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December 8, 2013

Nancy Thayer on the Thrill of a Christmas Thriller

Posted by emily

Nancy Thayer is the author of THE HOT FLASH CLUB, among many other bestselling novels. She currently lives in Nantucket, which makes her the perfect authority on the magic of the holiday season on the small Massachussetts island. Her latest book, A NANTUCKET CHRISTMAS, is about Nicole Somerset, newly married and new to Nantucket, who must win over her icy step-daughter in time for Christmas. In her Holiday Blog post, Nancy talks about her family's love of books, and recalls the first Christmas they spent with her daughter's fiancé, Neil, a chemical engineer she worried would not share the family's passion for reading. That Christmas, though, she learned that a good thriller could make a bookworm out of even the most serious scientist.

Is there such a word as bookaholic? Bibliophile is too elegant a word to conjure up what our family is like, how we read constantly while piles of books wait patiently from tables, floors, windowsills and shelves, how books in our house sprawl over our car keys, grocery lists, incoming mail and the plate balanced on the arm of the chair that held the cookies we ate last night.

At Christmas eight years ago, our family, consisting of Charley and me, our son Joshua, then around 32, his partner David, also 32, and our daughter Sam, 30, welcomed with great joy Sam’s fiancé Neil. We spent Christmas Eve day together, always a celebratory, noisy and very convivial time, when we rushed out to buy last-minute presents, prepared our table for our annual Christmas Eve party, and opened the door to many beloved friends for champagne punch and a table laden with yummy finger food. Later, we walked over to St. Paul’s church for the midnight service and strolled home through the winter’s snowy hush.

So far, so good. Neil fit right in.

Then came Christmas day.

We opened presents around the glittering and rather enormous tree. (In our house, built in 1840, the rooms are small, which makes everything very cozy.) We enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast, had a long, energetic walk on the windy beach and returned home. David, bless him, took over the kitchen because he’s a better cook than I am (which isn’t saying much). We would have Christmas dinner around 6:00.

Until then, we did what we always do: settled in to our armchairs and sofas and relished our new books. Even David, once the turkey was in the oven, relaxed with a new Michael Crichton.

Here’s the thing: Neil is a chemical engineer. A scientist with his own lab working on solutions to breast cancer. A brilliant man with a Ph.D. A man who certainly knows how to read.

But he reads only scientific tomes, texts and magazines.  He roamed our house, a puzzled expression on his face.

“Where did everyone go? What are you all doing? Does anyone want to play Monopoly?” he asked. He seemed slightly alarmed.

Sam suggested that he join us in our library, where we have a large sofa and two comfy armchairs. Okay, we did have to move a cat, but still, there was room. Neil sat, his face now full of anticipation. Were we, perhaps, going to play a word game?

Charley and I knew that Neil never read for pleasure. He was too busy, he never had time, he was always in a rush with his grant work or lab work or committee work…but this was Christmas Day. 

Charley and I have a secret passion for thrillers, and we had given Neil some brand new shiny hardbacks by Harlen Coben and Lee Child. “Just try the Lee Child,” we suggested sweetly.

Sighing, obviously afraid he’d become entangled with a family of lightweights (even though Josh and David are also scientists), Neil picked up a book. I think it was Lee Child, but it might have been Harlen Coben.

Fifteen minutes later, we inconspicuously glanced his way. Neil’s attention was riveted. An hour later, he hadn’t moved, except to turn pages. The rest of us rose during the afternoon to prepare a special dish in the kitchen, or set the table with the heirloom plates and silver, or to answer the phone --- whatever. Neil didn’t twitch, except to turn the pages of his book.

When we finally insisted he come to Christmas dinner, he emerged dazed and wide-eyed into the dining room, as if not sure where he was. 

“I’ve never read a book like that!” he said. “It’s really good. Have you read it? Do you know what happens? Has he written other books?”

Everyone smiled, and secretly sighed with relief. Ah, Neil fit right in with our family. He was one of ours. 

Since then, we’ve given him a thriller every Christmas. He does seem to feel slightly guilty, neglecting his work to read something so frivolous, but I think that might be part of the charm of these books, that little thrill of danger while sitting in the heart of his family by the fire.