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Plume Cover of "Harmless as Doves," by P.L. Gaus.

At this time of year, you're either deep into holiday preparations and happy to have a book devoted to the festivities, or you are sick and tired of all the holiday fuss and would find a book on the subject too depressing for words.

So, be warned, two books here are holiday-themed. (And, apparently, numbered titles are de rigueur for Christmas.)

"Eleven Pipers Piping" by C.C. Benison (Random House, $24, 478 pages). Vicar Tom Christmas reluctantly attends the annual Robert Burns supper at a hotel in Thornford Regis, an English village. It is a particularly stormy night, and not everyone is able to attend.

The widowed Father Tom is not looking forward to eating haggis. During the alcohol-fueled event, one of the bagpipers -- also the hotel proprietor -- disappears. Plus, a stranger arrives in the middle of the revelry.

For Tom, who had hoped the usually quiet village would be a good place to raise his daughter, investigating a death becomes a necessary, if distasteful, task. Many of the villagers have secrets, which emerge in bits and pieces over time.

So what we have here is an English village mystery, with the roads in and out often made impassable by the snow. The plot is relatively complicated, and it is sometimes hard to remember just which character said what about whom.

That is due to the biggest problem I had with this book: Although it has loads of charm, it's just too long. Nearly 500 pages of village shenanigans is nearly as unpalatable as the haggis.

"The Twelve Clues of Christmas" by Rhys Bowen (Berkley Prime Crime, $24.95, 312 pages). This frothy concoction brings back English royal Lady Georgina Rannach, still trying to find an acceptable way to earn a living in 1933 England.

She's 35th in line for the throne, which limits her options, but living in freezing Castle Rannach under the thumb of her bossy sister-in-law isn't much of a draw.

So the plucky Georgie takes a temporary job lending some class as hostess at a swanky holiday party in Tiddleton. But she doesn't know the job will involve murder, and the bodies are soon piling up.

On the plus side, her heartthrob, the elusive Darcy, turns up. And the send-up of various English stereotypes, in the form of the party guests, is entertaining.

Indeed, the whole thing is lighthearted, something you don't see very often when the body count is so high. Unfortunately, somewhere logic takes a detour, and not all the deaths and near-misses are explained.

But by that time I was too wrapped up in Georgie's adventures to care a whole lot.

"Make Believe" by Ed Ifkovic (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 234 pages. Normally I'm not much of a fan of mysteries that use real -- if dead -- people as protagonists, but every rule has its exceptions.

Ed Ifkovic does a pretty good job using writer Edna Ferber as his amateur sleuth. Set in 1951, the story deals with the dreadful days of the blacklist stemming from the McCarthy anti-communist hearings in Washington, D.C.

Ferber, author of the wildly popular "Show Boat," is in Hollywood to support her friend Max, a victim of the blacklist. When Max is murdered, Ferber tries to help Ava Gardner, the sexy actress who fears her lover, the young singer Frank Sinatra, will be blamed.

So lots of big names are bandied about, the plot touches on some of the less savory parts of the entertainment industry.

It's an interesting look at the history of movie making. The characters may not be endearing, but they are engaging.

"Harmless as Doves" by P.L. Gaus (Plume, $14, 204 pages). The Amish residents of rural Ohio find themselves drawn into a murder case when a young man confesses to killing a rival for a young woman's affections.

But, the sheriff, a local (non-Amish) pastor and a teacher, all featured in previous books in this series, doubt things are that simple. It turns out there are connections to a small Amish group in Florida, among other issues.

What's excellent in this book is the inside look at the Amish life, from the local bishop to the horrors of one family's life. Unfortunately, the writing style is rather talky, so you have to wade through quite a bit until the action resumes.

It's a Mystery columnist Roberta Alexander is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Her columns are published here monthly. Reach her at ralex711@yahoo.com.