Sharyn McCrumb is a name I remember from about fifteen years ago when I read two of the books in her Ballad mystery series, She Walks These Hills and The Ballad of Frankie Silver, both set in the Appalachian Mountains and steeped in history and folklore. I know that I enjoyed those two books, but the details have faded from my mind now, so when I saw this new novella available on NetGalley I couldn’t wait to read it and reacquaint myself with Sharyn McCrumb’s work. I hadn’t even realised that she had been continuing to write Ballad novels and that there are ten in the series now!
Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past is described as a novella, but it’s really two separate short stories which alternate with each other throughout the book. In the first, we join Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and his deputy Joe LeDonne who have been given the unwelcome task of arresting a man on Christmas Eve. Arriving at the alleged criminal’s home – a remote mountain farm – they encounter problems they had never expected and end up spending Christmas Eve in a very unusual way.
Meanwhile, Nora Bonesteel, an elderly woman with the gift of ‘the Sight’, is being visited by her new neighbour, Shirley Haverty, who has moved into the house Nora still thinks of as ‘the old Honeycutt place’. The Havertys have bought the house as a summer home but have decided to stay on this year and experience a traditional Christmas in the mountains. After a few unexplained mishaps Shirley has become convinced that the house is haunted…and that the ghost doesn’t seem to approve of their bright pink artificial Christmas tree! Can Nora use her psychic abilities and her memories of the house in days gone by to lay the ghost to rest?
This is a short book and could easily be read in one or two sittings (though I didn’t manage that due to choosing a busy time to start reading it). It’s not necessary to have read any of Sharyn McCrumb’s previous books, though I did remember the characters of the Sheriff, Joe LeDonne and Nora Bonesteel.
The two stories in the book are, as I’ve said, completely independent of each other and never come together at all, not even at the end. I found this a bit disappointing and I think it might have been better if they had been presented as two entirely separate stories rather than giving us a few pages of one followed by a few of the other. What the stories do have in common is the Appalachian setting and the fact that they both deal with the subjects of Christmas traditions and the mountain lifestyle.
Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past doesn’t have the depth or complexity of the longer novels in the Ballad series and unlike the full-length books there’s no mystery to be solved, but it’s an enjoyable, undemanding read and perfect for the Christmas season.
And now I’m going to end this post on an appropriate note by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas! I should be back between Christmas and New Year with another winter-themed review and my end-of-year lists.