The Tuesday Night Bloggers are an informal group of crime fiction fans and bloggers who choose a topic each month to discuss in posts on Tuesdays.
Our agreed theme for this month is foreign crime, but I have decided to revive a piece from earlier in the year, when we had chosen Children in Crime.
I was struck then by a certain absence in traditional crime fiction, particularly that of the Golden Age. This important topic seems especially relevant right now. So today's topic is:
The Mystery of the Christmas Children
I am a fan of Christmas mysteries, and every year on the blog I feature several of them during December – writing and collecting those particular posts gives me enormous pleasure.
Finding pictures for my blogposts is also always a joy, and I like where possible to use a good seasonal picture for each of my Xmas/December posts, and am always on the lookout. (I am very pleased with the Christmas pictures I have found, and there is a Pinterest page here where you can see many of them, without having to go to the bother of reading my self-important words.)
But a year or so into this venture I finally realized that something was bothering me:
Celebratory Christmas pictures tend to feature children
Christmas mysteries don’t
Once you start looking, it becomes obvious that a family gathering is a splendidly suitable setting for a murder, but children just get in the way. Are they going to be victims? Murderers? Witnesses? Apparently not. No child follows Santa to the fireplace while he picks up a poker. No lisping 4-year old says ‘I went to Mother’s bedroom but she wasn’t there’, nor yet ‘I went to Father’s bedroom and Nurse was in there with him’. There is no poison in the mince pies or the white sugar mice or the tangerines. No toy gun or water pistol from a Christmas stocking is used by a criminal.
The Golden Age authors apparently entered into a secret pact to remove children from the scene of the crime. There are multi-generational gatherings, containing every age except 0-15. There are families where it defies belief that there are no children present.
Possibly my favourite Xmas mystery of them all is Georgette Heyer’s Envious Casca (now re-purposed as A Christmas Party, by the way), and I said about that one: ‘You’d say the children were 'ruthlessly disposed of for plot purposes', but we can keep that phrase for the victims…’
Now, there is a cunning (almost-criminal) sub-plot in my mind. My fellow crime fiction fans will all be racking their brains for counter-examples, and I am hoping they will be brimming with names of Christmas mysteries. Please pile in in the comments below.
Here are a few Xmas mysteries that have featured on the blog:
Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer – so wonderfully sour and funny, I have to mention it again.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – en route to the houseparty of death.
Groaning Spinney by Gladys Mitchell
Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon – 2014’s surprise reprint bestseller.
Tied up in Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh
Murder at the Old Vicarage by Jill McGown
- and there are more to be found. Try clicking on the labels below.
What an interesting point you make, Moira!! And it would seem like the perfect setup for a Christmas mystery, too, as you say. Hmm..... this gives me, as Poirot might say, furiously to think. I'll have to do some reflecting on this one...ReplyDelete
I do hope you will - look forward to the results!Delete
The only exception I can come up with is Nicholas Blake's The Case of the Abominable Snowman, which is set around Christmas I think, where two children come across a corpse. But you do make an excellent point, as the most obvious examples of Christmas mysteries have an absence of children.ReplyDelete
That's on my list to read for this Christmas, so thanks for the extra push...Delete
The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay. Lots of children running around, a kid's party, crackers being pulled, etc.ReplyDelete
Oh very good - I will have to find it. Klaus is interesting spelling.Delete
The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay. The children in the story didn't make a huge impression on me (I can't really tell you a thing about them), but review says:ReplyDelete
"...he orders up a suit and invites Oliver Whitcombe, his preferred suitor for his youngest daughter, Jennifer, to join the country house gathering and dress up for the children. The suit doesn't arrive on time and another is ordered in time for the gift-giving.
But after the presents have been distributed--to grandchildren, children, and staff alike..."
