The Christmas Murder Game: Lily is drawn back to Endgame House where her mother died when she was a child. There she participates in the annual Christmas Game in which the winner gets the house. But is Endgame House worth killing for?
Murder on the Christmas Express: Roz is a retired police detective on a train on Christmas Eve trying to reach her daughter who is about to give birth. Then a popular social media influencer is discovered dead in her cabin.
I liked Lily as a protagonist in The Christmas Murder Game because she has a tragic backstory that has current day consequences that, throughout the novel, she is forced to confront. However, the most compelling character is actually the dead Aunt Lilian. We get to know her through letters and clues she’s written. She’s a paradox - weirdly caring while also being malicious. The dynamic between two of the cousin characters, Sarah and Gray, made me uncomfortable and is just strangely written.
There are bordering on too many characters in Murder on the Christmas Express. The good thing about so many characters is it means there are more potential suspects (though there is one who I never suspected because they were too obviously a red herring). However, I tended to get characters mixed up. In particular, I confused the Quizlings (a group of college students) a lot. As with Lily, the main character in this book, Roz, is also has a character whose past trauma affects her present day.
The Christmas Murder Game reminded me a lot of The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (though that book is YA) and The Family Game by Catherine Steadman (which also takes place at Christmastime). I found the sonnet clues in the book to be clever and liked how they were oftentimes purposefully misleading. The writing was quite flowery for a mystery book, though, which has the potential to turn off some readers. The mystery is quite easy to solve but there are some festive elements to this story with the family holiday traditions. Trigger warnings for this book include: suicide and incest.
Murder on the Christmas Express doesn’t really feel like a Christmas book. It could have been a generic wintertime setting and nothing would be changed. It’s quite obviously inspired by Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.Compared to The Christmas Murder Game, this one's mystery is much more difficult to solve as there are more twists. As a writer myself, something I would urge other writers to stay away from is having things like social media influencers in your book. Sure, TikTok is huge now, but ultimately this can date your book. Trigger warnings for this book include: domestic violence and sexual assault/rape.
The titles of these books make them sound like they’re going to be cozy mysteries with lots of festive touches. Unfortunately, I think the titles are more strategic marketing due to the enormity of the holiday than anything else. These aren’t the kind of books you want to cozy up with on Christmas afternoon after you’re done opening presents as both are quite dark. The Christmas Murder Game is more fun (I use that term lightly) to read in terms of the scavenger hunt nature of the game at the center of the novel. Murder on the Christmas Express, meanwhile, possesses a more challenging mystery to solve. So, I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for as to which one you’ll want to read.