Book: Hard Christmas

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Hard Christmas: A Cat Marsala Mystery

Author: Barbara D'Amato
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group

Freelance reporter Cat Marsala has done lots of tough investigative pieces lately. Now she would like something a little softer—and a feature story on Christmas tree farming sounds ideal. She’s thrilled when Henry DeGraaf, president of the West Michigan Evergreen Growers Association, invites her to spend Thanksgiving at his family farm north of Holland, Michigan, where she can observe the Christmas tree industry up close. With only seven hours of daylight, the work is intense, the team spirit legendary.

Cat receives a warm welcome at the DeGraaf farmhouse, especially from DeGraaf’s twelve-year-old niece, Nell. Grandmother DeGraaf prepares delicious old Dutch dishes, and Great-Aunt Clara shares with Cat letters written by the first DeGraaf to settle in Michigan. Cat is impressed with the history and tradition of the family, but it’s not long before she discovers the terrible tensions that permeate the household.

A dark mystery lies over the death of the family patriarch, Henry DeGraaf, Sr., who died in the spring. Walking in the Christmas tree fields when the crop-dusting plane flew over, he suffered a fatal asthma attack brought on by the chemicals. He was somehow caught without the orange vest that would have warned the pilot not to spray. While DeGraaf’s death could have been an accident, a second death proves without a doubt that a killer lurks in this unlikely pastoral setting where the kitchen table is laden with Gran’s casseroles and apple pies, but one of the diners, among either the family or the crew, has evil motives.

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