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The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers
Cover Artist: Jeff Wong
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Soho Crime Hardcover / eBook  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616957759
Date: 24 October 2017 List Price $19.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Publisher's Book Page / Read an Excerpt / Show Official Info /

A woman on a train encounters a ghost. A man is hired to kill a beautiful femme fatale. A pregnant woman gives birth inside an abandoned construction site. A street orphan in Bangkok searches for her missing friend. An American POW seeks vengeance against a traitor. The grisly remains of a murdered family are found hidden in a shallow grave. An elderly spinster seeks vengeance against the neighbor who beats his wife. These are just a few of the stories in The Usual Santas, which is an anthology taking place during the Christmas holidays.

The Usual Santas was published by SOHO, which asked many of its best-selling authors to write short stories centered on Christmas. Reading each story was like blindly reaching into Santa's bag and pulling out a wrapped gift. I had no idea what I was going to unwrap. Sometimes, I was delighted, sometimes I was shocked, and sometimes I was slightly disappointed. Some authors put a tremendous amount of effort into writing their stories and some barely mentioned the word "Christmas". Perhaps Christmas, for them, is merely a time of the year.

Some authors captured the true meaning of Christmas. Love and friendship are ideal themes for the holidays. One of my most cherished stories in the anthology is "Chalee's Nativity" from Timothy Hallinan. Chalee is a street orphan living in Bangkok; an aspiring artist, she realizes the importance of friendship. Hallinan, who writes the Junior Bender novels, is one of my favorite authors.

Another favorite author of mine is Stuart Neville. His short story, "Queen of the Hill", is dark and horrifying, which is a reflection of the novels he writes. In this tale, a young convict meets with disaster when he is hired to kill a beautiful female mobster. I love horror stories and horror movies that have Christmas as a setting.

Reading The Usual Santas introduced me to some new authors. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Martin Limon's "A PX Christmas". It has characters, George Sueno and Ernie Bascom, from his best-selling series of novels that are centered on an Army base in South Korea in the 1970s. Sueno and Bascom rescue a GI's South Korean wife from an evil pimp who is forcing her to work in a brothel. While full of action and suspense, it also depicts the caring, loving attitudes that we should demonstrate at Christmas. If I had more time, I would love to read all of Limon's novels.

The anthology is divided into three sections: Joy to the World, Silent Night, and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa. Because I am a certified gorehound, the section that I was drawn to is Silent Night, which had a lot of shocking, ghastly revenge stories. I relish these. My favorite story is Henry Chang's "Bo Sau (Vengeance)". Set in Chinatown, a young man seeks vengeance against the thug who permanently scarred his cousin's face. I would also like to read more of Chang's works. Because it is rife with action, my favorite short story in the Joy to the World section is "A PX Christmas".

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa is my least favorite section. Most of these stories barely mention Christmas. There are a couple of exceptions. Gary Corby's story, "The Prince of Peace", is a violent, historical tale of political intrigue. It should have been in the Silent Night section. My favorite one in the I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa section is Peter Lovesey's "Supper with Miss Shivers". It has a supernatural element that made me shiver with delight.

The Usual Santas is highly recommended reading. With settings on nearly every continent, taking place from the Middle Ages to the present, and written by authors of all ages and nationalities, it is anything but usual. It is a unique work of art that is a genius marketing tool for SOHO. This anthology introduces readers to many of SOHO's authors and their works. It generates much-needed publicity. I am already familiar with several of the artists and became interested in reading the works of others.

The Usual Santas deals with one of the most popular seasons of the year; readers are scrambling for literature that will “get them in the Christmas spirit". I was at a bank when an employee espied me reading this anthology and asked me if I was attempting this exact feat. December is the busiest time of the year for me. I always get stressed out during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. I feel like Hallinan's street orphan, Chalee, who is searching for the true meaning of Christmas. Thanks to Timothy Hallinan, Martin Limon, Mette Ivie Harrison, and a host of other SOHO authors, readers can learn that the true meaning of Christmas is the love we have for a savior and our demonstration of it when we are kind to friends, relatives, and especially strangers.

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