C.C. Benison drums up a new mystery series

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First aired on The Next Chapter (25/3/12)


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C.C. Benison's latest mystery novel is called Twelve Drummers Drumming. You may think with a title like that, the book might have something to do with Christmas. Well, you're not wrong. But it's not about Christmas, the annual holiday. It's about Christmas, the man. Tom Christmas, a.k.a. "Father Christmas" is the new vicar at a picturesque little village in southwestern England that is steeped in mystery -- it's Agatha Christie country, to be exact. Tom moved to the rural town seeking respite after a tragedy in the city left him a widower. However, soon after he arrives, a young woman is found murdered and Tom realizes that his new home isn't the refuge he had been hoping for.

C.C. Benison is known outside crime-fiction circles as the Winnipeg journalist Doug Whiteway. He is already an accomplished mystery writer, with four previous novels to his name, including the popular Her Majesty Investigates series. While he always had the intention of starting a new mystery series, the concept of using the 12 days of Christmas as the foundation for a series came to him unexpectedly. "It really just popped in my head, as ideas so often do," he told The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers in a recent interview.

He was visiting his neighbourhood bookstore, the Whodunit Mystery Bookstore in Winnipeg, when the subject of thematic series came up. "The proprietors and I were having a laugh, looking at all the wonderful series ideas there are for mysteries, numbers and letters and cats and dogs and royal palaces and the whole bit," he said. "I just said at one point 'Well, has anyone ever used the 12 days of Christmas as the organizing principle for a series?'"

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Benison is taking creative liberties with how the now-classic presents reveal themselves in each book. For example, in Twelve Drummers Drumming, the twelve drums in question are Japanese taiko drums. "I wanted to introduce some contemporary elements," Benison explained. "These novels are somewhere between a real contemporary Britain and a somewhat nostalgic idea, so I thought that would bridge the two." However, Benison did have an ulterior motive for selecting this specific kind of drum. "A taiko drum would just be a wonderful place to hide a body."

Another important element in the book is Tom's backstory. Benison was keen to make him "a real bloke" who would "have all the attributes that a sane, emotionally balanced man might have." Benison is aware of the role vicars have in popular culture and wanted Tom Christmas to defy the stereotypes. "Clerics are often caricatured in television or in movies. They are often horrible hypocrites or silly, ineffectual men," he said. "I wanted someone who was real, in a way, or as real as I could make him."

With the publication of Twelve Drummers Drumming, Tom Christmas no longer lives just inside Benison's mind. Yet, the writer is still just getting to know Tom Christmas, his nine-year-old daughter Miranda and the rest of the residents of South Devon. "I'm still learning about these characters, too, even though I'm currently writing Ten Lords a Leaping," he said. "It's always a process for me."