Dying for Christmas by Tammy Cohen

dying for christmasHo! Ho! Ho!

😀 😀 😀 😀

Women! Tchah! How many times did your mother tell you never to go off with strange men? Even if they happen to have deep blue eyes and an adorable little dimple in one cheek? (Tempting, I admit…) But Jessica is feeling fed up with life and the man she has just met in a store café seems so much more…well…gorgeous than most of the men she meets, and certainly more exciting than her rather dull boyfriend. So when Dominic invites her back to his flat for a drink, she throws caution to the wind. A big mistake! Because far from one drink, Dominic expects her to stay for all Twelve Days of Christmas, even if that means chaining her to the radiator…

This is a jolly little Christmas story, full of torture, cruelty, manipulation and twisted minds. And one of the most twisted minds at play is the author’s – she keeps that plot churning like a tumble-dryer on high. It’s essential to check your disbelief at the door to enjoy this, and then just go along for the ride. At the beginning it feels as if the book is going to be a traditional psychopath-tortures-girl scenario, but gradually you realise there’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek feel to it. It’s actually very cleverly done – although the action becomes progressively more horrific and even gruesome, the tone stays fairly light throughout. It took me a while to see how Cohen was achieving this, but I think it’s because the main part of the narrative comes to us as a first person (past tense) account from Jessica, and even at the darkest parts, she often gives a little aside that pushes the horror over into humour.

What will Santa be bringing you this year??
What will Santa be bringing you this year??

Every day, Dominic presents Jessica with a beautifully wrapped gift, each of which represents something from his past. As he tells her the story to go along with each one, we gradually see just how warped he is, but we also learn some things that might explain some part of why he’s turned out that way. But to complicate matters, Jessica is a bit nuts too – she’s always been something of a social misfit, perhaps due to her unfortunate tendency to hear mysterious voices in her head. And every day the tension ramps up, and Dominic’s treatment of Jessica becomes a little more extreme…

The other strand of the book is the investigation, which we see in the third person from the viewpoint of Kim, whose own family life is on the point of breakdown. This aspect felt a little clichéd to me, I must admit – the woman torn between work and children. However, like the other characters, Kim is very well drawn, and these sections provide breaks from the escalating events in the flat.

Tammy Cohen
Tammy Cohen

The plot becomes progressively less credible as it goes on and, by the end, it approaches farce – but quite intentionally, I think. I felt the book took a slight dip in the middle – perhaps it would have been tighter if the Days of Christmas could have been six or seven instead of twelve – but the first and last thirds rocketed along. Despite the dark subject matter, it’s all a bit of a romp really – a psychopath book for people who don’t like psychopath books, maybe. The characterisation is excellent – either Dominic or Jessica could have tipped over into unbelievability, but Cohen keeps them feeling more or less real. And the writing flows effortlessly, carrying the reader along even when the story is at its most incredible. My first introduction to Tammy Cohen, and a thoroughly enjoyable one – what one should I read next, Cohen fans?

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Transworld.

Thanks to Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books, whose great review first drew this one to my attention – click here to read it.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

70 thoughts on “Dying for Christmas by Tammy Cohen

  1. FictionFan – I’m really glad you enjoyed this. But I’m afraid it doesn’t sound like my cuppa. I’m really not one for the imprisoned woman/gruesome/torture kind of thing unless it’s expertly blended into the story. It’s just really not my thing. Well, at least my TBR escapes unscathed…

    • Oh, pity! ‘Cause there’s actually a lot more to this one than just that aspect (which doesn’t usually work for me either), but it’s one that’s particularly difficult to review without spoilers. There is gruesomeness in it, but it’s still quite a fun read, oddly…

  2. Hilarious! A psychopath book for those who don’t like psychopath books. Hmmmm. I think I’ll stick with Dickens. You are so much more open-minded than I could ever be. 😀

    It’s been years since I’ve seen a stage production of “A Christmas Carol,” so we’re going to see an American Conservatory Theater production of that fine story in a couple of weeks. My favorite parts are the ghosts, Jacob Marley, especially. “These are the chains I forged in life!” Shiver.

