Runcorn is vacationing on the Isle of Angelsey during the Christmas holiday season. During his stay, he stumbles across the murder of Miss Olivia Costain, who is the sister of the island's vicar. His expertise is helpful for the law enforcement officials of the area, who aren't used to violent crime of this nature, but his social status causes some on the island to look down on him, including the man in charge of the investigation, Sir Alan Farady. It doesn't help that Runcorn is in love with Melisande Ewart, a widow who is being courted by Farady. She pushes Runcorn to untangle the mystery and his feelings for her guarantee that he will do all he can to help solve the case.
I was not that impressed with this book. I think a large part of my dissatisfaction stems from the fact that I've only read two books in the series. The only way I know Runcorn is as a testy supervisor who loathes Monk, but apparently by this book they have become friends. This book does not stand-alone very well--it seems to be written for fans of the series more than anyone else. Maybe I would have liked it better if I had read more of the series before reading this one.
The story also was really slow. There is too much introspection on Runcorn's part, too much agonizing over details over and over without really advancing the story. And there is an awful lot of description of Runcorn taking walks on the island, but the descriptions are unfortunately not very picturesque. There were twists in the mystery that I didn't expect, but much of the action occurs near the end of the story--the crime is solved rather quickly and tied up too easily with no confrontations or excitement.
Finally, Runcorn and Melisande... *SPOILER* He wrestles with his feelings for her throughout the book and dismisses himself because he isn't of her social class and couldn't afford her upkeep. But all of that distress is overcome in like two pages at the end, when she basically tells him to propose and she'll accept. I thought the ending was unbelievable--her brother (who was taking care of her and thought very little of Runcorn) was going to blow his stack when he found out. Especially since he believed she was going to marry Farady. Yet Runcorn didn't question her about that or anything. I just didn't buy it. For being a man so concerned with his lower status, I would have thought he would at least address his concerns with her.
This was my book for the 2009 Holiday Reading Challenge and I'm a little bummed. It wasn't a very satsifying read and the only thing Christmas-y about it was that it was set during the Christmas season. I may have to go out and get another book for this challenge so I can end it on a better note.
Rating: ★★ 2/5 stars.
**Source: I ordered this book from Paperback Swap.