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Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Secret Santa by Andrew Shaffer

Completely at random I stopped by an actual brick and mortar store. Browsing the horror section, as I am apt to do, I was excited to see that Max Brooks had put out a Bigfoot book, Devolution, which I reviewed here. Quite by accident I saw a display for Secret Santa and the cover grabbed my attention. I figured it sounded good so while I was there I grabbed a copy.

The book, set in the eighties, has us following a young book editor named Lussi. She has lost her job due to some corporate mergers and while successful in bringing horror novels to market is struggling to find a new job. Her last hope is an interview at a stuffy company, Blackwood-Patterson, which leans more into “legitimate” novels. While speaking to the owner, who is dismissing her earlier work, he has a heart attack and later dies. Speaking to his son Lussi manages to work her way into getting a job as a senior editor with the promise to bring in the next Stephen King to the struggling company.

What follows are some resentful co-workers, spooky encounters with a mysterious man in the park, and a stolen fruitcake as well as a series of unfortunate accidents that may or may not be accidents. In fact there is something evil loose in the old office building Blackwood-Patterson occupies and it is killing people. Lussi eventually figures out her connection to the thing and tries to stop it, though that might come at a huge cost. 

This book is billed as a horror comedy in several of the listings I’ve looked at. I don’t think that is accurate as I never found anything funny about the story. That said I did appreciate the horror elements. This plays out much like an eighties low budget horror movie with a simple and predictable plot that checks the necessary boxes before reaching a conclusion that is both expected and satisfying. We even get a fun little epilogue that jumps to thirty years later where we see future Lussi and get a hint as to how things may turn out for her.  Much like the movies I compared it to earlier Secret Santa is an uncomplicated and easily accessible bit of fun. The story jumps right to the action and is a quick read. I finished it in around four hours spread over a couple of nights.

If you are of a similar vintage to myself, you might also get a kick out of some of the eighties references. Shaffer doesn’t beat you over the head with them but just gives the reader a tease to remind them when the story is set. The deaths in the book are tame, but this isn’t the kind of read that I would expect to be terribly disturbing or gory. We also don’t get much into the “head” of the creature and know what the motivations are beyond it being hungry for the pain of others. There was probably more meat on the bone of this story, but it was left behind to keep things humming along.

The word that keeps popping into my head when I am writing this review is lite. Secret Santa is a bit of fluff that is enjoyable but will probably be forgotten not long after finishing it. That isn’t a criticism as I really did enjoy the book. This goes back to something I bring up every so often and that is not everything has to be art. Sometimes it can just be fun. If you are looking to enjoy yourself with something a little bit spooky then I’d recommend picking up a copy.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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