Twelve Drummers Drumming (Father Christmas Series #1)

Twelve Drummers Drumming (Father Christmas Series #1)

by C. C. Benison

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Father Tom Christmas moves to the picturesque English hamlet of Thornford Regis to become its new vicar and to seek a peaceful haven. But inside the empty village hall, the huge Japanese o-daiko drum that’s featured in the May Fayre festivities has been viciously sliced open—and curled up inside is the bludgeoned body of Sybella Parry, the daughter of the choir director. Realizing this village is not the refuge he’d hoped for, Father Tom comes to a disturbing conclusion: Sybella’s killer must be one of his parishioners. No one is above suspicion—not Sebastian John, the deeply reserved verger, nor Mitsuko Drewe, a local artist, nor Colonel Northmore, survivor of a World War II prison camp. And over all hangs the long-unsolved mystery of a sudden disappearance, one that brought Father Tom to this picture-perfect place to live—or die.

BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from C. C. Benison's Eleven Pipers Piping.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440339830
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/25/2011
Series: Father Christmas Series , #1
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 166,756
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

C. C. Benison has worked as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines, as a book editor, and as a contributor to nonfiction books. A graduate of the University of Manitoba and Carleton University, he is the author of four previous novels, including Death at Buckingham Palace. He lives in Winnipeg.

Read an Excerpt

chapter one

“Thinking of stealing that book, Father?”

The voice at his shoulder startled Tom Christmas. He looked down to see Fred Pike, the village’s elfin handyman, smiling at him with a kind of manic glee.


“Stealing that book?”

Tom blinked at Fred, then snatched his hand from the book. Steal This Book was the title. Someone named Abbie Hoffman was apparently the writer. The cover said as much.

“Despite the title’s invitation, I don’t think so,” Tom said, running his finger between his neck and his dog collar. He put the book down next to a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook, which was being offered for thirty pence. In the middle distance, between two rows of stalls, a hefty lad he recognised as Colm Parry’s son Declan, all got up like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, was struggling to push a large drum on a trolley across the lawn towards the stage. Another lad, similarly dressed, was pulling at the other end.

“Thou shalt not steal,” warned Fred.

“Yes.” Tom nodded agreeably. “I’ve heard that.”

Grinning, Fred passed on towards the display of cider-making machinery, near the stage where the two boys were still struggling with the drum. Tom scratched his head, then turned to look at the other titles, all of them political in nature. He picked up a small volume with a red plastic slipcover. Quotations from Mao Tse-Tung. Well-thumbed, it opened at a page that proclaimed, “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun.” Gently, Tom replaced the book. The other bookstalls were a sea of used Jeffrey Archer and Barbara Cartland, but this was a stall of another colour. He thought he knew whose books these once were. But who in a village nestled in the South Devon hills could be enticed to buy them? Even at prices many pence shy of a pound?

“This is quite the collection,” he said to Belinda Swan, the publican’s wife, who was minding the stall. She reminded him of the Willendorf Venus, fleshy and voluptuous in a way that would have stirred a skinny hunter-gatherer, only attired in the modern way: sealed in stretch trousers and miraculously buttressed beneath a deeply scooped blouse.

“Not very Christian, are they?” she responded, picking up Confessions of a Revolutionary and regarding it askance. “We did wonder, but as it’s for the church, we thought you wouldn’t mind, Father.”

“I wish you wouldn’t—”

“Vicar, I mean.”

“Tom is fine.”

“Right. Tom it is. I’ll remember this time. But with your family name, you know, sometimes we can’t—”

“Help it,” he said, finishing her thought. It was a bane of his existence. Once, as a teenager, he’d gone to a fancy-dress party kitted out as Father Christmas, all white cotton-candy beard and hair and itchy red wool, and the honorific—or gibe—clung to him ever after. At the vicar factory at Cambridge he was Father Christmas. As curate in south London he was Father Christmas. In his ministry in Bristol he was Father Christmas. This though he wasn’t High Church. The mercy was his late wife hadn’t been named Mary. His adoptive mother had been, but she had wisely retained her maiden name.

Belinda picked up the Quotations. “I think Ned was the last person in the world who still cared what whatsisnamehere, Mao Tse-tung, thought about anything.”

“What about a billion Chinese?”

“Oh, do you think? I thought the Chinese had rather gone off all this rigmarole.” She opened the book at random and read aloud: “‘We must always use our brains and think everything over carefully.’” Her well-plucked eyebrows went up a notch. “Hard to argue with that. Maybe I should have my kids read this instead of Harry Potter.”

