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Christmas is Murder: A Rex Graves Mystery (Rex Graves Mystery series Book 1) [Kindle Edition]

C.S. Challinor
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (171 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Christmas in the English countryside -- what could be more charming? Not even a blizzard can keep Rex Graves away from Swanmere Manor, a historic hotel in East Sussex. But instead of Christmas cheer, the red-haired Scottish barrister finds a dead guest. Was it a stroke that killed old Mr. Lawry? Or an almond tart laced with poison?
When more guests die, all hopes for a jolly holiday are dashed. Worst of all, the remote mansion is buried under beastly snow. No one can leave. Confined with a killer, no one can enjoy their tea without suspicion and scrutiny. Rex takes it upon himself to solve the mystery, but the most intriguing evidence -- a burnt biography of President George W. Bush -- offers few clues. Could the killer be the sherry-swilling handyman? The gay antiques dealer with a biting wit? The quarreling newlyweds? Surely, it's not Helen D'arcy, the lovely lass Rex seems to be falling for . . .

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The first installment in this new mystery series is a winner. The amateur detective is Rex Graves, a Scottish barrister, fond of Sudoku puzzles and Latin quotations. In an old-fashioned conceit, Challinor begins with a cast of characters, along with hints of possible motives for each. Although set firmly in the present, with numerous references to the Iraq War, his tale reads like a classic country-house mystery. Rex and the others are snowed in at the Swanmere Manor hotel in East Sussex, England. Being the last to arrive (on two tennis rackets lashed to his feet à la snowshoes), Rex immediately hears of the unexpected demise of one of the other guests. Even though they are in touch with the outside world, the authorities instruct the hotel staff to keep the body in a cool room with the windows open. By the time the police arrive days later, additional bodies have piled up and motives are rampant, but Rex has identified the murderer. At times, it seems we are playing Clue or perhaps enjoying a contemporary retelling of a classic Agatha Christie tale (And Then There Were None, or At Bertram’s Hotel) with a charming new sleuth. A must for cozy fans. --Judy Coon


Rex gives the reader just enough hints to keep them guessing until the very end when the final pieces to the puzzle are revealed. Look out, Hercule Poirot; Rex Graves will give you a run for your money. --Once Upon A Romance

Challinor, a longtime fan of Agatha Christie, knows that a good plot is essential to a story, and that characters give it a life of its own. --Mysterical E-Magazine

The story effortlessly combines elements of a classic country house mystery with an Agatha Christie-style denouement to great effect. --Mysterious Reviews

A great start to a new series that is sure to become a modern favorite traditional English cozy series --The Mystery Reader

Ms. Challinor was educated in Scotland and England, which explains how she writes so convincingly of both her setting and her characters." --Florida Weekly

Product Details

  • File Size: 1246 KB
  • Print Length: 203 pages
  • Publisher: MIDNIGHT INK (September 8, 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002EZZ53Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,729 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christmas is Murder August 7, 2008
Rex Graves is a red-haired Scottish barrister who wants to spend Christmas in Swanmere Manor, an historic hotel in East Sussex. But a harsh blizzard and an unexpected murder ruin those plans. The murderer must be among the guests. There are several possibilities, and Rex must sort through several intriguing clues in a search for the truth.

Challinor presents strong elements of mystery and suspense in a literary style that will remind you of Agatha Christie - at her best. This novel is one of the finest novels I've read in a long time. Fans of mystery will not be disappointed. Challinor is an author who will cause you to clear some space on your bookshelf in anticipation of her next offerings.

