This is the story of a free cruise which has been donated to people who have given generously of their time and money over the year and the strange happenings aboard the Santa Cruise. Eric Weed is the money-grabbing nephew of Randolph Weed. Randolph Weed has realized his life dream of owning a cruise ship and sailing the world. Randolph was delighted when his nephew, Eric, agreed to join him in the venture. Eric was delighted because he thought he could join his uncle, do nothing, wait for his uncle to die and inherit a fortune.
Randolph Weed has refurbished the 'Royal Mermaid' and with the help of Dudley Loomis, who used to be a PR director on the big cruise ships, their first cruise is to be for people who have done charitable works throughout the year. The guest list also includes 10 Santas who have given up their time year after year to entertain children. The cruise is absolutely free and Randolph is worried that if it doesn't go well, he will be bankrupt before he even begins his new venture. Randolph Weed planned to have a ceremony for his mother who had died recently. He had her ashed with him in a beautiful jewelry box. There was going to be a sunset ceremony and then mother's ashes and the box were going overboard. Randolph was really hoping that everyone on board would attend.
Among the guests are Alvirah Meehan and her husband, Willy. Alvirah used to be a cleaner but had a big lottery win a few years ago and now prides herself on being an amateur sleuth and writer. Alvirah's good friend and suspense writer, Nora Regan Reilly and her husband, Luke are also on the cruise, together with their daughter, Regan and her husband, Jack - whose surname is also Reilly. Jack Reilly is head of the NYPD major case squad.
Eric has been paid $2 million to smuggle two criminals on board and get them to Fishbowl Island, where they will be able to live without worrying about extradition. One of the criminals is Bull's-Eye Tony Pinto who is built like a heavyweight boxer and a nasty piece of work. The other is Barron Highbridge who is an extremely clever individual who enjoys taking people's money. Eric hides them in his suite but a problem arises when Dudley Loomis realizes that they have overbooked the ship. Eric is told he must vacate his suite and move into his uncle's two-bedroomed suite.
The only place Eric can think of hiding the two criminals is in the chapel. He goes into the store room and steals two of the Santa costumes so he can disguise his stowaways while he temporarily moves them to the chapel before moving them into his small room. Eric moves into his small room in his uncle's suite with the help of Winston, his uncle's butler. Winston is an absolute gem and takes care of his uncle very well indeed. Randolph had been married three times and it was his third wife Reeney who had found Winston for him.
Alvirah and Willy move into the suite that Eric has vacated and are surprised to find chip crumbs on the floor. Alvirah finds a pack of cards in the bedside table and when she mentions them to Eric, he says they are not his. While Jack and Regan are unpacking in their suite, they hear on the news that mob boss "Bull's-Eye" Tony Pinto and white-collar criminal Barron Highbridge are missing. They were both allowed home with their families for Christmas and were due to appear in court straight after it. Jack contacted NYPD and asked them to keep him informed. It was obvious that both criminals needed to find a quick exit from the country.
Another group on the cruise are from the Oklahoma Readers and Writers Group. They are there to celebrate the life of Left Hook Louis, who was a boxer turned mystery writer. Ivy Pickering was a new member of the group and was very taken with Randolph, the captain. After dinner she decided to take a look at the chapel. Imagine her surprise when she opened the door to find what looked like Left Hook Louis in his boxer shorts. She ran screaming back into the dining room saying that she had seen the ghost of Left Hook Louis. The villains immediately left the chapel and fled on deck trying to find somewhere to hide.
Meanwhile, there was concern about the disappearance of two of the Santa suits. There were now only eight suits and ten Santas.
Harry Crater was travelling alone on the cruise and looked deathly pale and his clothes were hanging off him. Dudley had been told that Harry was terminally ill and he had arranged for his helicopter to be on standby, just in case he took a turn for the worst. At dinner that evening he sat in between two little girls, Fredericka and Gwendolyn, who spent each and every day trying to help people. Unfortunately, Gwendolyn pulled back the chair as Harry was about to sit down, so he fell to the floor and hurt his back. He was immediately confined to sick bay. Doctor Gephardt was rather puzzled by the grey makeup on Harry's face and also confused about why he wore such large clothes as he was a well built, muscled man. Obviously, Harry was hiding something.
When Eric realized that Harry's room was going to be vacant all night, he decided to move his villains into the room. He eventually found them in them on deck, in their soaking wet santa suits and they were not in a good humor. Tony told Eric that he had left a pack of cards in the suite and he needed them back urgently. While Highbridge was showering, so Tony Pinto was eating everything he could find in the mini-bar and searching through Harry's belongings. He found a briefcase stashed with money, a gun and three passports which obviously belonged to the same man but in different names. He immediately knew who it was - Eddie Gordon, the man whose testimony had put Tony's father behind bars. He decided he had to avenge his father and made his way down to the sick bay.