    • Haha! You could read the bit in Dickens about where Mr Wackford Squeers beats the boys then… 😉

      One of the best evenings of my life was seeing Patrick Stewart perform his one-man version of A Christams Carol on stage, before he made the TV version. The audience was full of people (like me) who only knew him as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and loads of them had clearly never gone to the theatre before. He was amazing – and it was nearly as much fun to see the audience responding to him as to watch the show itself. I bet he made hundreds of new Dickens fans that night… Enjoy the show! 😀

  3. Ah, this book sounds SO good! I like a-typical books and this is really some twisted christmas read hehe. I really should try to get a copy!

  4. I’m not entirely sure about this one, as I don’t like Christmas themed books much, nor imprisoned/tortured women scenarios. But I do like Tammy Cohen – I think she has a great ear for dialogue and a very easy to read style. I recommend ‘The Broken’ – which perfectly captures the hostility of a divorcing couple and how it impacts their friends.

    • If you can suspend your disbelief enough, I think you might enjoy this one though – it’s really not typical of either the normal Christmas or tortured woman book. And as you say, her style is so flowing – she carried me easily past bits that I might have balked at in other writers’ hands. Thanks for the rec – I definitely want to read more of her stuff, so that one goes straight to the TBR… 😀

  5. Ha ha ha. I’ve just, looking slightly long suffering and slightly smug, downloaded this as it turned out to be the December choice for my on line book club, and as i had decided that the November choice was one I absolutely couldn’t read (don’t even ask) I thought I must surrender to this one with reasonably good grace. I just hope there aren’t too many graphic dismemberments, else it will put me right off the nut roast. I have to hold on to your line about it being a psychopath book for someone who doesn’t like psychopath books.

    Mind you, I’ve just read, after it was pressed on me by a friend, Harold Fry (and yes, dear heart, I well remember how you scathed that – and we are in total accord) So, feeling rather nauseous from gallons of corn syrup, maybe a book about a psychopath is the grits and vinegar tastebud cleanser I’m seriously craving.

    Bring on the sharpened axes, bring on the fish-hooks

    • Hmm…I’m fascinated to see how you react to this one (*chortles quietly while remembering some of the descriptions of mealtimes*). I’m sure you’ll love it!!! And this is exactly why I can’t bring myself to join bookclubs – I’d always be the one in the corner with the huffy face moaning about the sheer pointlessness of it all. Delighted to hear you felt the same about Harold Fry – it still makes me gag a little any time I think about it. And yet, inexplicably, so many people loved it. Sometimes I despair of the entire human race, you know…ho! ho! ho!

      I await your review with glee …er… I mean, eager anticipation!

      • Now if you mean my fried review of Fry, well of course its getting nowhere near my blog, nasty sickly sweet thing that it is – but its got the thumbs down on Amazon. Tammy will get to the blog if she is enjoyed.

      • Hmm, there WON’T be a review, I fear. I hated it SO MUCH (probably even more than the book club choice last month which I said I couldn’t possibly read, despite trying twice to struggle to the end of ‘Look Inside’) that I had abandoned it by I think the second or third day of Christmas. And it wasn’t even the meals – I loved, in a weird way, The Reluctant Cannibals, which went into great detail about all sorts of things i wouldn’t eat (oysters particularly upsetting)

        Just not a fan of books involving psychopathic, sadistic men and vulnerable, foolish women!

        I think Big Sister had the right idea ‘This is not the book I want for MY Christmas’ So I did the decent thing and expunged it from my Kindle. I’m afraid i loathed it so much that had it been real, I would, actually, have SHREDDED it!!!! See, in reality, I am a psychopathic reader, torturing books about torture

        At least removing it from the Kindle was easier than shredding a wood book

        Digs out book set in a field, featuring a group of very happy, organically grown carrots. None of whom get pulled up or even eaten, but just have carrotty, kind thoughts about each other and talk to butterflies. Who somehow, were never caterpillars that ate them

        • Haha! I suspected this one may not be altogether to your taste! Now had she filched her story straight from fine Victorian literature and had a nauseatingly smug omniscient narrator combined with a vampire or two, that’d have worked much better, eh? 😉

          The thing is (trying to avoid spoilers) had you managed to struggle through it, you would have found that what you get is not always what you see – there are two sides to every story… Did you get to the bit with the black pudding? Yum-yum!

          You’ll be drummed out of the bookclub at this rate (which would surely be a good thing!)