Oh...Daniel beat me to it.ReplyDelete
Whoops! Sorry! But gosh, great minds....Delete
Full marks and congratulations to both of you...Delete
"Maigret's Christmas" by Georges Simenon (short story): 7 year old girl is visited by "Father Christmas"--who is the suspicious man?ReplyDelete
That sounds great - another one for the list.Delete
I also have a memory that "Misteltoe and Murder" by Carola Dunn does have quite a few kids in it, although I gave away all my Carola Dunns to the charity shop earlier this year.ReplyDelete
I will look it up, thanks...Delete
It's part of a series of 1920s-set mysteries. A little lightweight (although sometimes dealing with heavier themes), even a little twee at times, but enjoyable and cosy and I have enjoyed reading them all.Delete
OK, that's got to be worth a look, sometimes that's just the book we all want, isn't it?Delete
Fascinating, Moira! The Lee family has five sons in Hercule Poirot's Christmas, and NONE of them have children? In fact, one of the main features of this novel is the tendency of Simeon Lee to bed and father indiscriminately and yet NONE of his sons, not even Harry the scoundrel, has a kid??? It defies belief but your point is well taken. Who needs kids to have a fine, murderous holiday???ReplyDelete
Exactly Brad, I was very much thinking of that one... it's clever of Christie to get away with it, but once you start thinking about it, you can see it's odd.Delete
"No child follows Santa to the fireplace while he picks up a poker." Not a mystery, but an exception that I believe reinforces your argument is Cindy Lou Who in from the Grinch.ReplyDelete
Long time since I read that one, so will definitely take a look...thanks!Delete
Wait... what about The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding. An Hercule Poirot shortish/longish story. There were children in that one. I think several young cousins, and definitely involved in the plot.ReplyDelete
I was thinking of that one, too. A schoolgirl helps Poirot out by pretending to be a corpse.Delete
Well done both of you -it's quite a light one isn't it: perhaps she thought it was OK to involve children when it's not too serious. Now I'll have to re-read.Delete
Silent Night, by Mary Higgins Clark? Not a Golden Age mystery, though.ReplyDelete
I used to read all her books, then drifted away, will have to look this one up.Delete
I can't think of a one that I remember that really involves children, but if I ever run into one, I will let you know.ReplyDelete
Moira, reading Christmas mysteries sound like good fun. I think I'll read one, either a novel or short story, this season, and review it too. Meanwhile, I still have to read Georgette Heyer.ReplyDelete
Oh please do a Christmas-y book/blogpost Prashant - I enjoy it so much when other people do. It adds to the seasonal spirit...Delete
Christmas in October or September even, winds me up.ReplyDelete
I know, but I had to fit it in with the blog meme...Delete
Not a comment relating to the topic, but I love the pochoir from La Gazette du Bon Ton. I have a small collection (both real and virtual on pinterest), but I'd never seen this one before!ReplyDelete
I had to look up pochoir! I love this picture, but there are so many wonderful ones from Le GduBT, I have to be restrained in my use of them...Delete
I'd not thought of this before but despite racking my brains I can't think of a single example which as you say, in many cases defies belief! Perhaps crime only happens in households where the couples are all infertile, or old?ReplyDelete
There were those dire boarding schools they sent their children off to from an early age - perhaps they offered Christmas coverage for extra fees!Delete
Well I was checking out something else, and I ran into a blog post by Les Blatt on Christmas at Candleshoe by Michael Innes. He mentions children in his post and it certainly seems like it involves children. I have no knowledge of it myself although I did read Innes' mysteries years ago. Here is the link:ReplyDelete
Oh that does sound interesting, I am now going to try to find a copy... even though it sounds as though 'Christmas' is a character...?Delete
Ah, you are right. I took the statement "unusual kind of Christmas mystery for you today" to mean it was set at Christmas, and entirely missed that a character was named Christmas. So, sounds like an interesting book, but not what you are looking for.Delete
I am sure that there must be Christmas mysteries that include children, but not the type I read. Which still seems very strange.
Worth a look anyway - I have ordered it. Yes, I am still hoping someone will come up with a slamming title full of Christmas murder children. But not yet...Delete
As chance would have it, I actually read a Christmas set murder mystery over the 24th.... Trojan Gold, by Elizabeth Peters, book 2 in her Vicky Drake series (EP is better known for her Amelia Peabody c.1900 Egyptology whodunnits), which takes place in Germany over the festive period. Lots of good clothes stuff (especially sleepwear) as well as Christmas trappings, so maybe a book for next year?ReplyDelete
Sorry, though, it's another kidlite version, although Vicky does buy presents to mail to her nephew and niece, and there are children in the background but yeah. Not the same thing.ReplyDelete
Argh! Vicky Bliss. Vicky Drake is a friend of mine and I got the names mixed up in my head. I also see that Trojan Gold is actually book 4 or 5 in the series, why I thought it was the second one I've no idea. It's also really interesting because you know the Wall is on the verge of falling in the next two years but divided Berlin is still part of the narrative.ReplyDelete
OK, notes made, look out for it a year from now - that does sound like an interesting setting. And I'm sure your friend will be complimented by the mixup!Delete