Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards

Silent NightsIt’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.

18 comments

      • According to Wikipedia, “Leo Bruce is a pseudonym for Rupert Croft-Cooke (1903-1979). Under this name, Bruce wrote several mystery novels. He created two series, one featuring Sergeant Beef, a British police officer, and a second in which Carolus Deene, senior history master at the fictional Queen’s School, Newminster, is an amateur detective. Most Leo Bruce books are now out of print. Croft-Cooke also wrote a large number of books, plays, short stories, and other work under his own name.”

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      • According to Wikipedia, “Ethel Lina White (1876 – 13 August 1944) was a British crime writer, best known for her novel The Wheel Spins (1936), on which the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Lady Vanishes (1938), was based.”

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      • The firtst Beef, CASE FOR THREE DETECTIVES is a nice humourous one in which we get a locked room and a Belgian sleuth, a Catholic priest and an aristocratic Englishman all vying to solve the same case.

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  1. “The Wheel Spins” is quite a good suspense tale. It even has an impossible situation mystery, namely, how did the lady vanish from the train. Also, it’s rather different from the Hitchcock movie, especially the ending.

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  2. Leo Bruce is marvellous, I urge you to check out Case for Three Detectives at your earliest convenience, and E.L. White’s She Faded into Air is a good impossible disappearance story, available in ebook and good fun if not essential; I wasn’t aware she’d written any short stories, though it’s perhaps inevitable given her vintage.

    I assume the Crispin is ‘The Name on the Window’? Happy to attempt an explanation from what I can remember, but it may not be the story you’re talking about and I’d hate to spoil something else needlessly….!

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    • Yes, the Crispin story is The Name On The Window.
      I could make sense of the mechanics of the locked room tale (perhaps I am a better reader than Puzzle Doctor 🙂 ). However, I regard the deduction of the murderer by the detective an inspired guess. Anyone could have been the murderer including the first suspect.

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  3. Ethel Lina White also wrote ‘Cheese’, which appears in British Library’s Capital Crimes compilation and which is one of her better known short stories. I have a small compilation of her work (they’re available from Project Gutenberg) but have yet to read them all. Another book for me to pull forward in the reading schedule, sigh…

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  4. I highly recommend Naughty: Nine Tales Of Christmas Crime by Steve Hockensmith. All the 9 stories were originally published in Ellery Queen Or Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

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