Reprint of the Year Awards: Murder After Christmas

Every year the Queen of the GA bloggers, Kate Jackson, runs the Reprint of the Year Awards, voted for by readers - read her post here to get a clear picture as to how it works and how you can take part.

We are now in Week 2, and I, along with many other bloggers, am posting about a rediscovered Golden Age detection story that I recommend to readers. My first post was on Nap Lombard’s Murder’s a Swine: you can read my verdict here. Kate features the  links to everyone’s posts over on her blog – this week’s and last week’s. On the 19th she will open the poll, and the results will be announced later.

My second book is:

MURDER AFTER CHRISTMAS BY RUPERT LATIMER

- Reprinted this year by the British Library




Last week’s book was published in 1943, this week’s came out in 1944 – I didn’t do that deliberately, but it made it interesting!

Murder’s a Swine was full of details of wartime London: this one is set in the country, and does have frequent references to hostilities, and rationing, waste and the Black Market – but the war is not all-consuming. It is very like Angela Thirkell’s 1940s books in this respect, and you can imagine this in one of AT’s books:

it seems to me that living under the Nazi regime will be a picnic after spending Christmas in this house.

I loved this book: it is funny and unusual, and just a good enjoyable read, and absolutely perfect for Christmas. I have a series of questions about Christmas mysteries, a checklist, so let’s examine the details:

· Is there any Christmas atmosphere? Yes, this book is packed with it.

· Is Christmas allowed to interfere with the murder investigation? And, is the investigation allowed to interfere with Christmas? In this case, very nicely blended together.

· What about the children? This has been a key Clothes in Books question in the past see this post: Tuesday Night Club: The Curious Case of the Missing Children (clothesinbooks.blogspot.com) and this one Xmas Children and Murders–Part 1 (clothesinbooks.blogspot.com)

Well, this doesn’t break any new ground: no-one at the heart of the story has any young children, though there are some rather splendidly naughty evacuees in the background (again this is very much in the spirit of Angela Thirkell). The wonderfully strange and beautifully imagined lawyer, Merivale (‘Fascinated, her eyes followed the quavering form of Mr. Merivale as it pranced dramatically over to the fireplace to warm itself’) has this revelation at one point ‘He had also been shot at in the drive, he announced chattily.’ It’s the evacuees, he says. And the visiting children behaved wildly in the Christmas party. But no significant murder action revolves round children, no significant character has children. No challenge to the CiB policy perception.





So – an archetypal Christmas mystery. And what else?

The book made me laugh a lot - there’s a kind of knowingness about the characters, and an engaging silliness: they discuss openly  why and how they might commit a murder, and say things like:

“I’ll be absolutely honest. Yes, I confess that at one period in my life I went to the bad—almost reduced to getting a job!”

“He’s going to read the will.”

“But there isn’t any will.”

“He’s going to read it whether there is one or not,” retorted Major Smythe cleverly.

I am very resistant to too much humour in crime stories, and out and out comic stories horrify me. But this is most definitely on the right side  of the line – something in the line of blog favourite Christianna Brand.

Another thing these two authors have in common is endless false solutions – which again can be very annoying, but he just makes it work here.

And the final explanation of the crime is excellent, any of the greats would be proud. I did guess part of it, but it still struck me as being a wonderful plot, and one kind of trick which is one of my favourites – but one I usually guess because certain things stick out. But it was so well-hidden here! Sorry, can’t say more than that.



Martin Edwards in his excellent introduction tells us what is known about Rupert Latimer – he did not write much, and died relatively young. But for me, in this book he produced one little masterpiece, which I strongly recommend for your consideration in this, the Oscar competition of the GA crime world...

Kate herself has reviewed this one, and loved it I was glad to see. I didn’t read her review till after I had written this, and was delighted to see she has her own crime story bingo to go with my checklist. I very much recommend her review - she will tell you a lot more about the plot, which I feel I have rather neglected to do.

Comments

  1. This does sound great, Moira. I'm glad you brought up the importance of the way the author blends the holiday season and the mystery at hand. If it's not done right, it can pull the reader out of the story. Interesting you mention the references to the war; different authors have taken different approaches to this, and I always find their choices interesting. Glad you enjoyed this!

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    1. It's a real treat, Margot, for anyone who enjoys classic crime, Christmas mysteries, or wartime fiction - so a wide spread of appeal!

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  2. I am pleased you enjoyed this one too. It has been a while since I read such a stand out Christmas mystery. I think the BL have brought out a lot of really strong titles this year.

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    1. They really have, and the yearly competition for the best reprint gets stronger and stronger. Glad we both felt the same about this one - I thought it was something really different and very entertaining.

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  3. I was given this for a recent birthday - at my own request - and am so looking forward to reading it. Isn't the cover lovely?

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    1. I think you will enjoy this Chrissie, as something both Christmas-y and unusual.
      And whoever finds the BL covers does deserve an award of their own, they have a real talent.

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  4. re: children and Christmas. As one-half of a DINK (dual income, no kids) couple, I sometimes wonder if keeping children and their festivities entirely separate from adult activities during Christmas isn't the best way to go.

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    1. Possibly correct! My children are grown now (but no grandchildren yet) and when I compare our languid relaxed events now with the hectic childhood years - well. No regrets, but life is a lot easier now! And definitely a good idea for crime stories to keep them away!

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  5. You didn't give the origin of the illustrations this time! I always enjoy those. the Gazette du Bon Ton is self-explanatory of course, but where did the white/green thirties' Christmas tree come from?

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    1. Sorry yes, they are all images I have used before for Christmas entries, and I know I tend not to repeat the credits for illos when I do that! The ladies decorating the tree is from a vintage Christmas card, the image is floating round the Internet a lot, though I suspect it may be from later than the appearance of the fashions suggests, ie it may be intentionally looking vintage.(DOes that make sense?) I like it a lot, and so have used it a few times. Santa Clause peering in is another useful favourite, and again I think is from an old Christmas card.

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  6. I will be getting this book eventually, it is not available here until late next year but that will be perfect timing for next Christmas.

    I liked your comparison to Angela Thirkell, as I just read my first book by Thirkell, High Rising. I liked it, will continue on to the next book and see what I think.

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    1. Hello Tracy, I am sure you will enjoy this one. Also, Thirkell's later books, set in wartime, will be right up your street too. Hope you and yours had a great Christmas.

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