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Book Review: Merry AXmas by Brian Francis

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Like most people on these cold days, I enjoy curling up and reading a good book and I thought I had found what could have been a great thriller, but I'm still left scratching my head. I still don't know what I read.

Barry Higgins has been a part time Santa at Wilson's Department Store for the last four years and on this particular Sunday, chaos ensues in the Christmas Village causing it to be shut down. Manager Charles Dickwood tells him that he won't fire him. This time.

While the moms at the store are upset over the closing of the village, a top television producer is murdered in his house on the other side of town by an imposing figure dressed in a Santa suit.

Once store owner Tim Tasker hears of the department store incident from his office in Florida, he tells Dickwood to fire Barry immediately and replace him. Knowing that he has problems at the Philadelphia location, he and his girlfriend, Vicky Rusker, head to the store the next morning.

Dickwood tracks Barry down at a dive bar and fires him.

The next morning, Barry goes to the store to get the damaged Star of Bethlehem before Dickwood gets in and he gets into an argument with dock worker, Stan Keeler. He pushes Stan causing him to fall and hit his head and not checking on his condition, goes for the star.

He manages to get it back to his apartment and while he's getting ready to meet with Dickwood, the AXmas Killer strikes at the store killing Stan.

When Barry gets back to the store, he overhears the police and Dickwood about Stan's murder, they put the blame on Barry and he heads back home to flee.

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Tim hires Conrad Krendel, a college student from Florida, to be the new Santa and when the plane arrives in Philadelphia, he and Vicky head to the store.

Meanwhile, one of Dickwood's hermit crabs, Eight Ball, escapes from his cage and begins his journey to the store to seek revenge (I am not making this up) and while on the topic of revenge, the AXmas Killer goes after game developer Dave Nara. He of course kills him and his girlfriend.

As the police search for Barry, Barry is holed up at the dive bar, where he meets the AXmas killer and is filled in on how he knows that Barry is innocent and that he's the real killer. He blackmail/kidnaps Barry and the two leave the bar after one of the regular patrons recognizes Barry from the news story.

At this point I have to stop the review since the book becomes more bizarre. I'm sure if I could have done an out of body experience, I would have been amused by my facial expressions. Of course, while reading it, I wasn't too amused.

In all fairness, the book does start out good and with each page thereafter that I turned, it started to go downhill. At times, I had no idea what was going on.

Francis does a great job of weaving the characters together, but even that is a little haphazard at times. I still can't get over the fact that a hermit crab was a main character and at one point, I wasn't sure if I had read this before.

Had much of the book been re-written before publication, I think it would have been a much better read, especially if the killer had been on a spree and causing panic in the city.

It would have made for a tighter story, but as it stands, it just goes on too many tangents and near the end, another plot pops up, but the ending is good since the characters are given a paragraph as to what happened following the events.

And that includes Eight Ball, the hermit crab.

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