Aside from the gold rings and maybe the geese and French hens (great for urban farmers), the traditional 12 days of gifts just don’t cut it for the modern Christmas list. Swans bite; 12 drummers would give anybody a migraine in an enclosed space — ditto, the 11 pipers. Eight maids could at least help with the entertaining, but you get the idea: We need a better list. So here, for your “true love,” we offer the 12 Books of Christmas, a dazzling spectrum of publishing ingenuity. There are even holiday zombies, although their ideas of red and green decorations don’t involve tinsel . . . .
1. Father Tom Christmas is not looking forward to a night of bagpipes and haggis at the annual Robert Burns supper in
Eleven Pipers Piping
(Delacorte, $24). Then, one of the residents of Thornford Regis drops dead after dessert, and town gossips point to the widowed vicar’s housekeeper. In this follow-up to last year’s “Twelve Drummers Drumming,” C.C. Benison uses the claustrophobia of village life to great effect, making the series a psychologically astute pleasure for fans of traditional cozies. (I can’t wait for “Ten Lords A-Leaping” — sky diving is involved.)
2. If your idea of “heartwarming” involves an organ roasting on a stick,
I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus
(Gallery, $14.99), by S. G. Browne, is the perfect holiday tale. This sequel to “Breathers” finds Andy Warner, leader of a failed zombie civil rights movement, breaking out of the Portland, Ore., research facility where he has been experimented on for the past year. After donning a Santa suit to elude detection, Andy decides to help a little girl discover the true meaning of Christmas. It’s “Miracle on 34th Street” meets “Night of the Living Dead” as Andy name-checks actor Edmund Gwenn in between deadpan lines such as: “When your lips are sewn shut, you tend to speak mainly in consonants.” Something to keep in mind the next time you’re singing, “He sees you when you’re sleeping . . . .”
3. Anne Perry dispenses with the snow, the mistletoe, the plum pudding and the tree but still winds up with a terrific British holiday mystery in
A Christmas Garland
(Ballantine, $18). In 1857, as India seethes with rebellion, a spy escapes a British garrison, leaving a dead guard and more dead soldiers in his wake. Lt. Victor Narraway is charged with defending the accused accomplice, John Tallis, a well-liked medic. There’s no evidence against Tallis, but he’s the only soldier unaccounted for during the escape. Everyone else just wants to convict him and be done, but Narraway is horrified that an innocent man might hang as a traitor.
Nice & Naughty
(Harlequin; paperback, $5.25), by Tawny Weber, failed fashion designer Jade Carson finds herself stuck working as a small-town librarian. Public Enemy No. 1 used to be Jade’s cat, who has a penchant for destroying outdoor Christmas decorations. But then the “panty thief” shows up, riffling through the good citizens’ unmentionables and hanging them for all to see. Enter Diego Sandoval, a police detective forced by his sadistic captain to solve this rash of break-ins. Smitten by Jade’s collection of lingerie and four-inch heels (as well as her ability to do upside-down splits), Diego woos her with such immortal lines as: “While I’m on the job nobody’s going to hurt you. Or your underwear. I promise.” Will the hot cop and limber librarian sacrifice career fulfillment and urban living for great sex and all the Christmas cookies they can eat? Does Rudolph’s nose glow?