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A perfect Christmas read – Carol Westron, writing in Mystery People Vol 7 Issue 10
The cosiest of crime books, packed with eccentric and lovable characters and details of life in a country village. It is a delightful, easy to read book with plenty of gentle humour. A perfect Christmas read to relax with.”
Perfect bedtime read – Sue A
A perfect bedtime read – the sort of mystery I like, cosy, not too intense. Debbie paints a great picture of village life. Have enjoyed all the Sophie Sayers stories.
Murder or mayhem? – Mary Flood
To be transported into the every-day life of a little rural village, and become immersed in its intrigues, its customs, its loves and lives is something we dream of. We can do that by reading yet another of Debbie Young’s amazing novels. In this latest book, she captures the hustle and bustle leading up to Christmas with its seasonal traditions and the usual Nativity play. We turn page after page and seek to unravel the mystery of the lone girl with a child, not unlike the Virgin long ago in Bethlehem, also the love triangle that rises provocatively. Skilfully, Debbie weaves mystery and tension into the ongoing, overtly peaceful lives of the individuals in the story. Nothing is quite as it seems or is it in many cases? Just a village, with a Christmas play? Read it to find out.
A Christmas Jumper – Celia Boyd
Murder in the Manger?! So—this must be a historical novel about wicked King Herod, scouring the Holy Land, looking for baby boys to slaughter. No? No! O.K. then its a religious treatise, calculating the vast millions of lives saved from extinction across the millennia, if the individual sacrifice at Calvary had happened thirty three years earlier! Wrong again, Mrs Smarty Pants Reviewer.
But what’s this? On the first page someone points at Mary and says :- “She’s the virgin around here. I think she should make you take turns nicely.” Oh, its that kind of murder mystery! No! No! No! Read on! Baby Jesus is a dolly who gets torn to bits by eager shepherds and sheep, all anxious to have a cuddle. Oh, its a Nativity Play! Come on, Mrs Thicky Reviewer! Get with the programme, kid!
Of course, its the third of Debbie Young’s village murder mysteries and its a delightful read, although we are fresh out of murders and the mystery is an elegant Christmassy puzzle, that hardly trembles the tinsel or mauls the mincepies. But who is this tall stranger? It’s Damien, Sophie’s ex-boyfriend who leaps (or more accurately) sidles into the frame, all set to carry on where he left off with Sophie. But she’s not having any of that bed-jumping malarkey. She’s Hector’s girl now, so Damien’s banished into his white van. Carol ,needy, lonely shopkeeper, takes pity on White Van Man. He can stay with her and direct (i.e. interfere with) Sophie’s nativity production.
Meanwhile the village heaves itself up out of its pastoral torpor and shapes up for Christmas.
Debbie Young has a g reat ear for dialogue. It is what a character says that defines them in fiction. The novelist is a playwright as well as a story-teller. Here’s Carol kindly explaining to Sophie the useful benefits of a group Christmas card:
“From Janet and John plus bump. Also you can tell when people’s dogs have died.”
“Do the dogs sign too?” asks Sophie, innocently.
And kind naïve Carol takes her seriously and explains that the owners sign on the dogs behalf.
Description can be meditative, but that Old Ancient Mariner Dialogue should stretch out a bony skeletal hand and grasp the reader lovingly by the throat.. Remember Alice. “What’s the use of a book without pictures and conversations in it.” Debbie Young sits behind her characters’ eyes and knows exactly what they would say. Her reproduction of their speech is exact, and is laced so often with the gleam of gentle humour. Each book in the series leads us more deeply into the romance of Sophie and Hector and into the mild humane life of an English village.
The plot knits skilfully together like one of Carol’s woolly hats, and the seductive Sophie and the handsome Hector are all set for four more celebratory adventures of the village year. Does Wendlebury Barrow have a literary festival, I wonder?
A Portrait of Cotswold Village Life – Anita Davison
The third book in this contemporary cosy mystery series is set at Sophie Sayers first Christmas at Wendlebury Barrow. She has thrown herself into village life and her relationship with the dishy Hector, her boss and owner of the local book ship is poodling along nicely.
Unfortunately nothing stays perfect for long and a figure from Sophie’s past turns up unexpectedly in his white van, her ex-boyfriend, charming egomaniac and freeloader Graham.
Sophie hopes it’s a flying visit but Graham quickly inveigles himself into not only village life, but takes over as producer of the Nativity play Sophie wrote. She tries to pretend he isn’t there but every female in the village seems to come to life when Graham is about, especially his new landlady, Carol, the village shop owner who rapidly becomes his champion.
