Saturday, 21 December 2013

Xmas carols, and a nice seasonal murder

Odd Woman Out by Sebastian Fox

published 1958   chapter 9







Incongruously, at this moment, into the enclosed silence of the room came a sound from the road outside: voices in harmony, singing of the birth of Christ.

‘Listen!’ said Penelope, lifting a finger. Her eyes glowed with wonder… ‘Carol-singers! Isn’t it lovely? We must ask them in and make them some coffee.’

‘Is there milk enough? … Have we enough cups?’

‘We’ll manage, somehow.’ She went impetuously to the door. ‘Come in, good people, out of the cold. Such a nice surprise. We haven’t chairs for you all, but you won’t mind standing, I expect.’

Muriel Tallow [led] her party in. ‘A merry Christmas to all.’

There were eight of them including herself. They crowded rather sheepishly into the hall, shut the door quickly behind them, and stood waiting for they knew not what, full of polite murmurs and vague smiles.

‘Make yourselves at home, if you can,’ said Penelope, ‘while I go and get you a hot drink.



observations: Seasonal though this sounds, the carol singers are there for one cynical reason: to provide even more suspects in the murder of Cousin Emily – an unpleasant old lady, not much regretted. The book is very firm about being set at Christmas, but like various others, there is not much attempt at a festive atmosphere. In fact, it seems as though the author is rather casual about dates. The poor woman dies overnight Sunday/Monday. The investigation starts, then nothing seems to happen for several days – ‘Come and dine with me tomorrow evening. Both of you’ says the amateur helper, a solicitor, to the investigating policemen, and apparently there is no activity in the interim. By Thursday they manage to visit the dead woman’s bank – the manager appears entirely justified in his complaint that he should have been informed of the death earlier.

Then suddenly it is Christmas Eve, and the crime is solved and all is well. There was altogether too much plot in this book: there was gas in the dead woman’s room, cyanide in the glass, bruises on her neck, a possible heart condition, no fingerprints where there should have been. There’s a will, there’s money, there’s a religious angle, and a policeman who talks in quotations. And one of the old ladies, Miss Penny, talks in rhyming platitudes:
When trouble comes, of this be sure:heaven has blessings still in store.
So pretty much a classic English mystery of its date, 1958, and a good easy read – perfect for Christmas. Book and author are pretty much forgotten now, he's not even listed in most of the murder story reference books.

For more Xmas entries, click on the label below.

The picture, of one Alida Bosshardt leading the carol singing in the Netherlands, is from Wikimedia Commons.

6 comments:

  1. Moira - Hmmmmm.. sounds as though the mystery/murder part of the plot is indeed a bit complicated The timeline too. Still, it sounds like a fun read, and now I'll have to start thinking about it whenever I see carolers....

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    1. Yes indeed - it's one of those that you can enjoy for the details of time and place, and the classic old-time story style - but I wouldn't be recommending it for its plot, or claiming it as a forgotten classic. Good seasonal read.... And Margot, watch out for those carol singers - they seem innocent.....

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  2. I like to keep track of possible Christmas mysteries, so thanks for covering this one. Although I have (vaguely) heard of Fox, you are right about him not being listed ... not easy to find anything about him.

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    1. No, he seems very obscure! And it's not the greatest detective story ever, but I enjoy a real 50s style cozy...

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  3. I don't think it will spoil my Christmas if I don't track this one down.

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    1. No, I couldn't really say you should seek it out, especially in light of the embargo...

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