Sunday, December 8, 2013
Murder at Christmas
I start reading mysteries after Thanksgiving dinner and stop on New Year’s Eve when I select my first read of the coming year. My additions this year are both Otto Penzler anthologies: Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop which I picked up on a recent visit to New York City and The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. I think short stories work very well for the holiday season when there are so many distractions around.
Favorites from years past are:
Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer (1941). Yes, I am a sucker for an English country house mystery, especially when everyone is incredibly witty and forced to deal with each other because of an inconvenient snowstorm. The irritatingly cheerful do battle with the chronically irritable and we get to watch it all.
Maigret’s Christmas by Georges Simenon (1951). I love the Maigret novels. I yearn to have a job that includes going to bars and cafes, interrogating people (every effective social worker is curious with intent) and sipping Calvados. This collection of nine short stories is not exclusively devoted to Christmas. Maigret’s Christmas is a novella in which there is a sighting of Santa in an apartment across the street from Maigret and we also get a peek at his marriage to the estimable Madame Maigret.
Upon Some Midnights Clear by K.C. Constantine (1985). There is a story behind my affection for this book. I took a business trip to a medical conference in Boston. My boss, not known for his tact, flashed a fancy invitation to a party in front of my eyes and said, “You’re not invited.” What I’m sure he meant to say was “I’m sorry I can’t invite you to this, but I’ve already invited Mary and I can only have one guest.”
My colleague Mary was a splendid person and when I said I would feel better about the whole thing if I could go to Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge she and I set out in wind and rain to find it. I picked up (among other things) Upon Some Midnights Clear.
Mario Balzic, chief of police, in the chronically depressed town of Rocksburg, PA must deal with an old lady who says that she was robbed of her Christmas Club money. The person she insists robbed her insists he didn’t. The chief of the volunteer firefighters is quite upset about this and begins collecting money for the woman. Balzic begins to find the whole thing very fishy. I loved Musconi’s, the local bar, and Balzic’s family. I forgot all about the party and discovered a book that I now read every year.
Poison to Purge Melancholy by Elena Santangelo (2006). Now, first I love the title. I don’t know if Rayanne Culpepper would think it was effective, but it certainly caught my eye. I am usually not much for the supernatural in my murder mysteries, but I make an exception here as Santangelo does such a great job of linking crimes past to crimes present. The setting here is Christmas spent in lovely colonial Williamsburg under less than lovely circumstances. Pat Montella and Miss Maggie never disappoint. One warning: you should never read one of these mysteries while hungry, the descriptions of food are amazing!
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (2011). This is one of the wonderful Flavia DeLuce mysteries. Set in the 1950s they feature a very clever and resourceful 11 year old chemist who lives with her family on a rundown estate. In this installment Flavia is developing a sticky concoction to spread on the chimney to see if she can capture St. Nick. Meanwhile, her father, all too aware of how little money he has allows a movie crew to film on the estate. This is a variation on the country house mystery and not to be missed.
If you have a holiday mystery that you’re dying to talk about, go ahead!