Sleigh Bell Tower
by James J. Cudney
Amateur sleuth and college professor, Kellan Ayrwick, and his girlfriend, Sheriff April Montague, are joined by his daughter Emma, his ward and cousin Ulan, and April’s brother Augie to become a unified household despite the slight disapproval of Kellan’s spunky grandmother Nana D. If you choose to read Sleigh Bell Tower, be prepared for one of the most complicated plots and web of characters you could hope for in a cozy mystery. Perhaps, more importantly, author James J. Cudney never misses a beat. He tosses the reader into a whirlwind of complications, but manages to sort it all out in the end with nary a mistake, an omission, or a crossing of clues. I never would have guessed the culprit.
As always with the Braxton Campus Mysteries, there is a lot of sarcasm and humor. The scene where the extended family drives around looking at Christmas lights is superbly funny; Nana D’s interactions with her grandson unfailingly provide a good time.
Another attraction in this particular book is the way April and Kellan work at combining Jewish and Christian holiday traditions. As a couple, they devise a gifting game of sorts. They work off of the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” alternating the giver and tying each gift into the song. I enjoyed reading what each one devised and how they competed to find the best gifts for each other. I did have to wonder how they found the time and energy to select and purchase these creative gifts while managing their new family, the holidays and this intense murder investigation. It probably could work because Kellan is on a work hiatus between semesters AND they bought a lot of restaurant food!
Cudney sent my head spinning with characters and conflicts for most of the book. Then he delighted me with a conclusion in which Kellan took a page from Agatha Christie’s playbook with great success. The ending has some warm fuzzies that made me smile, and as always, the author concludes with a hook that will surely draw the reader into the next book in the series.
Notes: I recommend Sleigh Bell Tower which is #8 in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series, but not as a standalone. There is so much rich character background that plays into each book in the series that it would be hard to thoroughly appreciate this book on its own.
Publication: December 20, 2021—Next Chapter
My grandmother, on the other hand, continued to run a profitable organic farm, serve as the mayor of our fine county, and make it her business to know everyone else’s business. Where she found the energy baffled us all.
“Mm… the cusp of nineteen is definitely elderly. We should look into long-term-care facilities soon, huh?”
I had a mystery to solve. A killer to capture. Agatha Christie would be proud of me this year!