Well, boys and girls, Christmas is almost upon us. Hopefully you’ve got your shopping finished, presents wrapped, and are free to curl up with some festive holiday reading. And man do I have a great suggestion for my fellow lovers of crime fiction, Naughty: Nine Tales of Christmas Crime by Steve Hockensmith.
As the title suggests, the nine stories in Naughty all have a Christmas theme and involve a crime of some sort, and they are all also laced with a wicked sense of humor. And though a few characters – and a fruitcake – make appearances in more than one story, each stands on its own.
I enjoyed the entire collection from start to finish, but a few of the stories particularly stood out to me:
“Fruitcake” finds septuagenarian widow Ethel Queenan stalking the Always Sunny Trailer Park looking for a replacement for her dearly departed husband. Given that widows outnumber the widowers by about 5-to-1, competition is fierce. Ethel is therefore upset, murderously so, when virtual spring chicken (just sixty-five!) Connie Sandrelli swoops in and steals Ethel’s latest target out from under her. Evil plots involving fruitcake (recipe included) ensue.
“I Killed Santa Claus” is my second favorite of the collection. Poor Hannah Fox comes home for the final Christmas break of her college career only to find her mother has signed her up for elf duty at the mall’s annual Santa’s Workshop display. At first Hannah merely finds her co-workers annoying: fellow elf Arlo, the perpetual stoner; the mall’s Santa, who goes by “Big Buck” and has a very un-Santa Southern drawl; and Kev Kane, Big Buck’s miniature, elf sidekick. However, she soon begins to suspect Big Buck and Kev are up to no good and sets a trap for them…leading to some rather unexpected consequences.
“Special Delivery” is the tale of a Christmas that almost wasn’t for the children of one small town. It’s Christmas Eve in 1983 when long haul trucker Bass get a call that his services are urgently needed for an overnight run. When he’s told the insane amount of money he’ll be paid if he can get the shipment back by 10AM on Christmas morning Bass thinks surely he’s being enlisted to run guns or drugs. He’s told however that the cargo is much more precious – and valuable – than either of those. Bass will be running… Cabbage Patch Dolls. Yes, 600 of the might as well be made of gold toys are waiting to be picked up from a factory 500 miles away and delivered to the local Monkeyberry Toys in time for Christmas morning. Bass takes the job, but encounters some unexpected difficulty on the return trip that threatens to derail the Cabbage Patch express. “Special Delivery” is one of the more lighthearted tales in the bunch, and for those paying close attention also explains how Buck and Kev from “I Killed Santa Claus” ended up in Indiana to begin with.
“Naughty” sees the return of Hannah Fox from I “Killed Santa Claus.” One year post college graduation Hannah finds herself sill stuck in Indiana, though this Christmas season she’s graduated from elf duty to the gift wrapping station at the mall. When one of her customers makes extremely inappropriate advances, even going so far as to note that his wife is out of town and he does this all the time, Hannah decides that someone needs to “Grinch” the guy’s Christmas from him. She enlists stoner elf Arlo in a plan to relieve the lout of the expensive presents that, having wrapped them, Hannah knows are under his tree. Unfortunately Arlo brings two new people to the party, a duo known as Reptile and Diesel, whose lack of intelligence seems to be outweighed only by their extreme creepiness. Realizing this is not going to end well Hannah decides she wants to call the whole thing off, but Reptile and Diesel have other ideas.
“Red Christmas” is easily the most demented story in the bunch, and it’s also easily my favorite (’cause that’s just how I roll). Really, how can you not love a story that includes the murder of one of Santa’s elves (did you know elf blood smells like “gingerbread and peppermint and magic, with an undertone of paint and glue and sweat”), the kidnapping of Santa by KGB spies intent on overthrowing capitalism (for you young ‘uns out there, Google the term “Cold War”), a sword duel utilizing a soup ladle and candy cane as the weapons of choice, a bomb threat in Santa’s workshop, and the revelation that the reindeer on the B-Team have names such as Disco, Pac-Man, Yoda and Vader. Heck, there’s even a KISS reference slipped in at one point, and the dreaded fruitcake is back too, put to a most interesting use. “Red Christmas” is an incredibly enjoyable read, especially if you’ve had a glass or two of that special eggnog first.
Other stories include “Secret Santa” (presenting a rather Machiavellian twist on the age-old office tradition), “Humbug” (in which Inspector Bucket investigates the death of Ebenezer Scrooge, ingloriously flattened by a Christmas tree wagon), “Hidden Gifts” (by far the most serious story of the collection, it finds a very disillusioned young brother and sister searching for a reason to believe in the magic of the season again), and “Naivete” (featuring a reprise of Reptile and Diesel from “Naughty” in a seriously misguided plot to rob a church on Christmas Eve).
Every one of the stories in Naughty is top notch work, evidenced by the fact over the past 10 years all of them have previously been published in either Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazines. So why don’t you do something nice for yourself and get Naughty? It’s available at Amazon, Smashwords, or B&N for only $2.99!
PS – Be sure to read the copyright page, which is just as funny as any of the stories in the collection. Yeah, the copyright page. Hockensmith’s that good.