Saturday 25 July 2015

Reviewed (With Q&A): Dying for Christmas by Tammy Cohen

Dying for Christmas was published by Transworld on November 20, 2014.

Thanks to the publisher for approving me for this book on Netgalley.

Dying for Christmas was by far the Christmas book I was most excited to read. I loved the twist on a Christmas novel, how it wasn’t all cheerful and fun-filled yet still incorporated the festive season into the story in the most chilling of ways. The blurb was ridiculously enticing, I pretty much couldn’t read any other Christmas book before this one because the story was all I could think about even before I owned a copy. I had so many questions. Dying for Christmas was one of those books that I was expecting to be incredible before I’d even started and then it satisfyingly did not let down my expectations at all. It had the most brilliant hook of an opening sentence which was so attention-grabbing, I felt like I’d been dragged right into the story in an instant, not to be let go. The book itself was cold and gripping, with a fascinating concept that had me guessing and attempting to piece things together right until the brilliant end.

Jessica Gold… what a character. Our protagonist here is seriously a bit nuts, and she’s not even the villain. Taking a breather from some hectic Christmas shopping, Jessica heads to an Oxford Street café where she is quickly approached by a charming, good looking stranger with a cute dimple, no less. Meet Dominic Lacey. Dominic is twisted and messed up and all kinds of weird but Jess finds herself heading to his place, not knowing that chances are she won’t be getting out of there alive. In the run up to Christmas, Dominic has lined up twelve gifts under the Christmas tree and Jess gets the pleasure (perhaps not) of opening one each day. Some of the things found in this book made my skin crawl. The gift-giving was horrific, gruesome, cringeworthy and highly compelling. With the combination of an unreliable narrator in Jessica and Dominic with his sickening mood swings that see him take a vile turn again and again, this book could have gone anywhere. As it happens, it did, but I loved every second of it.

I don’t want to ruin any aspect of this novel but I will say – it runs along nicely (worst use of that word ever) and then Tammy delivers a figurative sledgehammer to the head where everything you’ve just read is gone and now you’ve got all these tiny pieces to put back together and try and work out what on earth this twist in the plot means. The synopsis says, But I have a secret. No-one has guessed it. Will You?, and the answer is no I bloody well didn’t. Tammy turned this book on its head in an instant. I thought the story was extraordinary well written. I loved, completely loved the first half. In fact, I was meant to hate Dominic, and I did, but at times some of the games he played really did appeal to my twisted sense of humour. I didn’t ever want to see the first half end. But then it did. And for a second or two, I moaned about it. But then I realised I was turning the pages at a relentlessly faster pace than before. I needed answers. I needed to know everything. Tammy takes this book in a direction I wasn’t expecting, that I probably wouldn’t ever have expected. I hated the change, full on hated it, except I didn’t. It took me a matter of seconds before I loved the second half even more. It became much more complex, much more strange (as if I even thought that was possible) and I had far more fun reading this novel than probably any other psychological thriller out there.

I know, without reading the reviews, that this book will have attracted such mixed reactions. All I can say on that is, isn’t it fun to suspend belief for a little while? To have characters enter your life and take over it until you’re unsure they’ll ever leave. To have an author capable, where so many aren’t, of delivering twists you would never possibly expect. Dying for Christmas was everything I wanted in a Christmas thriller. There is a strand to the story which focuses on a little too much drama in the life of police detective, Kim. Though I liked this aspect, I quite quickly wanted to return to the story unfolding in the lives of Jessica and Dominic. The suspense and intrigue in this book was mind-blowing and I felt so tense reading the story, I was on edge the whole way through. Dying for Christmas is an extremely exciting festive thriller. Full of chills, creepy, shocking, completely messed up and yet completely enthralling. A wonderfully crazy novel.

Brilliantly twisted psychogical thriller with messed-up characters and unpredictable, chilling twists.


Why did you write a Christmas Crime book?

We’re so used to seeing heart-warming, romantic Christmas books I wanted to reclaim the festive season from the warm and fuzzy brigade and bring it over to the dark side a bit. Christmas is great, but for many of us there’s a flipside – family feuds, loneliness, all magnified by the fact that everyone else seems to be having such a ball. Why shouldn’t Christmas books reflect that side as well as the sweetness and light?

What was the inspiration behind it?

My editor asked me to come up with an idea for a Christmas crime book and immediately I had this image in my head of a Christmas tree with twelve beautifully wrapped presents underneath, one for each of the twelve days of Christmas - and each one more horrific than the last. After that, the plot of a naïve young woman kept hostage over Christmas by a psychopathic stranger and forced to open these carefully chosen presents came very easily.

Describe your heroine, Jessica Gold

Jessica is a bit of a misfit. She has a boyfriend she’s not getting on with and a loving family who don’t understand her. She’s definitely one of those people for whom Christmas just highlights their own loneliness. So when charming Dominic Lacey starts chatting to her in an Oxford Street department store on Christmas Eve, she gives in to a moment of madness and agrees to go back to his apartment with him for a drink, hoping that just for once she’ll feel part of this big rush of Christmas spirit and adventure that everyone else seems to experience.

Was it hard to write a psychopath like Dominic Lacey?

No! In fact it was worryingly easy. Dominic is incredibly charming but also cruel and totally without empathy. His moods switch without warning and as the presents become more and more disturbing, so too does his behaviour. Writing a character who is incapable of guilt or remorse or of feeling anyone else’s pain was incredibly liberating.

Did writing the book put you off Christmas?

Not at all. In fact it made me appreciate my Christmas all the more. My family might end up driving me mad and my partner might not get me the present I’ve been heavily hinting about for the last few weeks, but at least I’m not being held prisoner by a psychopath! It’s all relative!



  1. Great review Sophie. This sounds like a book that needs to be added to my wishlist as I'm a big fan of psychological thrillers. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. :)

    1. Thank you, Neats! I hope you'll like it :)

  2. Anonymous28/9/22 08:56

    Very engaged throughout the story until the last page. Felt frustrated at trying to interpret what was happening. Not fair Tammy!

    1. I hated the non-ending of this book!


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