‘Cookie’: too cool to be a ‘cozy,’ too much fun to be ‘hard-boiled’

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The new David Handler novel is a free-wheeling and sophisticated concoction that will frustrate mystery fans who think in terms of categories like “cozy” and “hardboiled.”

“The Snow White Christmas Cookie” (Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s) looks and sound like something warm and reassuring — a story that could be set in Cabot Cove with dear Jessica Fletcher doing her amateur detective thing.

But, Handler has been working in the mystery field too long to deliver something formulaic. “Christmas Cookie” is the ninth book in a series he started in 2001 about Manhattan film critic Mitch Berger and a state cop named Desiree Mitry who are lovers and crime solvers on the Connecticut coast somewhere in the vicinity of Old Lyme.

Handler lives in Old Lyme and explores the dichotomy between the well-off people in that area and the underclass struggling to hold on to their homes — and their lives — in the terrible economy of the past few years.

“The Snow White Christmas Cookie” deals with the theft of mail in the picturesque (and fictional) hamlet of Dorset which Handler has created as a stand-in for Old Lyme.

The missing mail might or might not be tied in with the suicide of one of Mitch’s neighbors, a young-ish man who has suffered from depression but seemed to be getting back on his feet thanks to the “life coach” who became his live-in girlfriend.

One of the great running gags in Handler’s series is the way that Mitch’s movie mania has started to rub off on Des, including his affection for the Preston Sturges comedy “The Palm Beach Story.”

Handler lightens a moment of great jeopardy in “The Snow White Christmas Cookie” by having Mitch promise God that if he gets out of this jam, he will watch every Danny Kaye movie again (including “The Man from the Diner’s Club” — a fate almost worse than death).

The mystery technically qualifies as a cozy — the violence quotient is low and the sex is offstage — but Handler’s tough-minded and funny look at the haves and have nots in a posh part of Connecticut probably deserves a category of its own.

Joe Meyers

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