Not A Creature Was Stirring


Jane Haddam


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

March 26, 2022

ot A Creature Was Stirring is the first book in the much lauded series by Jane Haddam that features Gregor Demarkian. Gregor was a famous FBI investigator, reknowned for his uncanny ability to guess what criminals are thinking and bring them to justice. But Gregor's wife Elizabeth contracted cancer and died after a long decline, and Gregor lost his drive to solve crimes. Now Gregor is newly retired, and not exactly sure what to do with himself.

It is Christmas, and the Philadelphia neighborhood where Demarkian lives is decorating and preparing for the holiday, though Gregor does not personally engage in the festivities. Gregor is Armenian, and he is surrounded by Armenian neighbors. Everyone seems to know their neighbor. A priest, Father Tibor, asks Gregor to find the boy who got Donna Moradanyan pregnant and then ran off. Hardly the sort of case that would tax the abilities of someone as capable as Demarkian. Then comes a call from Robert Hannaford. Hannaford offers a briefcase full of money ($100K!) if Demarkian will come to his mansion for Christmas dinner. Clearly the ruthless patriarch senses criminal deeds in his family and wants a top flight investigator to shed light on the potential crime.

Robert Hannaford is a fabulously wealthy (the novel was written in 1990, so the $400 million net worth of Hannaford is presented as a staggering sum) man whose ancestors made money in railroads. Hannaford lives in a vast mansion called The Engine House. Hannaford sired seven offspring, and hates them all. The feeling is mutual, the seven children all loathe Hannaford in turn, and Haddam depicts Robert Hannaford as deserving of their hatred. Nor do the children like each other - each is a flawed human with amoral sensibilities. The mother, Cordelia, is suffering a long decline from multiple-sclerosis, and it is clear that this will be her last Christmas. Despite their animosity, the seven children all return to The Engine House for a Christmas celebration to honor their mother. And then someone smashes in the head of Robert Hannaford. Because heavy snowfall and estate security limits the comings and going from the Engine House, it is clear that one of the seven children must be the murderer. But who? And why? Ultimately, I guessed the wrong murderer, and I could never figure out the motive. Haddam fooled me.

The seven children confused me - there were too many for me to keep straight. What was the difference between Teddy and Christopher? There are a lot of subplots - Myra wants to divorce her rich husband, yet needs money to do so. Haddam makes it clear that she and Bobby are engaged in some illicit money making scheme. Bennis is presented as the only stable, sane child - she has left the Hannafords and become a fantasy novelist, making millions for her stories about faeries and unicorns. Anne Marie stays at the estate, devoted to the care of Cordelia, constantly fretting about her mother's decline. Emma is the youngest child, born much later than the older six siblings. Christopher smokes a lot of dope and has a tremendous gambling problem. Teddy is a failed assistant professor at a third rate college. Everyone smokes too much. All of these snakes are used to money, yet Robert Hannaford's will does not leave his vast wealth to them. So who benefits from his death? Or was the murder simply revenge for a lifetime of abuse? Demarkian of course figures it out.

The Gregor Demarkian series is currently up to 30 volumes. I am certain that I will never read them all, but I may return for one or two more. Presumably the Armenian neighbors and former FBI personalities all grow into familiar characters over the course of the series.