“I take it these books are all Ned’s.”

“Yes, his daughter said to take the lot. ‘Take them, I don’t want to look at them,’ she said. ‘You can burn them,” she said. Well, book burning didn’t seem very nice, so—”

“I’ll buy that one then.” Tom reached into his pocket and pulled out a pound coin.

“Are you sure?”

“To remember Ned, then.”

“But you never met him.”

“Not in the corruptible flesh, no.”

“Of course,” Belinda said, taking the coin and counting out seventy-five pence change. “That’s how you came to us, isn’t it? In a roundabout way. Fancy old Red Ned having a Christian burial. I expect he’s still spinning.”

By chance—or perhaps by design, though arguing the latter was a bit teleological—Tom and his daughter Miranda had been visiting Thornford Regis the week of Ned Skynner’s funeral, staying with his wife’s sister Julia and her husband Alastair. A music teacher at a Hamlyn Ferrers Grammar School outside Paignton, Julia filled in occasionally as organist at St. Nicholas Church and had been called upon to do so for Ned’s funeral that day in early April just over a year ago. Julia had looked at him askance when he’d volunteered to accompany her to the ceremony.

“The expression ‘busman’s holiday’ comes to mind,” she’d said with a smile, though her eyes telegraphed a deeper concern for him, unnecessarily attending a morbid rite for a complete stranger, five months after his wife’s homicide. But Tom was just as happy not to be left with his brother-in-law Alastair, whose disapproval seemed to fall on him like fine rain whenever circumstance threw the two of them together. Besides, funerals, intermittent or in clusters, were part measure of a priest’s life; his professionalism demanded he suspend his own grief to ease the grief of others, and he had done so: Twelve days after Lisbeth’s funeral at the synagogue in St. John’s Wood Road in London, he had taken a funeral at St. Dunstan’s, for a child, no less, and had managed—somehow, just barely—to keep his own heart from breaking.

And, if he had been looking for another reason to accompany Julia, a more frivolous one, he had it: He had not seen the interior of St. Nicholas Church, the grey weather-beaten Norman tower he had glimpsed the day before as he’d driven down into the village. There had been only one impediment. He couldn’t very well take his nine-year-old daughter, to—of all things—a funeral, not so soon after her mother’s death. But Alastair, who had taken the day off from his medical duties, volunteered to abandon plans for his own round of golf and take Miranda to Abbey Park in Torquay to play crazy golf. Tom hadn’t been sure if Alastair wanted to avoid his company or Julia’s. Good manners prevailed before guests, but no central heating could thaw the icy atmosphere between husband and wife that week.

What he would never have known is that he would wind up taking the funeral. The incumbent vicar, the Reverend Peter Kinsey, who had had the living for a mere eighteen months, had failed to appear. Everything else had been at the ready. Ned, at his daughter’s insistence, had been delivered to the lych-gate in a less-than-proletarian mahogany box with brass handles. Julia was at the organ gently working her way through “Ave Verum,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” and “Morning Has Broken.” There was a lovely display of lilies, forsythia, and iris, with daffodils in separate vases. And there was a decent turnout, Tom later learned, not least because many of the old villagers were amused to see Ned, who had spent four decades declaring religion to be the opiate of the masses from his seat in the pub, getting a send-off from one of the opiate manufacturer’s franchise operations.

Impatience had turned to puzzlement, then to consternation when, after about twenty minutes, the vicar didn’t appear. A call round to the vicarage produced no vicar; nor did it produce the vicar’s housekeeper, Madrun Prowse, who had gone to visit her deaf mother in Cornwall. The Reverend Mr. Kinsey wasn’t at the pub, where the wake was to take place, nor was he at any of the other public places in the village. His mobile was switched off, too. One or two villagers thought someone might have called one or two female parishioners on the off chance, but they kept that to themselves out of respect for Ned’s big send-off. Finally, someone realised that Kinsey’s Audi was missing. It was a Tuesday. Vicar’s day off was Monday. Perhaps he’d gone away for the day and got waylaid somewhere.

Though he might have phoned, someone groused.

