A STILLNESS IN BETHLEHEM
Gregor Demarkian Mystery
Bantam Books, 1992
Reviewed by Joy
Allow me to introduce my good fiction-friend Gregor Demarkian, Armenian-American, ex-FBI. Also please meet his two best friends: Bennis Hannaford, debutante and now fantasy author; and Father Tibor Kasparian, refugee from the Soviet Union. The three of them are vacationing in Bethlehem, Vermont. Tibor has always wanted to see a big Christmas pageant; this is the only way he can be enticed away to recover his health, worn down by helping other refugees.
Small town Bethlehem, Vermont, has made a wealthy living for decades from tourists coming to its three-week Christmas Celebration. Legal opinions indicate that the involvement of the town government in the Celebration is a clear violation of Freedom of Religion; but no one living in the area has wanted to wreck the gravy train. Until Tisha Verek. In a mood to make trouble Tisha, true-crime writer and new Bethlehem resident, announces she is going to file for a court injunction against the Celebration. The news flies all over town, and almost immediately, Tisha is dead. It might have been easier to convince residents it was a hunting accident if another woman hadnít died in that exact same way within a matter of minutes.
For years author Jane Haddam wrote mysteries centered on USA holidays. There isnít really a Bethlehem, Vermont; the Christmas Festival in Bethlehem, Connecticut must have inspired the setting for A STILLNESS IN BETHLEHEM. Haddam has since branched out to non-holiday themes, but her books still feature a humanism that laughs at theory and focuses on people.
Haddamís pattern is to lay out an array of suspects and possible motives, and then bring Gregor Demarkian and his friends on the scene. Gregor is rooted firmly in the Armenian community of Philadelphia. His tongue-in-cheek observation of his friendsí foibles brings a light-heartedness to balance the people in whatever community he is investigating, all of whom are introduced in such a way that they are believable suspects. This creates a rhythm that shifts between cute and sinister. A STILLNESS IN BETHLEHEM was my first Haddam, and the start of my determination to read everything she writes.
I had heard that Haddamís books became darker after her husband died, so I read her recent THE HEADMASTERíS WIFE to check, and it is true. Her characterization still has the same canít-put-it-down momentum, though, and Iím still recommending Jane Haddam to readers who like the classical combination of intricate puzzle and layered characters.
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