10 (ish) Christmas Mysteries You Should Try

Amidst Christmas preparations, hopefully you will all still have a little time to crack open a book and some of you may even want to get into that Christmassy mood by reading a Christmas set detective novel. Nothing like a corpse under the tree to make it feel like Christmas. So to help such people and since it would be a little silly to do such a post in August here are 10 (ish) Christmas mysteries to give a go for the first time or for more seasoned detective fiction readers a re-read…

  1. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938) by Agatha Christmas

 

Hercule Poirot's Christmas

I thought I would start with a more familiar one and certainly one of my favourites from the list. A locked room mystery, with Simeon Lee, the family patriarch who is a tyrant and millionaire with a questionable past as the victim. The net of suspicion is cast widely among the family members, making it a great read in that the killer is well hidden and you have to decide which clues are true and which are red herrings. The murder method itself is a good one and I think one of Christie’s most elaborate and the solution to the case is sneaky but good. So if you haven’t read this Christie already then you’ve definitely been missing out.

To read more about this book and other family centred Christie mysteries check out Brad Friedman’s post:

https://ahsweetmysteryblog.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/the-twelve-families-of-christie-mas-part-i/

2. Envious Casca (1941) by Georgette Heyer (A.K.A. A Christmas Party)

 

Envious Casca

Georgette Heyer often gets a raw deal when it comes to her mystery novels, with their penchant for including romance subplots and for perhaps not having the most inventive of crimes. However, although she is not in Christie’s class I think some of her novels are definitely worth seeking out. Penhallow (1942), one of her longest mysteries, in my opinion is the most psychologically developed of her detective novels and has a shocking ending. But, Envious Casca, the book I have chosen for this list is probably my second favourite and is handily Christmas themed, with yet another family patriarch getting stabbed in the back in a locked room scenario. When it comes to Golden Age detective novels, being a tyrannical family patriarch is a dangerous position to be in). A key problem for Inspector Hemingway in this story is the sheer amount of fibbing and subterfuge that the suspects get up to.

3. The Santa Klaus Murders (1936) by Mavis Doriel Hay

 

The Santa Klaus Murders

Based on recent reviews I have read of this book, it seems this novel hasn’t found a lot of favour. I’m not saying it is her best book as I think both Death on the Cherwell (1935) and Murder Underground (1935) are superior, but I still maintain that it is worth a read. The Santa Klaus Murders is a country house murder mystery and the choice of victim is family patriarch, Sir Osmond Melbury, shot in the head whilst dressed as Santa Klaus. The usual recriminations ensue within the household. More bafflingly the one guest who could have easily done the crime, has no motive. I wouldn’t say this book breaks new ground, though from what I remember the method of murder was quite sneaky. A novel feature of the book is that the narrative is written from different people’s perspectives, which is something I remember enjoying a lot.

4. Mystery in White: A Christmas Crime Story (1938) by J. Jefferson Farjeon

 

Mystery in White

Since starting my blog I have reviewed three books by Farjeon, but in fact I read this one last year and is also another of my favourites from this list. Farjeon by nature is a thriller writer in my opinion and when he attempts to do straight detective fiction as in Thirteen Guests (1936), the reading experience is poorer. However, in Mystery in White, I think Farjeon successfully manages to marry the two genres together. On Christmas Eve some passengers on a snow bound train decide to decamp to an empty country house. But that is when the mystery and murder begins and with the snow also enclosing them in the house, the tension is racked up as the characters try to unravel what is going on. If you have yet to sample any of Farjeon’s books, I would recommend starting with this one.

5. The Case of the Abominable Snowman (1941) by Nicholas Blake

 

Not a very exciting front cover but the other options were either a bit weird or gave away spoilers

Not a very exciting front cover but the other options were either a bit weird or gave away spoilers

Recently on this blog I reviewed Nigel Strangeways (the series’ amateur sleuth) final case, The Morning After Death (1966) and I was quite disappointed with it. No one likes a creepy Nigel after all. So therefore it is nice to look back at an earlier case of his and see him in a more positive light. A number of peculiar events draw Nigel to Easterham Manor, including a case of apparent suicide. However, further investigation undermines this suggestion as does the actions of someone at Easterham who seems keen to keep certain information hidden. I wouldn’t say this is the best book by Nicholas Blake but it is still a good seasonal read and without giving spoilers the use of an actual snowman in the plot is a unique and chilling one.

