I would argue this is.

Either way, Readers should be aware that this does discuss sexual assault, as well as abuse, in detail on page. If that could be triggering for you, proceed with caution.

For me, I was much more invested in the actual mystery than in the side details of the characters lives, so that portion of it didn’t really impact me. Further, I think just anticipating an Adult Mystery, versus a Cozy, I felt this fell right in line with my expectations.

While this isn’t perfect, I enjoyed it a lot. The ending dragged a bit, but I still felt it to be a solid Locked Room Mystery. The train setting was an absolute delight and I always love when inclement weather traps characters in an unsavory circumstance.

Thank you to the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, for providing me a with a copy to read and review.

I had fun with this and would actually love to see another story with Roz Parker in the lead. Perhaps she can solve a New Years Eve murder next?

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Review: Dead of Winter by Darcy Coates

Dead of WinterDead of Winter by Darcy Coates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Dead of Winter is the perfect Summer Chiller to make your blood run cold on a hot day.

If your air conditioning isn’t keeping pace with the heat, look no further, this novel will cool you down quickly!

In this story we meet Christa as she embarks on a two-week vacation in the Rocky Mountains with her boyfriend of around six-months, Kiernan. Christa is a woman haunted by her past and this vacation is a big deal for her.

Kiernan has been such a blessing in her life and she feels like she has a little more courage with him by her side. Kiernan is from the area near the mountains they are visiting and Christa is excited to see a place that is so special to him.

As they are making their way to the remote lodge on the tour bus, along with eight other guests and their guide, inclement weather makes the conditions less than an ideal. A fallen tree blocking the road ends up stalling them further.

As the guide breaks the tree down to move it out of the way, Kiernan and Christa hike up a nearby ledge to get a private peek at the view.

In the worsening conditions, the couple get separated and the next thing Christa knows she is awakening in a cabin, groggy and injured, with Kiernan no where in sight.

As the roads became impassable, the group was forced to take shelter in a tiny rustic cabin they found not far from where the bus is stranded.

They were lucky to find Christa, but the search for Kiernan will have to be put on hold until morning. Their new quarters are tight and claustrophobic, with very minimal supplies. This is not going to be easy.

The group settles in and try to come up with a plan for escape, but they might as well be the last people on Earth. They have no means of communicating with the outside world, and even if they could get a signal out, how could rescue even get to them?

In the middle of the night, their guide goes missing. The next morning the group is shocked to find his decapitated head hanging in a tree just next to the cabin.

Fear and paranoia runs high, as each in the group realizes there may be a killer amongst them. As bodies start dropping, the suspect list grows smaller. Who will make it out of this vacation from hell alive?

Dead of Winter is a fun read. This is the second Darcy Coates book that I have read. The first was a DNF because I was bored, so this one is a huge improvement over that.

I am an atmosphere girlie first and foremost and Coates absolutely delivered in that category here. I loved the secluded location, the claustrophobic-feeling cabin and the cold, uninviting wilderness surrounding them.

I also enjoyed the unlikable cast of characters being thrust together into tight quarters. These were people who probably otherwise wouldn’t have been socializing with one another, but fate brought them together and they had no option than to try to work together.

I also enjoyed their interactions. As the tension rose and people’s paranoia started to kick in, I found how they were relating to one another really believable. I think Coates did a great job with the psychology behind it all.

For me though, in spite of the fact that it was action-packed, I did feel like it went on a little too long. There were some sections that dragged, or felt repetitive, when I was just wishing to move forward a little more quickly.

Additionally, I felt that it was pretty clear who the killer was and why, so it made certain reveals a little less impactful than I think the author was intending. I was hoping for a bit more suspense to carry me through to the end.

With this being said, I don’t necessarily need to be surprised to have fun with a story and I still enjoyed this one a lot. I thought the level of violence and body horror was perfect and as mentioned above, the secluded setting was fantastically done.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a chilling, intense, cold-weather Horror-Thriller story.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I am excited to read more from this author!

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