It was a chilly April afternoon and the temperamental heating system in the church—adequate, Tom was to later learn, for a fifty-minute Sunday service—was less so for a congregation that had been waiting ninety minutes for the show to begin. The verger might have taken the service, but he was down with flu. The funeral director was able, but Karla Skynner, Ned’s daughter and a churchwarden, determined to sanitise her father’s history in a blaze of Christian piety and learning there was a vicar in the house, beseeched—well, it was more “commanded”—Tom to step in. To Julia’s horror he did—though dressed in corduroy trousers and a battered Barbour, he didn’t feel he would quite fill the contours of the role. Never mind. The vestments were hanging in the vestry, including a purple chasuble. He acquitted himself well enough. He mounted the pulpit and intoned the familiar words: I am the resurrection and the life. As he did so, in this little country church, with its freshly lime-washed walls, its slightly crooked aisle, and its aromas of wood polish, old books, and gently disintegrating woolen kneelers, he felt unaccountably at peace, in a way he had not since that awful autumn day when he had found Lisbeth lying in a pool of blood in the south porch of St. Dunstan’s. It was as though he had come home. As he looked past the faces of the mourners in the front pews to the shifts of light streaming through the Victorian stained glass, he found himself almost brimming with gratitude for the unexpected gift of this moment.

The Reverend Peter Kinsey never did show. In fact, the vicar seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth. Consternation had turned to outright worry three days later when Jago Prowse pointed out that the vicar couldn’t have left the village in his car, because he, Jago, was servicing the very car at Thorn Cross Garage and was having trouble with a very tricky fuel injection system. After that it was police, press, and endless speculation. As the village attempted to recover from this unsettling situation, retired clergy were called upon to fill in for Sunday services. The archdeacon helped, too, as did the rural dean. Even the bishop came down from Exeter to preach a wise sermon. But after two months of intermittent police investigation, Peter Kinsey’s reappearance was declared unlikely. There was, officially, a vacancy in the parish.

But a week’s rest, contemplation, and solitary walks in Devon had helped soften the metaphysical rage that had scorched Tom’s soul in the wake of Lisbeth’s death and decided him for change. He needed a safe place for his daughter, and he needed a rest from the turmoil of inner-city team ministry. As soon as he’d returned with Miranda to Bristol, he sent his CV to the bishop of Exeter, asking to be considered for any vacancy. There was a vacancy, as it turned out—in Thornford Regis—and, in due course Tom was appointed to the living of Thornford Regis. In the magisterial terms of the Church of England, the interview and inspection process was extraordinarily speedy. But a traumatised flock needed a new shepherd. Tom packed up Miranda’s and his things, bade sad farewell to his colleagues at St. Dunstan’s, and made the journey to Thornford Regis for the buttercup-strewn life in a West Country village described by the Times travel supplement as “sleepy” and by the AA Guide to Country Towns and Villages of England as “really a very pretty place.”

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Advance praise for Twelve Drummers Drumming
“C. C. Benison has concocted a charming and deliciously convoluted mystery for the Reverend Tom Christmas, new vicar of Thornford Regis, which is an updated version of St. Mary Mead. Indeed, Twelve Drummers Drumming is a crime novel that Agatha Christie might have been justly proud to claim as her own.”—Margaret Maron, New York Times bestselling author of Christmas Mourning  
“C. C. Benison brings the English village  mystery into a more demanding era, crafting a story with dimension and subtlety, in which resoundingly real characters grapple with loss and danger and matters of immortality—without losing the whimsy, the tight plotting, and the palpable delight in Traditional England found in his predecessors.”—Laurie King, New York Times bestselling author of God of the Hive  
Twelve Drummers Drumming is a beautifully written mystery set in an enchanting English village. May Father Christmas (he prefers Tom) long share  his wisdom and goodness.”—Carolyn Hart, nationally bestselling author of Dead by Midnight

“The Reverend Tom Christmas is an intriguing sleuth, a dedicated vicar with admitted shortcomings that render him entirely human. Steeped in the aura of English village life, with a cast of entertaining characters, and blessed with a touch of humor, this delightful series will keep you charmed, intrigued, and guessing right up to the end.”—Kate Kingsbury, author of Herald of Death

“An atmospheric, engaging, and well-crafted story.”—Anne Perry, New York Times bestselling author of Treason at Lisson Grove
“It’s rare that a novel is both a charmer and a page-turner, but C. C. Benison has done it. I can’t wait to visit Thornford Regis again.”—Charles Finch, author of A Burial at Sea
“The traditional British village cozy has never looked better. The Reverend Tom Christmas is an irresistible addition to the ranks of clerical sleuths. Fans of M. C. Beaton, Rhys Bowen, and G. M. Malliet will relish C. C. Benison’s layered, exceptionally well-written new series.”—Julia Spencer-Fleming, author of One Was a Soldier

