In last year’s collection of special Xmas entries I commented on the lack of children in Christmas crime stories, and the lengths that authors have to go to in order to explain their absence – and yesterday’s entry examined a prime example of the genre.
I stand by my contention – but there is an exception. A year ago blogfriend Daniel Milford-Cottam * suggested this book as a counter-example – and indeed it is a most rare find, with the children well to the fore during all kinds of Christmas crime.
* yes, the same one who has suggested quite a few of this year’s other seasonal entries
Mistletoe and Murder by Carola Dunn
[Christmas 1923: a festive house party has collected in a country house in Devon]
[Derek said] ‘We’re going to have a ripping Christmas. Nanny packed a big box of crackers and gummed paper for making paper chains. And Captain Norville said there’ll be a Christmas tree and carols and mince pies, and plum pudding with sixpences in if he has to put them there himself. And if we hang up stockings tomorrow night, Father Christmas will come, only he’ll have a grizzledy grey beard instead of white.’…
Everyone helped with the Christmas decorations. Even Lady Dalrymple.
Once she accepted the impossibility of leaving in a huff, she had descended to the hall. In her best grande dame manner she thoroughly enjoyed supervising the decking of it, as far as Daisy could see. Captain Norville was the moving spirit, nominally in charge, but the dowager sent him and Alec, his able assistant, rushing back and forth with ladders: this paper chain (turned out by the dozen by Derek and Belinda, with Miles sorting the rainbow colours for them) hung not quite symmetrically; that bunch of mistletoe was not perfectly centred over the doorway. The captain accepted her ladyship’s corrections with unfailing good humour.
The old house was full of interesting things, but it was a bit eerie by lantern-light. There were shadows everywhere, and the people in the tapestries seemed to jump out at you when you went into the room. They kept moving, too, because it was windy outside now and the draughts made the tapestries ripple and rustle.
‘It’s sort of like being in a house full of ghosts,’ Belinda said.
‘Real ghosts moan and rattle their chains,’ Derek objected.
commentary: The book is part of a series of lightweight murder stories featuring a sleuth called Daisy Dalrymple, and there is a continuing story about her personal life, and apparently several continuing characters.
The plot is the usual thing: families, secrets, scandal, inheritances (I have to say that the eventual motive didn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever) and mysterious goings-on. And so half the book reads like the Famous Five, as the children Derek and Belinda stomp around the estate trying to find secret tunnels, treasure maps and important clues. The other half follows Daisy and her husband (a policeman) as they interview witnesses and suspects. This actually works better than you might imagine, and I enjoyed the book as a good seasonal read: there is plenty of description of the Christmas celebrations and events – something that is often missing from Xmas crime books, and another aspect I have complained of before. (Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is a great favourite of mine, but you would be hard put to find much festive detail in it.)
And well-done Daniel – this really is Exhibit A in the case for children in Xmas mysteries.
Top picture is from the NYPL’s collection.
Second picture is from a girls’ annual of the era.