Gregor Demarkian doesn’t know what he is going to do with the rest of his life. He had been the Director of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI until he had retired to take care of his wife, Elizabeth, as she inched her way through the process of dying with cancer. His first decision is to leave the Washington area and return to Philadelphia, to the street and neighborhood where he grew up. Even all these years later, Cavanaugh Street is still an Armenian enclave although now it is an enclave with money. Cavanaugh Street bears no sign of the poverty that defined it so many years ago. Gregor does know that he needs to find something to do, something to make him want to get out of bed in the morning. Gregor is bored.
Father Tibor Kasparian, an Armenian Orthodox priest and a former resident of a Russian gulag, is his rescuer. Tibor invites Gregor to his home and shows him a brief case filled with $100,000.00 in cash. Robert Hannaford is the fifth generation of Hannafords who had made their money in the railroads, steel, and just about everything else. Robert is confined to a wheelchair after an accident. His body may have limitations but his mind does not. Another part of Robert Hannaford that has no limitations is the depths of his cruelty. He has seven children and he hates them all. They return the sentiment. Hannaford is used to getting what he wants by buying it. He decides to buy Gregor by using Tibor. Hannaford hadscome to Tibor with the money, telling him that if Tibor can get Gregor to come to his house for dinner on Christmas Eve, Tibor can keep the money for the church’s charities.
Gregor agrees, primarily out of curiousity. When he arrives at Engine House, named for the families association with the railroad, it is to discover that Robert Hannaford has been murdered. The suspects: all of Hannaford’s children. Myra married money but isn’t satisfied because she doesn’t have any of her own. Bobby, the heir, is involved in insider trading. Anne Marie manages Engine House and devotes most of her time to her mother, Cordelia, who is dying from a form of multiple sclerosis. Christopher is a poet and a DJ in California; he is a gambler and he owes the wrong people $75,000.00. Teddy has difficulty walking and must wear a leg brace since an accident crippled him. He is a professor at a very small college where he is about to lose his job for plagiarizing his students’ work and for sexual harassment. Bennis is a highly successful writer of fantasy novels and a millionaire in her own right. Emma, the youngest, is an actress and the child least damaged by her father’s pathologies.
Heading the investigation in Bryn Mawr is John Henry Newman Jackman, a student of Gregor’s. He is aware of all the pitfalls that a case involving the very rich presents. He is willing to have Gregor act as a consultant and Gregor is happy to be back in harness. Jackman knows all about Gregor’s theory of “internal consistency” and as more people die Jackman acknowledges that the theory does apply. “Simplicity. Somewhere, in all of this mess of motives and secrets and plots, there was a perfectly straightforward course of action, a person who killed or tried to kill, over and over again, always in much the same way. And that meant there was also a perfectly straightforward reason for it all.” The killer had a plan and a goal that made perfect sense.
NOT A CREATURE WAS STIRRING is a story that takes place at Christmas. It is not a Christmas story. It is the first book in the twenty-five book Gregor Demarkian series. While it isn’t necessary to read the books in order of publication, it does help to keep the large cast of characters sorted. Cavanaugh Street and its residents are characters in all the stories.
The first books in the series are centered on holidays then the author takes a wider view and gets Gregor further away from Cavanaugh Street. The books are consistently good. The characters are woven into each story and as the series progress their relationships do as well. Haddam does not write graphic violence. Her descriptions of the murders in each story are brief; violence is described but as if at a distance. I have read the series and I have enjoyed all of the books.
Toward the end of the book the author provides this exchange between John Henry Newman Jackman and Gregor Demarkian. “…Jackman didn’t see him do it. He was too busy looking at the chandelier. “I read a murder mystery once where someone got killed with one of those,” Jackman said. “it was held up with a chain and the chain had been cut through, and just at the right moment—” “Do you think that’s really possible?” Gregor said. “Hell no. But things don’t have to be possible in murder mysteries. They just have to be weird.”
The twenty-seventh book in the series will be published in March.