The Toronto Star warns us about the “noxious trend for mystery publishers to have their authors churn out Christmasy sugar.” Although it is true that holiday novels tend to be lighter fare, they often have a certain sparkle that is irresistible. Last December I reviewed Anne Perry’s A Christmas Secret. (Click here for a list of recommended Christmas mysteries.) In the spirit of the season, I will turn to another Yuletide mystery – Janet Evanovich’s Visions of Sugar Plums. DeCandido calls this novel “a magical little sweetmeat” (2002, 275), and O’Gorman identifies it as “Christmas confection – light, funny, entertainingly written in that breezy and witty style for which Evanovich is known” (2002).
In my post on One for the Money, I discussed Evanovich’s amazing popularity; she has sold more than 30 million copies of her books. And in terms of humorous mysteries, she is unequalled. As Papinchak claims, witty comic dialogue is
the trademark of the Plum series. Evanovich says she “sucks at internal narrative” but her “trash mouth from Jersey” made her a natural for the snappy patter that makes readers roar with laughter. She perfected the fast-paced verbal exchanges by taking improvisational acting classes to learn about dialogue. Brisk and sassy became her hallmarks. (2002, 34)Visions of Sugar Plums is a novella, perfect for this busy time of year. It is the first in the series of Plum holiday books. Later books include Plum Lovin’ (Valentine’s Day), Plum Lucky (St. Patrick’s Day), and Plum Spooky (Halloween). Visions of Sugar Plums begins with an unusual situation. The narrator tells us:
My name is Stephanie Plum and I’ve got a strange man in my kitchen. He appeared out of nowhere. One minute I was sipping coffee, mentally planning out my day. And the next minute . . . poof, there he was. (1)This strange man is the mystery of the novel. He seems to have super-hman powers, an unknown past, and an appetite for adventure. He and Stephanie chase down a burglary suspect who has violated his bond agreement. Are we surprised that the suspect’s name is Sandy Claws and his occupation is a toy store owner?
Kirkus Reviews argues that “plotting gets short shrift in this thinnest of Plum puddings,” a claim that is hard to dismiss (2002, 1428). But what gives this book its special appeal is its humorous depiction of less-than-perfect characters and families. Stephanie experiences the same familial, personal, and occupational stresses that we do, and manages to survive despite personal shortcomings, setbacks, and failures. She is a born survivor. “This is Christmas as Martha Stewart will never know or show it,” according to Cannon, “and it’s the perfect tonic when you’ve shopped too much, planned too much and need a giggle to take the edge off the holiday” (2002).
Like all of us, Stephanie dreams of the perfect Christmas, and somehow life interferes. But despite lack of time to shop or prepare, Stephanie does indeed experience a magical Christmas. Laughter, family, and forgiveness make up for everything else that is lacking. This Christmas mystery is not for everyone but if you enjoy zany adventures and humorous characters, you will love Visions of Sugar Plums.
Cannon, Margaret. “Crime.” The Globe and Mail. November 23, 2002.
DeCandido, Grace Anne. “Visions of Sugar Plums.” Booklist 99, no. 3 (2002): 275.
Evanovich, Janet. Visions of Sugar Plums. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2002.
O’Gorman, Rochelle. “Gifts to Unwind By.” The Boston Globe. December 8, 2002.
Papinchak, Robert Allen. “Janet Evanovich: It’s All in the Family.” The Writer 115, no. 8 (2002): 34.
“The Perils and Waste of Movie Tie-Ins.” The Toronto Star. December 15, 2002.
“Visions of Sugar Plums.” Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 19 (2002): 1428.