Sophie hopes Carol isn’t being used but there isn’t much she can do about it and Graham does seem adept at patching up Carol’s house in lieu of rent. He also approves of Sophie’s play, so maybe things might work out well for everyone after all.
Then odd things start happening in the village, drama at the nativity and a stranger with an odd request, not to mention a woman who keeps being seen getting out of Graham’s van.
This story is gentle and heart-warming rather than gripping, and I was a bit disappointed where the actual murder was concerned but won’t spoil it for other readers. However it was with a satisfying denouement and memorable characters we get to meet again. Joshua, Billy and Carol being three.
A lovey addition to the series, and makes me wonder what the new year brings for Sophie and Hector.
Nice cosy village tale and perfect for the season – Ava D Reader
I really enjoy the Sophie Sayers mysteries and this may be my favourite yet. I feel I’m getting to know the villagers’ inner lives and becoming fond of them all. Debbie Young’s books are cosy, comforting and a nice gentle read, and as the series progresses, she’s getting better and better.
I do, however, have one criticism of the third in the series. I enjoyed it very much, it was the perfect read for lazing around over the Christmas holiday. But ‘Murder in the Manger’ lacked the element of danger found in the earlier books. And, for this reader at least, this one didn’t meet my expectations of a cosy crime.
A sweet slice of English village life – with a little Christmas mystery – London Lass
A sweet slice of English village life, with another mystery for reluctant sleuth Sophie Sayers to solve. I saved this book for a Christmas treat, settling down with a mince pie and a box of chocs, although it’s the sort of tale that would bring a smile at any time of year. Having seen Sophie grow in confidence in the first and second books, I could guess that old flame Damian wouldn’t find her a pushover when he suddenly arrives in town. He still sweet-talks her into lending him her laptop, though, and it’s only as the mystery unfolds that she finally discovers why..
Love it! – Wendy Jones
If you like a cozy mystery and you like it funny then grab this book. It will not disappoint. From the opening sentence to the very last sentence I couldn’t put it down. It has everything a Nativity needs, as well as everything a mystery needs. Oh and a rather vocal sheep. There are gentle twists and turns and the final denouement came as a complete surprise. Of course the kids steal the show and they get everywhere, just like a real nativity. The villagers are in fine form and the romance between Sophie and Hector has been turned up a peep. Sophie’s ex is also hanging around and she can’t seem to shake him off. I loved this book and I am sure you will too. Buy it, read it immediately, you won’t regret it.
A gentle, cosy mystery – Monica Mac
I enjoyed reading this gentle tale of life in Wendlebury Barrow for Sophie and her beau Hector. It is lovely getting to know the various villagers better and I felt like I was a newcomer in the village, finding out the ins and outs of village life at the same time as Sophie. It seems apt that I am reading this book just before Christmas.
I have read all three of the books that make up this series so far and am looking forward to reading the next one, when it comes out. These books certainly make me want to find myself a little English village to live in, that’s for sure!
In true Midsummer Murder tradition, there’s someone shouting murder in the first chapter – Lynn Garner
The book follows the life of Sophie Sayer as she navigates writing a script for the village play, dealing the arrival of an ex-boyfriend, nurturing the new man in her life and working out who shouts from the back pew of the church, “My baby! You’ve murder my baby!”
The story includes all the festive feel you would expect from the title. The author uses humour well and shows a keen understanding of human nature all at a relaxed pace, making it an ideal festive read.
This was a lovely read and perfect for the time of year – Misha Dragonfire
This was a lovely read and perfect for the time of year. Less a crime novel, more a picture of village life, I loved the humour and vivid depiction of the characters. Thoroughly recommended for dark December evenings by the fire.
Great festive fun – Louise Driffield
Loving the Sophie Sayers series. These are cosy mysteries full of warmth and humour. This third installment is great festive fun.
Best nostalgia in a book! – Mari Howard
Murder in the Manger is the third in the Sophie Sayers cosy mystery series. We are back in Wendlebury Barrow soon after the solving of the Hallowe’en mystery Trick or Murder, and wide-eyed Sophie has not only embarked on a romantic relationship with Hector of the bookshop but also written a Christmas play to be performed by the local amateur dramatic group and the schoolchildren. As the play is about to go into rehearsal, Sophie’s ex, Damian, turns up in his van ready to cause her anxiety and embarrassment.
