Murder Mysteries Celebrate the Holidays and Maine’s Winter

Photo credits courtesy of Barbara Ross

Link to Article in Coastal Times.


Murder Mysteries Celebrate the Holidays and Maine’s Winter

During bygone holidays has your eggnog failed to deliver? Too eggy or too spicy or so much rum the glass walks itself off the table? Has your eggnog ever killed anyone?

In the spirt of mixing mayhem with merriment, at least on paper (or on line), the book Eggnog Murder fictionalizes three coastal villages grappling with holiday murders. Organized as an anthology celebrating Christmas in Maine, Eggnog Murder includes mystery novellas from three authors, including Boothbay Harbor’s own Barbara Ross.

“I think combining Christmas and murder isn’t so strange,” said Ross. “New England and Maine have a strong village mystique… a romantic tradition like Currier and Ives or a Norman Rockwell scene. These communities promise a reliable order to life until a mystery comes along and upsets what’s comfortable. In the end, order is restored, but a holiday setting makes disorder more unsettling.”

In “Eggnog Murder” by Leslie Meier a gift-wrapped bottle of eggnog—allegedly from the Real Beard Santa Club—proves to be a killer concoction for a Tinker’s Cove local, and in Lee Hollis’s “Death By Eggnog” a grouchy town librarian is felled by non-dairy eggnog and it’s up to the town’s food columnist to ladle out some justice.

Barbara Ross was surprised when she was offered the opportunity to join colleagues in a holiday collection of stories. ”When my agent called me to say that ‘kinda out of the blue,’ Kensington Publishing had asked me to contribute a novella to a collection called Eggnog Murder, I was thrilled,” said Ross. “My novels are always too short and my short stories always too long, so I suspected novellas were my true calling.

“But another reason I was pumped was because I had been sitting on a gem of an eggnog anecdote for almost thirty years. Many moons ago, I interviewed a young woman seeking a sales position after she had accidentally poisoned her entire office with a homemade eggnog recipe.”

All three authors were asked to use the word “eggnog” in their novellas’ titles and Ross’s story “Nogged Off” begins when a character named Imogen Geinkes makes a concoction called “Killer Eggnog,” giving her co-workers food poisoning at a holiday party. Readers will recognize much of Boothbay as the action moves to the fictional village of Busman’s Harbor when Imogen’s boyfriend shows up dead in Julia Snowden’s van.

Julia Snowden is Ross’s central character in all four of her previous mysteries: Clammed Up, Boiled Over, Musseled Out, and Fogged Inn. Her next full length mystery, Iced Inn, comes out December 27th, showcasing Ross’s deep awareness of how winter might and might not change a small community dependent on tourism as well as the sea.

“Much of the coast is romanticized like it was a perfect August day, but in Boothbay and places like it, it’s kind of like ducks. There are all these people like ducks’ feet underwater paddling like crazy to provide this wonderful, memorable vacation. It takes so many people, kind of paddling hard out of sight to make the romantic illusion work,” Ross said.

Perhaps that’s why Iced Inn’s opening lines sound familiar. “Everyone who could leave town had left. The summer people were long gong, from the day-trippers to the seasonal home owners.” But in town the Snowden Family Clambake Company proprietor Julia Snowden and her mother are hunkered down for the winter when a mysterious package arrives—heating up February with an unexpected case of murder and a life threatening blizzard.

A Kirkus book review noted that “Ross knows her Maine coast and her snowstorms,” and a Criminalelement review wrote that, “Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake series provides both great characters and a small town mystery that is intricate enough to keep even the best armchair detective guessing.”

Ross laughed as she said, “I don’t have to murder every person in Busman’s Harbor because tourists, retirees, and seasonal staff come and go and there are conferences, weddings, and family reunions.”

That’s probably good news for Boothbay Harbor’s residents who are not imagined as recognizable people in her mysteries, but they are “recognizable types,” said Ross, who hopes that this season, readers will patronize local book stores in search of holiday mystery.

Sandra Neily is a Coastal Journal contributor who lives on Westport Island. She can be reached at her blog, ValueNature, at