  6. PS How many months have you been working through that printing press book? It’s beginning to look like an item stuck in the Vine queue it’s been there so long (snickers, horribly and nastily)

    • Soooo rude! I’ll let you into a little secret, but you musn’t laugh – and you musn’t tell any of the young’uns who might visit. The reading lamp broke down, and since it’s a paper book, my poor old eyes are really struggling to cope. I was actually thinking of giving up and getting the Kindle version… *sticks tongue out gently*

      • Well I have succumbed to the new Voyage, having reached screaming pitch with my KK – it’s not the reading, that continues to be fine, but it just can’t cope with my desire to look up words, make notes and the like, the 4 way tilt button thing is too annoying for words.

        I have just had an email from Amazon to say it is finally on its way to me (they ran out of stocks, have been patiently waiting since early November) So I hope for a more enjoyable ereader experience soon (but I STILL think there is nothing like paper – if only I lived in a mansion, I wouldn’t ever have needed an ereader!)

        • Yes, the old KK seems so outdated now, and yet it was wondrous when it first came out. I don’t think I could survive without the Fire – I love the backlit screen and find it so much easier to read on, and of course wiki, dictionaries etc are so much easier – as is note-taking, though I really hate using the onscreen keyboard too. It’s brilliant for audiobooks too…and music… Hope you enjoy the Voyage – is it backlit or is it more like the traditional Kindle screen?

          • Well I’ll yet you know when my hot little paws own it, but it’s a dedicated eReader and I know it’s possible to read with it in the dark I think it adjusts itself to the ambient lighting, clever thing, though you can also fiddle with its default response to level of ambient light so it will adjust accordingly. Neat, eh.

            • Clever! That’s sorta what the Fiire does too, and it’s why I love it. Once I set it the first time to a level that suits me, I’ve never had to fiddle with it again – it just deals with it all itself. Hope you have loads of fun with it – shiny gadget and books! Perfect combination!

  7. Don’t you people ever read worthwhile books? Might I suggest ‘The Extirpation of Ignorance’ by Paul Bushe (1526)? Enjoy!

  8. Or ‘Haec Homo: Wherein the excellency of the creation of woman is described’ by William Austin (1637)? A satire that one, I think.

  9. I am delighted that you enjoyed this one too, thank you for mentioning my review! Your comments made me smile because they were absolutely spot on, it is definitely one where you need to suspend belief and those days did go on a bit but this author’s wry sense of humour just manages to walk the fine line between complete farce and a brilliant reading experience.

    • My pleasure – thank you for prompting me to read this one! I’d never thought of Tammy Cohen’s books as having humour – I’d wrongly thought they were really pretty grim, so this has been a revelation to me. I’ll definitely be adding The Broken to my list – it sounds more my kind of thing than The Mistress’s Revenge…though I might try it later too…

      • I think you’ll enjoy The Broken more too, I read the Mistresses Revenge on the back of a friend getting herself in a bit of a situation and some of the scenes could have been lifted from some of those conversations! Clever and funny but not everyone’s cup of tea. So glad she moved into crime type fiction.

  10. Oh and I’d suggest you read The Broken next which was Tammy’s first foray into psychological thrillers. Her first book The Mistresses Revenge was what got me hooked and one I am tempted to re-read as her depiction of an affair was so realistic it hurt!

  11. I thought this was a brilliant thriller novel. It was filled with lots of twists and turns throughout. At the end of the novel was Jessica Gold now living in a flat with the not dead Dominic Lacey?

    • I loved it too! But I’m afraid my memory is so awful I can’t actually remember how they all ended up! My rotten memory is part of the reason I review – but it doesn’t help with endings… 😉

      Thanks for popping in and commenting! 🙂

    • I know I’m two years late to this, but Dominic Lacey was definitely dead. I think the voices she heard in her head were dead people, and as Dominic died at the hospital due to someone tampering with his IV, she was now hearing his voice.

  12. I picked this book for my book club this month. We have yet to gather and discuss it, but I am really excited for it. Two out of the seven of us has already finished it and we both loved it. There were a couple of twists that came out of absolutely no where and one final one that I predicted but was still thrilled to see. I quite loved this and I can’t wait to gather with my fellow bibliophiles.

    • Gosh, it’s been a while since I read this so the details have gone now, but I do remember thoroughly enjoying it! I also seem to remember, though, that it provoked pretty mixed reactions at the time, so I wonder if that will be the case with your book club… 😀

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.