Jane Haddam's Not a Creature Was Stirring (1990) was the first of the Gregor Demarkian holiday-based cozies.
A wealthy railroad magnate hires Demarkian to come to Christmas dinner. Actually, he gets Father Tibor to convince Demarkian. He tells Father Tibor that if Demarkian comes to the dinner, the man will contribute $100,000 to causes supported by Father Tibor's church.
Demarkian shows up and finds the magnate murdered.
The whole story involves the man's large dysfunctional family. Someone commits two other murders along the way.
Several of the family members deal with problems and histories of their own. And that's where this story breaks away from the usual clue-drive, Agatha Christie-type mystery.
Demarkian analyzes, not just the scene, but the characters. Haddam's Demarkian stories are much more character-driven than some other “little grey cell”-type books.
Demarkian is a retired FBI agent who lives in an Armenian Orthodox section of Philadelphia. He still mourns the death of his beloved wife two years ago. He returns to the old neighborhood looking for solace.
Though the Philadelphia neighborhood is not the same as it used to be, it is still a cultural enclave with very distinct and interesting individual characters.
I have read many of these books over the years. They have been up-and-down. But this is an “up” one for sure.
QUOTATIONS FROM NOT A CREATURE WAS STIRRING--
But the little evils were important. Gregor was sure of that. Out of them, everything else flowed.
“...internal consistency is important,” Gregor insisted. “You realize that with psychopaths. A psychopath starts with an irrational premise—that he's the Archangel Michael, say, or that all the women in the world have come together in a great conspiracy to destroy him. It makes no sense, but everything that follows from it does make sense. Once you know his premise, everything he does is strictly logical, entirely consistent.
“I've known men in my life who've given up smoking, who've given up heroin, who've given up sex. I've never known one who voluntarily gave up power.”
Gregor always seemed to make her nervous. He seemed to see so much, and say so little.
“You always forget something, and the something you forget is always the obvious.”
“...the world is full of jerks, Bennis. Racist jerks. Sexist jerks. Envious jerks. If you worry about jerks, you'll never have any kind of life at all.”