Barbara D'Amato's Cat Marsala series takes a festive turn when our favourite freelance journalist decides it's high time she do a more upbeat and pleasant piece. Cat decides that doing an essay on Christmas tree farming and marketing has all the makings of a fun project, and heads to the DeGraaf family farm in Holland, Illinois.
The DeGraafs have kindly allowed Cat to stay with them while she profiles what goes on during harvesting time on a Christmas tree farm, and she quickly comes to know all 10 members of the family and their unique personalities. Cat also becomes quite fond of 13-going-on-30 Nell.
That wherever Cat goes murder surely follows is a foregone conclusion, and this time it is the kind and hard-working farmhand Luis that ends up dead in a particularly gruesome manner.
It quickly becomes clear that no stranger walked onto the farm and incapacitated poor Luis and stuffed him into the tree baler and left him to freeze to death. It had to be one of the 10 - but which one? What's more, Cat has a feeling that Nell knows more than she is letting on and is hiding information that could be helpful. And does Luis' murder have any connection to the untimely death of the elderly family patriarch, Henry DeGraaf, some months ago?
As an outsider, Cat Marsala is perhaps the only real help the DeGraaf family has of unmasking the killer in their midst.
The reader can really see the influence of Agatha Christie flowing through the narrative in D'Amato's novels, and Hard Christmas is no exception. This is yet another story that has hints of Christie's 'Ordeal by Innocence', where a member of the family is dead, and unless the killer is unmasked, the innocent parties will suffer under a cloud of suspicion for the rest of their lives.
This report prepared by tesubcalle