It’s Christmas! Well, no, it’s November, but it’s the time to start thinking about ordering the turkey, feeding the Christmas cake, writing letters to Santa detailing that first edition of The Black Spectacles that you’d like the elves to make for you… And the time for thinking about that perfect present for that special mystery reader in your life.
Last year, Mystery In White was a surprise best-seller for the British Library Crime Classics range – must get round to that sometime soon – and for this festive season, Martin Edwards has compiled a collection of tales from well-known and less well-known authors concerning both Christmas and crime. Ho-ho-ho!
The authors on offer here range from the famous – Doyle, Sayers, Wallace, Allingham and Chesterton, reasonably well-known – Blake, Bailey, Crispin and Farjeon – and, to me at least, the never-heard-of-before – Ralph Plummer, Raymund Allen, Ethel Lina White, Marjorie Bowen, Joseph Shearing and Leo Bruce.
It’s a difficult thing, the mystery short story. Do you make it a whodunit – a difficult thing to do with the need to introduce enough suspects effectively in a minimal page count – a tale with a twist – which can be tricky due to the reader looking for it – or a character piece which can minimise the mystery element? But the difficulty is compounded by the attempt to include the Christmas spirit. In fact the blurb mentions this – “Getting the mixture right is harder than it looks”.
There are some nice little mysteries here, but only a couple really feel that Christmassy. The prime contender is probably the Sherlock Holmes story that opens the collection, The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle. Others are set at Christmas parties, or in snowy conditions, but only a couple really make use of the Christmas theme. But, of course, Martin Edwards will have had a much shorter list to choose from than usual for the collection – the others from the series are basically “set in London” or “on holiday” which must have given much more choice – and he’s done a good job of balancing the tales herein.
The stand out offerings to me are the bookends – the aforementioned Holmes story and “Beef For Christmas” by Leo Bruce, an author unfamiliar to me, but it’s a fun tale that makes me want to take a look at more from the writer. There are some oddities here – Waxwork by Ethel Lina White is decidedly weird – and if anyone can make sense of the mechanics of the Crispin locked room tale, they’re a better reader than I.
As ever, it’s a handsome looking volume that will grace any Christmas stocking. Any mystery reader will find something to enjoy here. Recommended.