Maggie Quirk was sharing with Ivy and when Ivy couldn't sleep because of seasickness due to a storm, Maggie volunteer to go down to sick bay and get an ear patch to help her seasickness. What Maggie didn't realize was that Tony had gone down just before her. He found the nurse on duty fast asleep and made his way to Harry's room and tried to strangle him. Maggie then arrived at the nurse's station and rang the bell and the nurse immediately woke up. Tony realized that he could not continue, so quickly walked out of sick bay, past Maggie. Harry was exceptionally doped but realized that someone had tried to kill him.
Ted Cannon was in the room next to Harry Crater and was a little surprised to hear the television on and people talking, as he thought Harry was in sickbay until the morning.
Alvirah liked to get up early, and the following morning was up on deck at six to grab her first cup of coffee for the day. As she was leaving the lido, she saw a tall, thin man in a Santa costume walking away with coffee and muffins, she called after him and he turned round and then walked away quickly. Alvirah tried to follow him, but the deck was wet and she slipped and hit her head and passed out. While recovering, Alvirah remembered that the Santa she had seen only had one bell on his hat instead of two. She also remembered that they had found a bell in the chapel after Ivy saw her ghost. Eric had called her asked for the pack of cards she had found in her room, saying they belonged to a member of staff who was off duty at the moment. Alvirah and Jack looked at the cards and saw that they contained numbers. Jack said he would photograph them and send them through to NYPD and see what they thought and then they must get them back to Eric before he realized they were suspicious. they then go up on deck discover from the waiter, that two Santas had come along straight after dinner and piled their plates high with cheese, grapes and crackers. Very strange for people who had just had dinner.
Eric now moves his villains from Harry's room back down to the chapel, where they are told to hide under the altar. Harry refuses to comment on the bruises on his neck, which the doctor found most strange and reports his findings to Eric and Dudley. The doctor told Eric that Maggie had seen someone in the sickbay who also looked like Left Hook Louie. Eric had no idea that Tony had left Harry's room the night before. When Randolph heard of all this from the doctor, he was most disturbed. Winston, his butler, tried to persuade him to eat but Randolph had lost his appetite as he realized that this cruise was a disaster.
Harry Crater was appalled to find that his briefcase containing his passports and money had disappeared. He could hardly report them missing. He contacted someone on his cell phone and said they may have to bring forward to emergency helicopter pick up. Harry then turned on the TV and saw a photograph of Tony Pinto and realized that was the man who was trying to kill him. It was about the same time that Alvirah was also putting two and two together while watching the news. She was now absolutely certain that the Santa she saw was Highbridge and the person ivy saw in the chapel whom she thought was Left Hook Louie was obviously Tony Pinto.
Back on the mainland a reporter had come across some information about a jewelry box which had disappeared years ago. It had supposedly been given to Cleopatra by Marc Antony. This jewelry box had been in the possession of the former owner of the ship and he had hidden it in a secret compartment.
It was decided that the ship must return to Miami so it could be searched by the police. To avoid alarming the guests, they were told there was a slight mechanical problem which would be fixed in Miami and then they could continue their cruise. it was also decided to have the service for Randolph's mother before the ship set sail again. Harry Crater had called his helicopter to take him off the ship but said he would like to stay for the service. Everyone was now on deck waiting for the service to start.
Eric knew he had to get Tony and Highbridge off the ship now. They had people fairly close by whom they could radio for a pick up. So they made their way to where Eric had hidden an inflatable. Alvirah was just on her way up to the deck when she spotted them going below deck and followed. Tony and Eric spotted her and tied her up. Eric then dashed upstairs for the ceremony before he was missed. Tony and Highbridge were so busy inflating the boat that they didn't notice Alvirah escape into the water. Tony fired a shot but missed.
The only guest not to attend the service was watching television when the missing jewelry box was discussed. He remembered seeing it in Randolph's possession and ran up on deck, shouting that it must not be thrown overboard. Harry is the first one to try and grab it and run to the helicopter and he is followed by Winston. After a series of farcical throws and deliberate trip-ups, it ends up being caught by Alvirah who is still in the sea.
Tony and Highbridge are recaptured. It transpires that it was Randolph's third wife, Reeney who had masterminded the recovery of the jewelry box and she had employed both Harry and Winston to assist her.
Best part of story, including ending:
I really did not enjoy the slapstick humor and farce element.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is the embarkation and introduction of the passengers
Opinion about the main character:
Eric is a feeble man, whose only desire in life appears to become rich at other people's expense.