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Twelve Drummers Drumming 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Several months after his wife's still unsolved homicide in London, Reverend Tom "Father" Christmas accompanied by his nine year old daughter Miranda, fans of the French version of Nancy Drew, visit his sister-in-law Julia Hennis the music teacher and her husband Alastair the physician Thornford Regis. When Vicar Peter Kinsey failed to arrive to lead the services for the late Ned Skynner at St. Nicholas Church, Father Christmas conducts the ceremony. Tom takes over the vacated position of village vicar The Christmas pair finds life in the village soothing as they heal from their loss. However, at the fair, someone murders the daughter of the choirmaster; Sybella Parry's body is found inside a large drum. Although most locals assume drugs were involved in the homicide, Tom thinks otherwise. As he makes inquiries and uses the confessional to gather information, Tom finds several suspects who could easily have killed the teenager. This is an enjoyable English village mystery that stars a fascinating widower who employs a unique way to gather data. The story line stars slow to establish the cast and setting, but once done accelerates into a fast-paced entertaining whodunit with a great surprising final spin. Harriet Klausner
Barry1 More than 1 year ago
This was a really well written book that kept the reader interested from the first chapter. The author did not solve every problem in the book and left you wanting more of the series. The characters were interesting and the story was reasonably believable. I would keep reading the series.
lazby More than 1 year ago
The charecterizations in this book were excellent. You can almost see the people. The plot was believable, as was the solution. However, I did guess the murderer. I'm anxious to read further Fr.Christmas books. I hope there are some!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Plotting awkward and and characters unlikeable and too much time spebnt on the multi red herrings and then one page tries to tell all will not read rest of series disapponting not a keeper
cbl_tn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After his wife's murder, Vicar Tom Christmas (please don't call him Father) moves from Bristol to the village of Thornford Regis. The village is in need of a new vicar after the previous vicar disappeared without a trace. Tom's wife's sister and her husband live in the village, and he thinks it will be a safer place to raise his 9-year-old daughter, Miranda. It's just wishful thinking. Barely two months after his arrival, in the midst of the May Fayre, the vicar discovers the body of a local teenager inside a large Japanese drum that was to be used during the festival. The suspects include the girl's ex-con employer, a verger with a mysterious past, and someone with a possible motive who appears to have been physically incapable of committing the murder.The plot was full of surprises, and it kept me guessing until the end. A couple of aspects didn't work for me. There seem to be too many characters to keep track of, even with the list of characters provided at the beginning of the book. The drums seem more like a gimmick to fulfill the requirements of the title rather than an essential part of the plot. On the other hand, the vicar's prior career as a magician was mentioned several times throughout the story, and his skills ended up being useful for the plot.Vicar Christmas isn't much like other fictional clergymen I've spent time with. His deceased wife was Jewish, and with his sister-in-law's help, he's raising his daughter in the Jewish faith. He also seems to spend a lot of time either ogling or trying not to ogle just about every woman who crosses his path. It got to be a bit much after a while.I think most readers who like English village cozies will enjoy this one. Readers who have enjoyed the author's other series (Her Majesty Investigates) will be pleased to know that one of the characters from that series makes an appearance in this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed it so much I bought two more books by this author . I recommend it very highly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The mystery itself was good, but a little ponderous. I had my suspicions as to who the murderer was about 2\3 of the way through the book. The characters were very likeable. Being this was the very first book in the series, I will definitely give the second a try to see if the flow of the story improves with practice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
interesting characters, good story line,but found myself skipping pages. too much needless filler info. better book if 100 pages shorter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
birdieman More than 1 year ago
Way too complicated and too British with limey jargon.
SCEmpress More than 1 year ago
This is a great beginning for a new series. Very enjoyable! Good characters!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Drewano More than 1 year ago
I just couldn’t get into this.  The mystery develops over the first third of the book or so then unravels slowly.  It was fairly easy to put most of the pieces together before the big reveal of “the clue” so while I didn’t know exactly who done it, I knew why and I knew who hadn’t so I had a pretty good idea. The characters were a bit static and cookie cutter of the type you would find in your standard small town story which doesn’t help the book stand out.   Finally with a name like “Twelve Drummers Drumming (Father Christmas Mystery #1)” you would think it be holiday related but unfortunately it was not, so I couldn’t even use it to get into holiday spirit!  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
very good story interesting
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I rated it a 3 since thats kinda in the middle and it sounds fast paced (good) but really scary (bad).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a great gay book
glorybe33 More than 1 year ago
have not yet had time to read 12 drum, 11 pipers nor 10 lords leaping; however have all 3 based on the recommendation of a trusted friend; this will be my winter reading; 9 ladies hopefully out this fall