White Elephant by Trish Harnetiaux- A Review

I received an advanced digital copy of White Elephant by Trish Harnetiaux compliments of the publisher, Simon & Schuster, via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. This novel will be published October 29. 2019.

Amazon Book Blurb says:

A crackling Christmas mystery that combines murder and blackmail at a holiday office party, in a mashup reminiscent of Big Little Lies and Clue.

There are only a few rules in a White Elephant gift exchange: 1) Everyone brings a wrapped, unmarked gift. 2) Numbers are drawn to decide who picks first. 3) Gifts don’t need to be pricey—and often they’re downright tacky.

But things are a little different in Aspen, Colorado, at the office holiday party for the real estate firm owned by Henry Calhoun and his wife Claudine. Each Christmas sparks a contest among the already competitive staff to see who can buy the most coveted gift: the one that will get stolen the most times, the one that will prove just how many more commissions they earned that year than their colleagues. Designer sunglasses, deluxe spa treatments, front row concert tickets—nothing is off the table. And the staff is even more competitive this year as Zara, the hottest young pop star out of Hollywood, is in town and Claudine is determined to sell her the getaway home of her dreams.

Everyone is puzzled when a strange gift shows up in the mix: an antique cowboy statue. At least the sales agents are guessing it’s an antique—otherwise it’d be a terrible present. It’s certainly not very pretty or expensive-looking. In fact, the gift makes sense only to Henry and Claudine. The statue is the weapon Henry used to commit a murder years ago, a murder that helped start his company and a murder that Claudine helped cover up. She swore that no one would ever be able to find the statue or trace it to their crime. So which of their employees did? And why did they place it in the White Elephant? What could possibly be their endgame?

Over the course of the evening, Henry and Claudine race to figure out who could have planted the weapon, and just what the night means for the secrets they’ve been harboring. Further adding to the drama is a snowstorm that closes nearby roads—preventing anyone from leaving, as well as keeping law enforcement from the scene. And by the end of this crazy night, the police will most definitely be required…

What I Say:

The idea of the office party/ White Elephant Holiday gift exchange drew me in as my family has one every Christmas. We use slightly different rules however and certainly none of our gifts are as fabulous, mysterious, and deadly as the ones offered at this party— while it is true ours may include some drama they are nothing like this one!

I did catch a “Big Little Lies” vibe as at times it felt like some of the characters were giving interviews about the events at the party after the fact, especially pop star, Zara. I also was intrigued by the real estate angle as a guilty watching pleasure of mine is Bravo TV’s Million Dollar Listing LA. The show’s featured brokers often have celebrity clients and while they pursue clients and property with ruthless abandon I hope none of them have stooped to murder. No doubt Bravo will catch it on tape for us if they do.

What really sealed “the deal” for me was the side story of the performer, Andy Williams, and the real-life murder mystery surrounding his ex-wife Claudine Longet. Andy Williams was a favorite of my parents and I grew up listening to his music and watching him on TV. I imagine I even saw Claudine at some point. I had no idea of this real life intrigue. I was as curious as Zara and did my own fact checking.

The book certainly kept me turning pages. I enjoyed being able to look at the plot through the eyes of various characters. We hear the story from the point of view of Claudine, Henry, Zara, and the mysterious deathbed letters left by the girl friend of one of the murder victims to their love child. I don’t want to give any spoilers but the letters and the mystery gift certainly point out that at least one of the characters have come to the party with a not so innocent intent. The author plants several credible red herrings surrounding the mysterious White Elephant gift.

I also enjoyed how the author cleverly juxtaposed the present day events with the back story and flashbacks of her various main characters as this kept the suspense at a nice simmer througout. I enjoyed how the snowstorm was almost a character in itself.

Through the clues that the author dropped I was able to solve a few mysteries for myself but happily not all— which made for a very enjoyable read. I love books that provide after stories for their characters and this one did not disappoint. I would have appreciated having a better understanding of why the business of Calhoun + Calhoun was failing, we are just told that it is, with no real explanation.

Over all I enjoyed the time reading about real estate high jinx in Aspen, Colorado and consider it valuable reading time well spent. I would definitely recommend reading.

There is only one element of this story that I didn’t really “buy”.

Claudine Calhoun is portrayed as a fashion savvy, driven, ruthless, Type A, obsessive, narcissistic woman.  There is just absolutely no way a woman like Claudine Calhoun would commit such a basic fashion faux pas. Claudine would never select a pair of “Leopard print calf hair Manolos” to wear with “a tiger print Cavalli coat” as part of her Holiday party ensemble.

The standing rule in fashion regarding animal print is that it is used primarily for emphasis and the RULE is one animal print per outfit and preferably only one piece in the given outfit. If Claudine was a real person she would be appalled at this fashion gaffe as there is nothing more humiliating than a public fashion faux pas.

About the author:

Trish Harnetiaux is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her plays How to Get into BuildingsWelcome to the White Room, and If You Can Get to Buffalo have been published by Samuel French. Her latest play Tin Cat Shoes premiered at Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks and she is currently developing Bender and Brian, an epic tale of subversive Breakfast Club FanFiction. Harnetiaux has been a resident at MacDowell, The Millay Colony and Yaddo. She holds an MFA from Brooklyn College, and her work can be found at TrishHarnetiaux.com.

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