Christmas Presents

Christmas Presents

by Lisa Unger
Christmas Presents

Christmas Presents

by Lisa Unger


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A SheReads, Criminal Element, CrimeReads, and Zibby Mag "Most Anticipated" Thriller

Instead of presents this Christmas, a true crime podcaster is opening up a cold case…

Madeline Martin has built a life for herself as the young owner of a thriving business, The Next Chapter Bookshop, despite her tragic childhood and now needing to care for her infirm father. When Harley Granger, a failed novelist turned true crime podcaster, drifts into her shop in the days before Christmas, he seems intent on digging up events that Madeline would much rather forget. She’s the only surviving victim of Evan Handy, the man who was convicted of murdering her best friend Steph, and is suspected in the disappearance of two sisters, also good friends of Madeline’s, who have been missing for nearly a decade. It’s an investigation that has obsessed her father Sheriff James Martin right up until his stroke took his faculties.

Harley Granger has a gift for seeing things that others miss. He wasn’t much of a novelist, but his work as a true crime author and podcaster has earned him fame and wealth—and some serious criticism for his various unethical practices. Still, visiting Little Valley to be closer to his dying father has caused him to look into a case that many people think is closed—and some want reopened. And he has a lot of questions about the night Stephanie Cramer was killed, Ainsley and Sam Wallace disappeared, and Madeline Martin was left for dead, bleeding out on a riverbank.

Since Evan Handy went to jail, three other young women have gone missing, most recently a young college dropout named Lolly. Five young women missing in the same area in a decade. Are they connected? Was Evan Handy innocent after all? Or was there some else there that night? Someone who is still satisfying his dark appetites?

As Christmas approaches and a blizzard bears down, Madeline and her childhood friend Badger return to a past they both hoped was dead—to find the missing Lolly and to answer questions that have haunted them both, discovering that the truth is more terrible and much closer to home than they think.

Coupling a picturesque, cozy setting with a deeply unsettling suspenseful plot, Christmas Presents is a chilling seasonal novella that can be enjoyed all year long.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781613164518
Publisher: Penzler Publishers
Publication date: 10/24/2023
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 29,849
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Lisa Unger is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author. With books published in thirty-three languages and millions of copies sold worldwide, she is widely regarded as a master of suspense.

Read an Excerpt

The old Wallace place is a wreck and, if he’s honest, that’s what Harley Granger likes about it the best. He’s always loved a broken thing, not seeing its ruin but its potential for rebirth. Broken things get discarded, left as trash. Most people don’t have the time or the energy or the vision to see what a thing might become if you just give it a little time, a little attention. That’s why Harley finds things that other people can’t. Not because he has any special gift for investigation. But because he simply takes the time to look and look again.

He tosses the wrapped hardcover book on the rickety wood table in what was—and will be again with any luck—the dining room. In neon green paint on the far wall someone has sprayed, WE ARE ALL IN HELL HERE. Harley, of course, has taken copious pictures of the brutalized structure, it’s peeling paint and graffiti scrawl, the gaping holes in the roof, the shredded wallpaper and buckled wood floors, posted them all over his social media. He doesn’t do anything in a vacuum. Not anymore. Sometimes he thinks every thought in his head needs an audience.

Tomorrow the roofers come. That’s always first because without a good roof, any weather will damage whatever work is accomplished inside. Even he knows that, his slim knowledge of renovation and home repair gleaned from hours of watching HGTV while sitting in the hospital with his dad. He may have, sort of, implied in his various posts that he’d be doing the work himself. But no. He doesn’t have time for that. He’ll make sure to help with the demo, get some good footage of his taking a sledgehammer to the walls. Then the hired crew will take the place down to the studs and under flooring.

When that’s done, when the place is stripped to its bones, that’s when rebirth can begin.

He draws a finger along the wrapped Christmas gift. It’s artfully done, every edge precise, bow festive. It’s true that it’s what his father would have liked. But the old man doesn’t read anymore. He can’t even feed himself. Still, when Harley goes to see him on Friday, he’ll bring the gift, open it for him, and read aloud while Dad sits glassy eyed, propped up in his chair. Harley knows he’s alive in there. Sometimes, he can see that gleam of mischief in the old guy’s rheumy eyes. The nurses at Shady Grove are unusually hot, especially Charlene the night nurse. Alzheimer’s is a cruel thief of life and memory, light, and hope for all involved. But the old guy can still pop a boner and does.

“He’s an old devil,” Charlene says with an uneasy laugh.

She doesn’t know the half of it.

It was Dad’s sudden decline that brought Harley back to this area, that got him interested in Evan Handy. Funny how things work, the twisting path that life takes. How one thing leads to the next. How you make all kinds of vows to yourself about what you’ll do and won’t do. And then break them.

He sits at the table now and opens his new laptop. That’s another thing Harley likes, dichotomy. The sight of the brand-new iMac, sitting on the splintery old table—this gleaming epitome of design and engineering supported by a piece of furniture that will likely be chopped for kindling before the week is out. And someday, this piece of equipment so new and on the bleeding edge of technology will be a piece of junk too. Entropy. Everything on its way to falling apart. Nothing permanent. Nothing solid. Why this idea gives Harley comfort, he can’t say. It’s not exactly a cheery thought.

He opens his email and there’s the predictable slew from his publicist-slash-assistant Mirabelle—well, she’s becoming more than that, isn’t she? The memory of their last night together still lingers, the arch of her back, the echo of her moans. Those eyes. The sound of his name on her lips. Truth is, he thinks about her all the time.

There are several more emails from the producer of his podcast, one from the studio he found in the adjacent town quoting rates. More. He scrolls and scrolls. And then he finally sees it, the one he’s been waiting for. He knew it would come, but it took longer than he expected. Evan Handy, agreeing to a visit and an interview.

Dear Mr. Granger, I was wondering if you’d ever take interest in my case. I am available to talk. In fact, I have nothing but time. And I have lots of information for you.

There it is. That little thrill Harley takes at looking inside a story, one that everyone thought had been told, to find something new, alive, squirming inside the shell of what others believed was the truth.

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