What constitutes a Christmas-y read? I particularly like detective stories set at Christmas time: murder should be inappropriate at this season, but we all know better. Seeing too much of the family, stuck together in a too-small space, everyone fighting about money – it if just ends in tears that’ll be the best you can hope for. It could be worse.
1) Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie – a classic of the genre, and I always like to repeat my seasonal blog tagline for this one: Xmas Murder – En Route to the House-Party of Death. Tells you all you need to know really doesn’t it? See the entry here, but better still, read the book.
3) Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon is this year’s republished gem from 1937 – a group of strangers are stuck on a train in the snow on Christmas Eve. They set off to try to find help… well you know nothing good is going to come of that don’t you? My blogpost coming soon: meanwhile read crime writer and expert Martin Edwards on the book: he wrote a new introduction, and is overseeing the British Library’s choice of crime classics for republication.
4) The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens: Victorian setting, high drama, Cathedral city. At midnight on Christmas Eve, two men walk the dark empty streets of Cloisterham in a wind storm, going down to look at the river. The next day, one has left town and the other has disappeared. Unfinished, sadly, but you can supply your own ending.
5) Rustication by Charles Palliser – he has done several books for reading on Boxing Day with the curtains drawn and the fire lit. This one is the most recent.
But we don’t want to read only crime stories.....
***ADDED LATER: The Guardian has a lovely piece from Raymond Briggs talking about how he made the book: click here.
7) Mr Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos may sound like some sentimental twee book about happy holidays, but is far from that. It tells the story of a good man living his life in a difficult world, a beautiful meditation on what religion and faith mean, and how we can cope with loss. It is an intensely rewarding, extraordinary novel that shows us what great writing can achieve.
8) The Gift of the Magi by O Henry. A short story: small-scale, intense and just lovely, and if you don’t feel a tear in the corner of your eye when you finish the story of Della and Jim and their simple attempts to make each other happy - then you are dead inside.
9) End of Term by Antonia Forest – it should be just another posh girl boarding school story set in the 1950s, but this tale of the runup to the school nativity play is so much more than that, and the production is beautifully described, so you wish you were there.
5) And finally some blog favourite books that contain great individual scenes about Christmas:
Anne of green gables by LM Montgomery. I’m just going to say, puffed sleeves.
Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – the Mole smells home, and the carol singers come round.
Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford – ‘my wicked parents turned up trumps at Christmas, and my presents from them were always the envy of the whole household.’
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – Christmas means panto for the acting & dancing sisters.
Elly Griffiths' Christmas short story about her detective Ruth Galloway, Ruth’s First Christmas Tree