Exclusive Cover Reveal and Excerpt: Christmas Presents

Lisa Unger

We are thrilled to reveal the cover of Christmas Presents, the new novella from Lisa Unger, which is out from Mysterious Press on October 24, 2023. Read below for an exclusive excerpt, in which a true crime podcaster finds herself opening up a cold case instead of holiday gifts…

Four days until Christmas. The rest of the day in the shop is busy. My two after-school workers come in around four; Bennet the math whiz with his wild head of curls and lanky frame, and Van, who is transitioning and who is working on his first graphic novel. They’re both sweet, woke, smart, very their respective things, and reliable Gen Z worker bees. Love them.

We’re all running ragged, making recs, ordering whatever we don’t have in stock and promising it by Christmas Eve, wrapping, helping folks to their cars. Inside this store, it’s another universe for me. Surrounded by books, the real world with all its violence, injustice, and unhappy endings seems like the imaginary one.

“Was that for real?” asks Bennet when it slows down a bit. “Like Harley Granger for real stopped by last night.”

“For real,” I echo, regretting afresh my Instagram post.

“What was he like?” asks Van, eyes wide. “His voice. He can lull me to sleep at night—even talking about murder. Is he hot?”

“He’s pretty hot, I guess.”

Bennet towers over us both, reaches to restock the store T-shirts on the high shelf.

“Is it true? That he’s doing a series about Evan Handy?” he asks.

This town. I swear.

“Where did you hear that?” I ask, straightening the display of pens on the counter. Why are we all behind the counter? It’s a tight space. Van seems to sense my agitation and rolls the cart with books to be stocked out into the store.

“My friend is a barista at The Java Stop Too,” says Bennet, still folding and stacking. “She overheard him talking to his producer.”

“I don’t know,” I lie.

“Is that why he came here? I heard he bought the Wallace place. That his dad is in memory care up at Shady Grove.”

Okay, that’s news, that he has family in this area. “You seem to know more than I do.”

“Sorry,” he says. “You knew him, right? Evan Handy?”

I forget that if you aren’t from here, maybe you don’t know every single detail there is to know about Evan Handy, how he killed my best friend, and how the Wallace sisters went missing and have never been found. And how I was found, left on the bed of a river, near death. How I barely survived a night I can’t quite remember. And how I still bear his scars.

And how some people in this town think I know more than I’m saying.

“I knew him,” I say.

Bennet, if you do the math, was about six when all this happened. His family only recently moved here from Manhattan. What happened to us might as well have happened on another planet for him.

“That’s crazy,” he says, oblivious to the pain he’s causing. “What was he like?”

These days everything is a true crime story, edited and produced for voracious consumption. And somehow people only want to know about the perpetrator, why he did what he did, how police finally brought him to justice. The victims are forgotten altogether.

That’s why it was disconcerting to be seen by Harley Granger.

Saved by the bell. The door opens with its little jingle and the mystery book club starts filing in, an eclectic, diverse mix of older and younger women with an appetite for darkness. Mrs. Miller used to attend but felt her opinions on swearing and sex and any type of gore or violence were not welcome. So, she dropped out with little resistance from the group.

Bennet rushes off to greet them, and to start setting up chairs, the folding table for snacks. Luckily for me, the kids, for all their many qualities, have short attention spans. I doubt Bennet will circle back to his line of questioning. I notice that Van is watching me from his place in the bestseller section.

After I greet the group, and they get settled, I slip out the back. It’s Van’s night to close up shop after the mystery ladies leave. I need to get home to Dad. But first I have a stop to make.


From Christmas Presents by Lisa Unger. Used with the permission of the publisher, The Mysterious Press. Copyright © 2020 by Lisa Unger.

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