Nonetheless she is well established now as a valued member of the village community and there is plenty of support from a range of friendly Wendlebury Barrow characters we have come to know, popping in and out of the bookshop, consuming tea and cakes, and cooperating on the Christmas preparations. Carol is making costumes, Billie is making risqué remarks, Sophie and Hector are together, (despite Sophie’s occasional worries) and all’s right with the world.
In this new story, we’re taken through the whole “run up” to Christmas, village-style, which includes a sensitive depiction of how this traditional Cotswold community keeps Remembrance Day. It’s thoughtfully done, emphasising that a local event includes a real ‘remembering’ of members of families who have lived, and still Iive, in the area. Grief and solemnity are real. After this, we embark on a portrait of preparation for Christmas which avoids any sideswipes at over-commercialisation, Black Friday, and cyber Monday. Instead, Young gives us the scene of a village Christmas Lights ceremony (with hiccup saved by real gum-boots) and an ambitious but also obviously ‘Am-dram’ production in a tradition more 1960s than 2017, and delightful for that. All well oiled with food and drink and mistletoe, and of course a donkey.
If I have a criticism of this book it is that the mystery trail isn’t quite gripping enough, and though warm and satisfying in cosiness and happy ending, won’t satisfy readers hoped for nail-biting stuff, albeit gently done. I also felt that we the readers might need further reminding of the backgrounds of the wider cast of villagers from the Writers’ and Drama groups (first described in the summer mystery, Best Murder in Show), so that we can fit each into context and appreciate their reactions better.
Altogether, a fireside story, and a great retreat from the world of fake news and political unrest: nostalgic, friendly, and packed with scenes and comments to make you smile. One only wishes life in Britain today was a little nearer to life in Wendlebury Barrow (in terms of getting along with each other, enjoying the simple things, and forgiving and accepting) but the world has moved on and us with it. Suspend belief in sophistication, and curl up with Murder in the Manger and cocoa or, like Sophie and Hector, a nice brandy.
All the ingredients of Christmas – Ali B
With the third of the Sophie Sayers mysteries, author Debbie Young is clearly hitting her stride and this is a treat for anyone one who likes village life at its cosiest with a cast of familiar characters all coming into their own, with in this case the arrival of Sophie’s ex bringing an extra frisson to proceedings. The book follows the formula of Best Murder in Show: A Sophie Sayers Village Mystery (Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries Book 1) – a shocking revelation a traditional village event, followed by an explanation of the run-up and an unravelling of the mystery. Since this event is the village Christmas nativity play, every Christmas ingredient is in here from advent calendars to mince pies (rather heavy ones) as well as a full cast of angels, shepherds and a nicely modern amateur videographer. If you like the kind of mystery with a significant body count and a complex list of suspects, this may not be for you, but if it’s Christmas you’re after, look no farther. In fact since the book takes place in advent, why wait? ( I received this book in exchange for an unbiased review).
Good lighthearted read – DAB Reader
I loved the relaxed pace of this book and the humour. This is the second in the series I have read and although I liked the first book, I preferred this one. The plot was well defined and although I anticipated what was going to happen – I expect, helped by the hints at the beginning, it was still a good read. I will definitely be reading more of the Sophie Sayers mysteries.
Lovely, warm and witty Christmas read – Keatsbabe
The third in this series of gentle village mysteries, although this one is witty, warm and gentle, but not terribly mysterious. That is its only minus really, as it is a cockle-warming dose of delightful Christmas romance. Debbie Young is a wonderful storyteller and is developing her Wendlebury characters nicely, as we move through the village year with them all. I will look forward to the next one.
A mystery as cosy as a feather duvet – Megan P
Once more it is a pleasure to wrap myself in the warmth of another of Debbie Young’s Wendelbury mysteries. Just as Sophie Sayers life is taking on an exciting new turn with the new man in her life, Hector, the old man in her life turns up unexpectedly and tries to take over the local Christmas Play. As in all Debbie Young’s mysteries, the mystery itself is almost incidental to the finely observed characters and wonderful descriptions of English village life. Each of these books is like returning to a bygone age of chivalry and neighbours who actually talk to each other. Only one star missing because I would have liked a little more mystery. But even so, highly recommended.
Just the book for a cosy Christmas morning – Lucienne Boyce
I really enjoyed reading this. The prose flows, and the humour and keen yet gentle observation of people and their little sillinesses bubble under and to the surface. One thing I’m enjoying about the series as it goes on is the sense of following a year in the life of a village community. Murder in the Manger has all the ingredients of a classic Christmas story – lights, tree, mistletoe, a nativity play with its attendant disasters, and – of course! – the nasty person who sees the errors of their ways a la Scrooge!
Or order at your local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1-911223-22-1