Reading a short story that features a favored character from a 5-star novel usually would leave me somewhat disappointed, wanting more. Yet, Julia’s short tale has managed to leave me in the delightfully satisfying spot of saying, ‘Just so.’ Inspector Crombie first endeared himself to me in A Raucous Time during an extraordinary rescue scene that takes place on railroad tracks. In An Explosive Time, Crombie takes a center stage position and this cantankerous yet adorable character became an all-time favorite.
From the first paragraph of Crombie’s Christmas, I found myself squirming with anticipation for the marvelous tale that I knew was to come. Crombie, a ‘Columbo-like’ detective who is somewhat irascible and slovenly, doggedly follows any unanswered trail to its end. Along the way and despite himself, he cannot help but be a gentleman. On a wild goose chase to find his long-lost brother, Crombie finds himself on Christmas Eve in the Italian equivalent of the House of Usher. All of his fun takes place in the Hotel Perotti and the props for frivolity include Signora Perotti, a bucket of water, an array of dinosaurs, a gnome of a man and his wife, and a trio of feral cats. I needed a few tissues to wipe off my glasses in order to finish the story!
Ms. Hughes is simply masterful in the way that she weaves these unusual characters and props into such a fun, fascinating story. Within her stories, however, she never fails to offer readers tidbits of wisdom-evoking thoughts. Her use of the two English phrases that are on a cross stitch sampler that hangs on the wall in Crombie’s room is quite clever. Both phrases initially seem menacing to him yet, by the story’s end, Crombie has the last laugh; mostly at himself.
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