Highest Recommendation!
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Mystery Set in a British Blizzard September 3, 2008
This mystery was recommended and had me turning the pages in total absorption until the very end. Good plot, compelling characters, humorous, and a little romance to-boot. The sleuth is a Scottish barrister from Edinburgh, very principaled and likeable. There's an exerpt at the back for the next Rex Graves mystery, "Murder in the Raw," which is set at an exclusive nudist resort in the French West Indies, and which I'll definitely read when it comes out!!
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I know it's a cozy, but it badly needs a bit of realism September 16, 2010
This series debut is weak. Three examples: First, at the beginning of the book, the hero arrives at the snowed-in manor by snow-shoeing on tennis rackets. Anyone who has ever snow-shoed would know how utterly impossible that would be. (Besides, who would pack tennis rackets for a December vacation in the British Isles?) Second, not only is the two mile distance from the nearest hamlet to the manor apparently easily snow-shoe[racket]-able, but the hero and a female guest are also able to get their on skis. Yet, the local police can't get through the snow...even after two murders????? Puh-leze. In the country that invented the Land Rover, it's hard to believe the local constabulary are unable to get to what seems to be the hangout of a serial murderer. Third, even after guest after guest is getting bumped off, everyone stays calm and stays put. A normal person would be reacting with some degree of caution, like barricading themselves in their room, refusing to eat anything that they haven't seen coming directly out of a sealed can, always being in the company of at least two other people, etc. Certainly, for the two who skied to the hamlet, it would seem the logically thing to do is get a room at the pub for the duration, but no, they have a drink and ski right back to "murder central". I like cozies, this has enough charm so I give it two stars, and I will try the second book, but only if I can get it from the library.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Likeable Barrister-Sleuth in Impressive Debut September 10, 2008
Prompted by memories of happy childhood visits at Swanmere Manor, QC Rex Graves travels to that remote estate, looking forward to a relaxing Christmas holiday in the country. His mother's friend, the widowed Dahlia Smithings, is still in residence there, having converted her family home to a small hotel.
A series of unexpected events complicates his plans in this entertaining debut novel straight out of the Agatha Christie school of plotting.
His arrival coincides with a blizzard that will bury the inn, effectively isolating both guests and staff. Within minutes, he learns that the previous afternoon's tea had been disrupted by a sudden death. One of the guests confides to Rex that he has questions about the cause of death: Was it a stroke - or poison in the almond tart?
Soon, there's another death. An accident? Or is there indeed a murderer in the house? The body count rises and Rex investigates, aided by two fellow guests. The amateur sleuths uncover some curious secrets and an abundance of possible motives as the list of suspects grows. Unfortunately, that list must include Rex's two confederates, one of whom is an attractive young woman who has sparked a romantic interest in the bachelor barrister.
Finally, in the classic denouement, the survivors gather in the drawing room to hear Rex reveal the solution to this contemporary cozy mystery.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Snowbound and Captivated October 1, 2009
Rex Graves has no superpowers. He stumbles humorously in relationships and fashion. Rather, his sharp mind and quirky awkwardness make him an engaging and believable sleuth in this mystery set in a manor in the English countryside. It is easy to imagine sitting down to a pint with him. He employs great skill, but his manner enables him to interrogate gently, and earn the confidence and trust of all those in the isolated inn. The setting may be a bit on the nose, but it is also cinematic and timeless. Aside from Rex, the setting and food/drink get the highest marks from me (perhaps i was hungry when reading). Funny and effective use of accents. I enjoyed matching wits with Rex, especially since I almost, but not quite matched him (just as it should be). The author, employs a vivid style that is a shade lighter than you might expect, considering that murder is afoot, but this is fitting when one gets to know Rex. An interesting read, and the most enjoyable airport delay I've ever had. I went directly to order Rex's next, "Murder in the Raw".
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
It sounds like many other reviewers, however, were reading this as a straight mystery (not written tongue in cheek). I think the author had "And Then There Were None" in mind -- this is amusing as a satire, but as a mystery, just isn't very good. I developed a theory of "who did it" fairly early in the book, but the motive seemed ridiculous. I was right, and the motive was more than a little ridiculous for a serious mystery -- but for a satire, part of the fun.

It's your classic snowed-in-at-a-fabulous-old-house cozy mystery, with an array of guests and staff, listed in the front of the book, and the certainty that it's someone in the house who is a killer -- but which of the cast of characters? In true Agatha Christie fashion, the killings don't end with one victim. There are the usual parlor games, chatty cooks, roaring fireplaces, and, because this is set at Christmas, a Christmas tree. They are cut off from the nearest village, two miles away, because of the snow, so Rex Graves assumes responsibility for detecting the killer. He does the classic interviewing everyone in the parlor thing, and even uses talcum powder to examine fingerprints on a candlestick (didn't I tell you this is a satire?) Rex's credentials are three years as a QC (queen's counselor -- kind of like being an assistant district attorney, aka Law and Order). I don't honestly think Yardley's scented talcum powder would do a very good job at capturing finger prints and would probably foul up any that were actually there, but this is supposed to be a take-off on a certain genre.

If you're familiar with the Agatha Christie English cozies of a certain period (e.g., like Dorothy Sayers), you'll get all the jokes. As a serious mystery, for me, it didn't work very well, although I did enjoy how well that English manor house in the snow was described -- I could see it all.
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More About the Author

C.S. Challinor was born in Bloomington, Indiana, and was educated in Scotland (St. George's School for Girls, Edinburgh) and England (Lewes Priory, Sussex; University of Kent, Canterbury: Joint Hons Latin & French). She now resides in Southwest Florida. Her short stories have been published in women's magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom. Challinor is a member of the Authors Guild, New York, and is the author of the Rex Graves cozy mystery series featuring Rex Graves, Scottish barrister-sleuth.

Rex Graves titles are available in trade paperback and Kindle, Nook, etc. CHRISTMAS IS MURDER, the first in the series, is also available in LP hardcover (Thorndike Reviewer's Choice). CHRISTMAS IS MURDER reached #1 on the Kindle Bestseller List. The fifth in the series, MURDER OF THE BRIDE, was a Mystery Guild Book Club pick (hardcover). MURDER COMES CALLING, the newest full-length Rex Graves title from Midnight Ink Books, is due out in August 2015 and is available for pre-order.

For more information, please visit the author at Thank you for reading!

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Topic From this Discussion
Any contemporary Christmas mysteries that aren't too cozy?
Mark, see my Christmas listmania list. It has the novel you mentioned and a Christmas short story compilation, which would make a good stocking stuffer. Enjoy!
Sep 4, 2008 by avid reader |  See all 4 posts
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