Source: Quirk Books
Something unknown to me was that during Christmases long ago, it was tradition to tell ghost stories by a fire. It’s even in that one song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which I thought to just be a throwaway line. However, one horror story in particular just recently came out this November by New York Times best-selling author, Andrew Shaffer called Secret Santa.
This book isn’t all that it seems though, as it follows a woman named Lussi who’s just trying to fit in at a publishing company called “Blackwood-Patterson” while everything around her goes terribly wrong. After reading it and giving it some time to sit in my head, I’ve concluded that this book is strong in the area of a third-person adult/older teen narrative but as far as the general story goes, it doesn’t feel unique or special to Christmas to the point of feeling bland.
To begin, one big thought I had in my head was, “Is this really a Christmas novel?” By just looking at the title, I assumed this was going to be about a Christmas spirit or murderer that killed through presents or something along those lines. But as I read further and further into the novel, I began to think about how the dates and setting season of Christmas in the 80s weren’t important to Christmas or even really the story. To me, this could’ve easily been a story that took place on Halloween or even a birthday, so that was a loss of hype for me, as I thought I could use this book to get an early hype for Christmas.
To further explain, the main villain of this story also wasn’t really Christmas themed init of itself. This novel involves a German doll called a “Percht” that essentially chooses a master once it’s done with its old one, and finds ways to luckily kill/hurt people that the current “master” doesn’t like. There didn’t seem to be any extreme Christmas vibe with that idea, and it makes me wonder why Shaffer decided to center this novel around Christmas at all.
Another aspect with the percht that really upset me a little bit was the fact that it’s power felt like it came in for plot convenience rather than being complex. This probably came to me because there were little to no rules explained with the percht, but it seemed to me that the percht picked Lussi to be the new master because she made one nice comment to it.
Another hard example of this was Digby’s death. He and Lussi were having such a good battle when it seemed that almost out of nowhere, Digby just decided to take the percht from its home, and then Digby was killed instantly by the Percht’s magic. Overall, the Percht didn’t seem to have any consistency really, it just felt like it made choices randomly and killed people solely because the plot needed it.
One final issue for me definitely had to be the sudden drops of tension between chapters. During the first 60 percent of the book, chapters would build to the end of the chapter with tension, like when Lussi finds her intern made Cal with his legs broken, but then the following chapter would just skip over the most intense and heart-pounding parts. This was a real disappointment for me because this novel had the potential to constantly keep me on edge, but only during the final chapters did it manage to do that.
This book isn’t all bad though, as while there were aspects of this novel that I hated, there were also aspects that I loved. The last 40 percent of the book was purely incredible with perfect tenseness as the end of each chapter was thrilling and the pick up to it expanded greatly on what had just happened. I found myself unable to put the book down once Lussi was taken hostage by her coworkers as each following chapter built onto the truly horrific tale being told.
I haven’t even gotten to the fact that I enjoyed Lussi as a character, being that she had her own personality and her common troubles made her very relatable. But the character I loved the most out of the entire book was Fabien Nightingale. He provided excellent comic relief and his personality seemed to shine above the rest with his witty remarks and hilarious interactions with Lussi. They both had incredible chemistry with each other and I enjoyed the chapters featuring those two.
Another aspect of the writing that I greatly enjoyed was the amount of gore that was described. Shaffer managed to knock it out of the park with brilliant metaphors to describe certain deaths. Like the nazi soldier from the opening being described as “Only there was no face. Just a black hole. … Teeth and red bits of muscle spilled from the hole like guts of a jack-o-lantern left on the porch for too long.” (Prologue, page 11.) That was just the perfect use of metaphor to paint a very creepy and disturbing image in my head.
What I liked above anything else in this book was the ending. Without spoiling too much, Lussi’s decisions she makes are very twisted with her discovery of being the Parcht’s master. But the epilogue to the story was certainly unique. With dejavú coming back from the first few chapters and it being only in the perspective of the person being interviewed and knowing what was happening with the new given information just gave me goosebumps all around. Overall, not only was the end incredibly satisfying, it felt very earned and purely horrific.
I don’t like to read books that often, or even really at all. There are only a handful of books that I decently enjoyed and would read again, so does this one magically fall under my personal reread list? Not really to be very honest. The story didn’t teach a major life lesson, nor was there really a massive aspect that stood out to me. It was purely just a horror story and sometimes, that’s okay as everything doesn’t need to have a deeper meaning.
This book has very great general writing while not feeling too long, being funny and horrific at good times, and also being its own novel. Sure, it has its few villain flaws and does get a little too lazy for even horror, but if you’re looking for a decent ghost story to read over break this year, pick yourself up Secret Santa and have yourself a good holiday scare.