The special CiB meme ‘Xmas scenes from books, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures’ is back!
Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page. You’d think I’d be running out of Xmas books and scenes by now, but far from it – I have to begin this feature earlier in December each year. More ideas still welcome in the comments. (If it’s a particularly good choice I will ditch one of the ones I have ready and give you credit…)
The Mistletoe Murder by PD Jamesshort story collection published 2016
stories from different dates
The Mistletoe Murder
[Christmas 1940 in England – a posh country house, but wartime restrictions are in place]
The evening was spent in desultory talk in the sitting room, dozing and reading. The supper was light, soup and herb omelettes – a welcome contrast to the heaviness of the goose and Christmas pudding – served very early, as was the custom, so that the Seddons could get away to spend the night with friends in the village. After dinner we moved again to the ground-floor sitting room. Rowland out on the gramophone, then suddenly seized my hands and said ‘Let’s dance.’ The gramophone was the kind that automatically played a series of records and as one popular disc dropped after another – ‘Jeepers Creepers’, ‘Beer Barrel Polka’, ‘Tiger Rag’, ‘Deep Purple’ – we waltzed, tangoed, fox-trotted, quick-stepped round the sitting room and out into the hall. Rowland was a superb dancer.
commentary: Faber & Faber seemed to be after a quick buck for this one: PD James died a few years ago, but is still very popular, and this neat little hardback, priced at £10, must have appeared in a number of stockings last year – the perfect present for a crime fiction fan. It has a very nice, Ravilious-like, cover:
on the left, new p/back cover on the right.
Generally an attractive presentation. Pity they didn’t pay quite so much attention to the contents: one of the stories is wrongly-titled in the copyright page, for goodness sake.
To describe the stories as uncollected seems not quite right (I have one of them in a much older book that I can see from where I write), and one of the stories has absolutely no Christmas connection at all - scraping the barrel? Another, The Twelve Clues of Christmas, is very seasonal, but really just unbelievable and silly. The Boxdale Inheritance is the best story of the four, but has a very unsound moral framework.
And I am going to be even more Grinch-like and miserable: there is a massive plothole in one of the stories. Fortunately I can explain this without spoilers. The narrator, a young widow, has gone to a family house for Christmas, and someone is murdered while she is there. She tells us everything she sees and hears. One vital clue is a small puddle of water on the floor.
But with the ultimate explanation of events, the true one, the puddle of water wouldn’t have been there when she saw it. In order to check this, I read the damn story twice (and it really wasn’t that good) and I am quite certain of this. Given it was a short story, with approximately 3 feeble clues and a very small cast of characters, I think that isn’t good enough.
However, fair play. I have combed through a lot of reviews of this book, and not one reader (including, apparently, the estimable Val McDermid who wrote an introduction to the book) seems to have noticed this.
So – it’s a Christmas-y looking book, new paperback edition out for this year. Buy it, give it, receive it. If you are a PD James fan, keep it for completist reasons? But don’t claim, or believe, that it contains classic detective stories… And of course don't confuse it with Mistletoe and Murder, the Carola Dunn seasonal crime book featured here on the blog last week.
The picture of the skeleton putting on a Father Christmas mask looks as though it belongs on the front of a seasonal murder mystery, but is actually from a Christian book reminding readers that while YOU are having a good time, other people are dying.
The couple dancing on a record are from the cover of a different crime story – the Dancing Detective by William Irish. Ggary please note – see our comments about dancing detectives underneath (naturally) this entry on The Last Tango of Dolores Delgado.