Map of Blue Book Balloon

17 December 2020

#Review - Secret Santa by Andrew Shaffer

Cover art by Adam Rabulais,
design by Ryan Hayes
Secret Santa
Andrew Shaffer
Quirk Books, 10 November 2020
Available as: PB, 210pp, e
Source: Advance copy provided by the publisher
ISBN: 9781683692058

I'm grateful to the publisher and in particular to Jamie and to Stephen for an advance copy of Secret Santa to consider for review.

In a fun, and seasonal, horror novel Shaffer peeks beneath the tinsel at a prestigious New Your publishing house to reveal the darkness within.

Lussi (pronounced, "Lucy") need to make a success of her new job at Blackwood-Patterson. Out of work for several months after her previous employer was swallowed up in a merger, when she gets a chance to pitch to the new boss at B-P for a job, she's not reticent ('all I do is shit best sellers'). But she's a genre editor - can she bring that success to a fusty literary publisher? And will her new colleagues let her try?

Given three weeks to try, it's time to raid the slush pile...

I love office based novels, and I love horror, so this was a perfect blend for me. I enjoyed seeing Lussi's attempts at fitting in and doing her job being frustrated by the stand-offishness at her new workplace, and then by a series of gruesome accidents. We've all that that moment (haven't we?) when we realise we weren't invited to a key meeting and wonder of it was on purpose. Or when we unintentionally press colleague's wrong button. Or HAVE OUR FOOD STOLEN FROM THE OFFICE FRIDGE. Shaffer deftly weaves such moments into a classic horror story, taking place, of course, close to Christmas. (Yes, I know it's Hallowe'en that is meant to be the season for horror but there's a reason for all those classic Christmas ghost stories...)

It's a book of contrasts - between friends and foes (but which is which?), the ordinary (mundane office life one moment, then a step into the spooky basement) and of course, in Lussi's increasingly desperate imagination, success and failure. Along the way, Shaffer has some fun with the publishing industry - I have a feeling some of the people described here may be closely based on real life. 

The story is very readable, and awash with a pleasing amount of mystery (who is being targeted, by what, and why - but even once you think you know the answers to these there are still secrets kept right to the end). Lussi is a smart and knowing protagonist - as a horror editor, she is well aware of this stuff, just not to meeting it in real life - but has to contend with a lot. It's not just the supernatural, there's the behaviour of her colleagues too, and indeed untangling the two is one of her most urgent problems, because even if she survives the monster, she's still got to rescue the company as well. Her new boss wants a bestseller and her wants it soon.

Overall a fun book which makes a nice counterpoint to the jollity of Christmas and strikes a good balance between out and out horror and office based humour. Secret Santa would make a good stocking filler for a horror fan, an office worker or anyone in publishing. (And because it's  all set in the 1980s, there is no home working, Zoom or social distancing).

For more information about Secret Santa see the Quirk website here.

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