Xmas Book Scenes: Murder, Walks and Grumpiness

 Christmas Book Scenes!  During December I like to post entries which are more Christmas in Books than Clothes in Books, and kind readers say it puts them in a seasonal mood.

If you have a favourite Christmas book or scene not featured yet – please let me know


Smoke without Fire by Elizabeth (EX) Ferrars


published 1990

[excerpt] [There was] a high hedgerow – at present the hawthorns, the hazels, the briars and the occasional bush of elderberry growing aloing it were leafless. There were large puddles in the lane from rain that had fallen in the night. Andrew walked briskly, picking his way among them, glad that  he had triumphed over the temptation to sleep.

As he went he found himself muttering a few lines of verse to himself…

Heap on more wood! – the wind is chill;

But let it whistle as it will,

We’ll keep our Christmas merry still…


Marmion, wasn’t it? [Walter] Scott now was not one of his favourite poets.



When Andrew was a child Christmas Eve had always been a day of great tension and expectation. In the evening the Christmas tree would be lit up, but it was what happened next day that counted…. When he came down to breakfast next morning there would be a splendid collection of presents for him, done up in colourful wrappings, around the base of the Christmas tree. The morning then could be happily spent unwrapping them until it was time to prepare himself for turkey and plum pudding.



comments: On p82 of Smoke Without Fire a character – talking about the memoirs of an elderly judge – says ‘I really never realised the old man had so much dullness in him’. Ironically this is one of the only witty moments here, and also could describe this book, with ‘author’ substituted for ‘man’. Ferrars wrote some great crime stories in her day, but this one I found a sad comedown. Series character Andrew – old and widowed – is visiting friends when a murder takes place outside their house. The family next door – with whom they are very much involved – is at the heart of it.

There is interminable discussion about who had it in for whom, and which of the young(ish) people might or might not be in a relationship. Andrew tells us about his dreams a lot, just as dull as that sounds. The piece of verse in the first excerpt above is repeated throughout the book, so I think the reader can expect some relevance or clue, but I’m hard put to see it.

There is a ton of totally unbelievable dialogue and reactions – like a bad TV drama of the 1970s and 80s.

There seem to me to be a lot of loose ends.

The plot bears a faint but surprising resemblance to parts of John Dickson Carr’s She Died a Lady at certain points – it’s not one of my favourites of Carr’s, but it’s vastly superior to this mish mash.

I would probably have not bothered to blog on it, but for the Christmas connection: The whole thing takes place over a clearly delineated few days, and Ferrars dutifully tells us what the plans were, what got cancelled, and what food they ate at every meal. Though the second excerpt above, Andrew’s childhood memories, doesn’t have a single note of originality or individuality or interest:  not a word you couldn’t have predicted in advance.

But I did very much like the modern Christmas-y cover. And, Ferrars is also very good at telling us what everyone is wearing, including the men, who go in for a lot of cardigans and patterned knitwear. So that gave me a chance to use this splendid picture, top – doing the rounds on social media recently, not attributed, and brought to my grateful attention by (who else?) Chrissie Poulson.

Additional clothes content: I would say that 30 years ago in the UK, a 'Christmas jumper' meant the kind of unobjectionable useful item, in a nice colour, that you might give to a male relative as a present. Safe, nothing too exciting: Burgundy, M&S, size medium, round neck. For example. It now means something completely different.

More (and better) books by Ferrars on the blog – click on the label below.

A Winter Walk by Sanford Robinson Gifford.


  1. "As he went he found himself muttering a few lines of verse to himself…" Oh, dear! The only quoters I forgive are Rumpole and... well, Rumpole. Perhaps because Leo McKern spoke them so beautifully.

    1. Oh yes - you are always so good at spotting the cliche/trope Lucy.
      I noted in recent Jilly Cooper - only good characters quote poetry (in case you were in any doubt with Jilly). Your new challenge is to find a book villain who quotes great literature.

  2. Oh dear. Old crime writers never die, they just lose the plot. It's a pity, because at her best she was a good writer. But it is very difficult to write about much younger people unless you have a lot of contact with them. Delighted that you used that photo! Chrissie

    1. Nice aphorism! Yes, I will go back to the earlier ones with pleasure. And we must remember not to be grumpy about young people...
      And - that photo! So grateful 😉😉😉

  3. Oh, I'm sorry to hear this, Moira. I've liked the Ferrars that I've read, including an Andrew novel. It's a shame this one fell off the way it did. And yet, reading your comments on this is all I need to know to give this one a miss. Oh, well, they can't all be winners...

    1. Indeed, but it doesn't reduce her achievements in the earlier ones, which we can go back to!

  4. Yes, the memory of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning is utterly tedious. You'd think it was written by AI.

    Thanks for sharing the two gentlemen in the bar. I love how old knitting patterns provided an opportunity for the models to be unabashedly gay.

    1. Yes, AI a very apt comparison. but, yes, the picture is wonderful. Old knitting patterns a treasure trove.

    2. I liked this one when I read it last year. Not as well as other books by Ferrars, but still, I did enjoy it. I read the first book in the Andrew Basnett series this year and did not like it as well.

      You introduced me to Ferrars when you sent me a copy of Skeleton In Search of a Cupboard, nearly ten years ago, and I still have that book.

    3. Oh that's lovely to hear Tracy, what a nice thought! I remember it, it was the cover wasn't it 😉? And I do really like her other books, she wrote some excellent mysteries.


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