Drop Dead Gorgeous

Dying to Have Her

Glory

Killing Kelly

Long, Lean and Lethal

Night of the Blackbird

Picture Me Dead

Surrender

Suspicious

Tall, Dark & Deadly

 
The Last Noel
by Heather Graham
(Mira, $16.95, G) ISBN 978-0778325253
***
The only thing Skyler O'Boyle truly wants for Christmas is peace.  It seems like her family, over the years, has come apart at the seams.  In a last-ditch effort to pull her husband and three children together, Skyler demands that they have Christmas at their country home.  That way, no one can storm off in a huff or make other plans and leave early.

Of course, that was wishful thinking.  Her husband, David and elder son, Frazier begin sniping at one another immediately - primarily about Frazier's girlfriend staying with him.  Skyler thinks Brenda's a nice girl, but Skyler isn't the type to step up; she prefers to walk the line and maintain as much tranquility as possible by whatever means are easiest.  Thankfully, Frazier's twin sister, Kat, is there to get in the middle of things without being obtrusive.  Then there's Jamie, who caused enough problems the previous year, holing up in his bedroom - not unlike Uncle Paddy, who only cares to come out of the guest room if there's whisky involved.

If Skyler wished for something different, she is quickly to learn to be careful what you wish for.  When two strangers knock on the door as the family is sitting down to supper, all hell breaks loose.  Unbeknownst to the family, the men have just broken into a jewelry store down the road and murdered its owner.  Now, trapped by a blizzard, they take the O'Boyles hostage, making it clear that the family is going to live only long enough to eat Christmas dinner - and, if the weather holds, open presents.  The O'Boyles' only hope is Kat, who was out of the room when the two murderers barged in.

Kat is more than a little surprised when she discovers an unconscious man in the car the men had ditched (literally and figuratively).  The situation is made even more complicated when she realizes that the man is her college sweetheart.  A few years before, Craig had seemed perfect; then all of a sudden he had told her it had all been in her head, and he disappeared.  Now, Kat realizes just what he had been doing in the meanwhile.  Both are forced into the house by the weather, much to Kat's discouragement.  But the O'Boyles still have a few tricks and a lot of hope up their sleeves.  And one of their unwanted guests will prove to be more than he seems.

One thing a person can definitely appreciate about Graham's romantic suspenses is that they don't make you gag.  Even in this, a holiday novel, the sappiness is kept to a minimum until the last few pages.  Unfortunately, another characteristic of a lot of her works is that it's hard to get an in-depth feeling for the characters.  I was also disappointed in the lack of suspense.  I don't know if that arises from the fact that - hey, it's a Christmas book, nothing bad's REALLY going to happen is it? - or not, but it doesn't take a genius to know what's going to happen before you read it.  All in all, The Last Noel is completely satisfactory as a holiday novel but not exactly what you want to pick up to challenge the mind.  It'll give you that warm but not-so-fuzzy family feeling and will keep diehard fans of Graham quite happy as well.

--Sarrah Knight


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