Secret Santa is a creepy horror novella from Andrew Shaffer. His Obama Biden mysteries are enjoyable, so I picked this up during the year. Of course, the best time to read a Christmas-themed book is December. My only regret is getting the review posted after the holiday. Still, it’s worth a try if the horrors of office Christmas parties are fresh in your mind.
Lussi is an editor searching for a new job. Her previous employer merged with another publishing house and laid off staff in the consolidation. So she sends Blackwood-Patterson her resume and gets an interview. Located in New York City’s East Village, the building is mysterious and a bit odd. But Lussi doesn’t let that stop her.
What gives her pause, though, is the publisher, Xavier Blackwood, dying of a heart attack during the interview. Taking full advantage of the situation, Lussi tells his son and successor that Blackwood hired her as a senior editor. It doesn’t take her long to question the wisdom of that snap decision.
Shaffer combines a variety of themes in Secret Santa. They range from “be careful what you wish for,” to menacing antique dolls and sick building syndrome. But in the context of this dysfunctional publishing house, they all make a strange kind of sense.
Much of the story also hinges on the downsides of office gift exchanges, as the title implies. Lussi receives an unexpected gift, considering her minimal tenure there. She soon discovers that office politics is the least of her concerns.
Setting the book in the 1980s, Shaffer injects commentary on the culture of “greed is good.” He also reminds us of the seedier side of the city back in the day.
Lussi is a suitably quirky heroine, with plenty of guts and drive. As the book’s narrator, she offers a blend between the quintessential horror fan and potential final girl. Her humor is wry and readable.
All in all, Secret Santa is a solid antidote for readers who like their holiday-themed books to have a strong dark side. Extra points if you like holiday traditions rooted in history or various cultures.