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Mistletoe and Murder

Mistletoe and Murder - S.L. Smith Mistletoe and Murder: The Fourth Pete Culnane Mystery
S.L. Smith
Paperback: 262 pages
Publisher: Sightline Press; First edition (July 26, 2017)
ISBN-10: 0996464050
ISBN-13: 978-0996464055

While this series is billed as “The Pete Culnane Mysteries,” actually the buddy cop duo of St. Paul police detectives Pete Culnane and Martin Tierney deserve equal billing. Throughout the series, their bantering adds a touch of humor while each book touches on one social issue or another. In book one, Blinded by the Sight, it’s homelessness; book two, Running Scared, deals with the impact of a failing marriage on the children; book three, Murder on a Stick, looks at assisted living and other plights faced by the elderly.

Book four continues this theme by looking at perhaps the most important social issue of our times, drug addiction. Smith also returns to his interest in the homeless and family relationships shared by the two policemen. In the new story, Collette Hammond orchestrates a New Year’s Eve wedding reception for her brother before collapsing just before midnight. Does a fresh needle mark suggest this recovering addict, allegedly clean for a year, have an unexpected relapse? Or did something more sinister occur that might make this death a possible homicide?

It takes a long part of the book before we know for certain a crime has indeed occurred. As the story progressed, I often thought of TV dramas created by producer/actor Jack Webb where the main characters were straight-laced, upright, moral paragons. Webb’s shows like Dragnet and Adam-12 also emphasized the procedural day-to-day work of police officers stressing the workaday roles of typical cops with usually everyday investigations.

We see exactly such circumstances in the low-key first half of Mistletoe and Murder as Culnane and Tierney seek out and interview potential witnesses to Hammond’s collapse, looking for a motive for someone wanting to do her harm. It’s all “gum shoe” work, as they used to say, until unexpectedly they run across a pair who try to kill a witness and then start a shoot-out with the cops. Everything changes, naturally, after that.

I admit, I never really understood the book’s title. The action begins on a New Year’s Eve and progresses through an extremely cold Minnesota winter. Christmas mentions are passing and only referred to in the past tense. Should you Google for the title, you’ll discover it’s been used several times before, for whatever that note is worth.

Mistletoe and Murder is a book for readers who want their cops likeable, professional, methodical, and very human. It’s for readers who like their stories extremely believable, based on obvious research to validate the smallest of details, and books that include behind the scenes passages that develop the protagonist’s personal lives. It’s for readers who like their leads the sort of characters we could easily encounter anytime, anywhere. That includes the bad guys whose motives are not farfetched nor outlandish.

This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Aug. 9, 2017: