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Monday 4 December 2023

‘Death and the Dancing Snowman’ by Carol Westron

Published by Pentangle Press,
December 2023.
ISBN: 979-886419190-3 (PB)

Death and the Dancing Snowman marks the welcome return of Maddie Summer and Grace Winton, residents of the Clayfield Estate for senior citizens.  The book opens as Grace returns home after a visit to her aunt. She decided to take a short break after the duo’s first adventure, but days turned into weeks and Maddie began to feel understandably peeved at her friend’s absence.  Never one to dwell on the negative, Maddie welcomes her prodigal pal home with tea and cake.  This makes Grace feel even more of a heel for having disappeared so abruptly, added to which she is privately pondering what could be a life-changing decision. 

The community has moved on though, and Grace realises that much has changed whilst she has been away.  Maddie, for example, now has a new neighbour, a medium called Hatty, whose attempts to contact the deceased are disconcertingly loud.  Sanguine as ever, she sees the humour in these outbursts from next door. Grace, on the other hand, channels her High Anglican roots, declaring encounters from the other side to be, “sacrilegious nonsense!”  As it turns out, Hatty is about to have a ghostly encounter that is firmly rooted in the real world.

Meanwhile, Maddie takes Grace along to a rehearsal of the recently formed Clayfield Carnival Dancers.  The group are preparing for a Christmas concert, the brainchild of genial Freddie Fell who lives opposite Maddie and hopes the event will “help the people on the estate make links to the village.”  Grace feels out of place and forgotten within this new mix of people and thinks that perhaps she shouldn’t have bothered to return.  Warm-hearted Maddie, realising Grace’s discomfort, encourages her friend back into the fold by suggesting she takes a backstage role that will support the performers.  Grace agrees, glad to feel needed, and this is just as well because it isn’t long before their combined forces are once more called upon to solve another puzzle, including, you guessed it, a dead snowman!

Friendships are at the heart of this novel, and characters are carefully and empathetically crafted.  They begin, of course, with the crime-busting duo.  Maddie is an unassuming artist who may not shy away from the limelight, but neither does she relish it, whilst Grace, who presents as supercilious, is constantly wracked with self-doubt.  Around this pairing of opposites are other seemingly disparate collaborations.  For example, Kyle is a talented but troubled young musician who is befriended by the elderly, and apparently infirm, Mrs. Mountjoy.  Together they constitute another unlikely combination that proves to be mutually enriching on both sides.

The story is filled with delightful one-liners, often delivered by Maddie, as well as laugh out loud moments like the awkward routines performed by amateur dancers dressed as penguins and snowmen.  There are more serious moments when the narrative offers a glimpse into the lives of young people who must negotiate the care system and, at the other end of the timeline, older characters who face the challenges of aging.  Such reality checks are pertinent, but never overwhelming, and invariably give way to the joyous mayhem of life amongst the colourful characters of Clayfield.

In Death and the Dancing Snowman, Carol Westron has delivered a Christmas puzzle that will put a smile on your face and warm the cockles of your heart.  It is the second in the series and works perfectly as a standalone.

A fun-filled frolic from beginning to end and highly recommended.
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 6 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

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