Genre: Mystery & Thriller
Length: 224 pages
First Published: 2023
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Penzler Publishers through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
As a teenager, Madeline Martin was the only surviving victim of Evan Handy, who was convicted of murdering her best friend Steph and suspected in the disappearance of two other friends. Now Madeline runs a thriving bookstore while caring for her aging father, the former sheriff. When true-crime podcaster Harley Granger arrives just before Christmas, he suspects there is more to the story. Women are still disappearing and Harley wonders if Evan might have had an accomplice.
Lisa Unger can certainly set a scene with this novella about a decades-ago murder at Christmastime. Christmas Presents had a good mix of tension and twists to keep you wanting more. The novella’s short length made it a very quick read; however, it didn’t leave as much time as I would have liked for character development.
Instead of presents this Christmas, a true crime podcaster is opening up a cold case…
Madeline Martin has built a life for herself as the young owner of a thriving business, The Next Chapter Bookshop, despite her tragic childhood and now needing to care for her infirm father. When Harley Granger, a failed novelist turned true crime podcaster, drifts into her shop in the days before Christmas, he seems intent on digging up events that Madeline would much rather forget. She’s the only surviving victim of Evan Handy, the man who was convicted of murdering her best friend Steph, and is suspected in the disappearance of two sisters, also good friends of Madeline’s, who have been missing for nearly a decade. It’s an investigation that has obsessed her father Sheriff James Martin right up until his stroke took his faculties.
Harley Granger has a gift for seeing things that others miss. He wasn’t much of a novelist, but his work as a true crime author and podcaster has earned him fame and wealth―and some serious criticism for his various unethical practices. Still, visiting Little Valley to be closer to his dying father has caused him to look into a case that many people think is closed―and some want reopened. And he has a lot of questions about the night Stephanie Cramer was killed, Ainsley and Sam Wallace disappeared, and Madeline Martin was left for dead, bleeding out on a riverbank.
Since Evan Handy went to jail, three other young women have gone missing, most recently a young college dropout named Lolly. Five young women missing in the same area in a decade. Are they connected? Was Evan Handy innocent after all? Or was there some else there that night? Someone who is still satisfying his dark appetites?
As Christmas approaches and a blizzard bears down, Madeline and her childhood friend Badger return to a past they both hoped was dead―to find the missing Lolly and to answer questions that have haunted them both, discovering that the truth is more terrible and much closer to home than they think.
Coupling a picturesque, cozy setting with a deeply unsettling suspenseful plot, Christmas Presents is a chilling seasonal novella that can be enjoyed all year long.
About Lisa Unger
Lisa Unger is an author whose works include The Stranger Inside, Under My Skin, Beautiful Lies, Confessions on the 7:45, Christmas Presents, Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six, and Last Girl Ghosted. She currently lives on the west coast of Florida. Visit the author’s website →