6. Tied Up In Tinsel (1972) by Ngaio Marsh

 

Tied up inTinsel 1

It also being Ngaio Marsh over at Tuesday Night Bloggers I feel like I have mentioned Ngaio Marsh too much this month. But I think any Christmas themed mysteries list would be incomplete without Marsh’s Tied Up In Tinsel. For a change it is not a badly behaved family patriarch who is killed, but an unpopular servant who vanishes after starring as Father Christmas in the household’s festivities. Despite all the servants being ex-convicts, suspicion rests more firmly on the guests and this is one of cases where Troy, Inspector Alleyn’s wife is a bit more involved.

7. The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries (2013) ed. By Otto Penzler

 

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries

This is a gigantic collection of Christmas themed mystery short stories (as the title suggests) and the joys of such a collection is you can dip in and out of it. It seems like a cliché but there is something for everyone (who is a crime fiction fan that is). Some personal favourites of mine include:

  • ‘The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding’ and ‘A Christmas Tragedy’ by Agatha Christie;
  • ‘The Raffles Relics’ by E. W. Hornung;
  • ‘Sister Bessie’ by Cyril Hare;
  • ‘The Christmas Kitten’ by Ed Gorman and
  • ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ by Ron Goulart.

But there are loads of other stories from Golden Age writers, humorous tales, stories from the hard boiled tradition, Sherlock Holmes pastiches, more modern short stories, more spooky/scary ones and even specifically puzzle ones, a section which two of the stories I have mentioned came from. Though at 672 pages this is perhaps not a book to take with you if you are travelling anywhere over the Christmas period.

8. The Black Headed Pins (1938) by Constance and Gwenyth Little

 

The Black-Headed Pins

This has been my latest Christmas themed read, having only reviewed it this week. The Black Headed Pins, is a story of a series of deaths and mysterious happenings seen through the eyes of Mabel Ballinger’s companion. Around these events surrounds a family superstition that if a dragging noise is heard in the attic, a Ballinger will soon die by accident and when they do they will walk. However, characters and readers alike are increasingly aware that someone is giving the superstition a helping hand… If you like humorous and comic mysteries then I would definitely recommend this book and the character development and characterisation is another of the novel’s strong features.

9. Murder for Christmas (1949) by Francis Duncan

 

Murder for Christmas

Not one of my absolute favourites from this list, but I think it does have a number of good points to recommend it and help it go beyond your average country house murder. Murder for Christmas involves a country house party, hosted by a man who loves all things Christmassy and even dresses up as Santa to put presents under the Christmas tree for his guests. However, there are underlying tensions within the group, so no reader is surprised when a Santa clad figure is found dead under the tree. Duncan has a very well thought out writing style and the strongest feature of this novel is how the characters you think you know in fact have hidden aspects, some more sinister than others.

10. ?

So what is the ish all about? Where is the final suggestion? Well in all honesty I couldn’t think of another Christmas themed book which I enjoyed sufficiently and to suggest an inferior book would probably break some book blogging ethic. I have also read and reviewed Crime at Christmas (1934), but I would spare yourself that. Equally I have read Michael Innes’ Lament for a Maker (1938), but again this is one best avoided. I am aware that Cyril Hare’s An English Murder (1951) and The Egyptian Cross Mystery (1932) by Ellery Queen are also Christmas themed but since I have not read them I didn’t feel I could recommend them, though the former is definitely one I am interested in reading.

Therefore I am leaving my final slot open for your suggestions. What one book would you recommend? I’d also be interested to hear about the Hare and Queen’s novels if anyone has read these Christmas themed detective tales.

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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25 Responses to 10 (ish) Christmas Mysteries You Should Try

  1. Jill McGown’s Murder At The Old Vicarage is well worth your time. In fact there’s a shiny new review over at my blog.

    As for the Queen novel, I don’t recall much Christmassy bits in it. IIRC, it’s set over a reasonable period of time, so it can’t be that festive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ah yes I did notice that earlier today. Good review as always and I might be tempted to try it. Reading the blurb for it a few months ago it didn’t quite take my fancy, but I may indeed give it a try yet.

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    • In regards to EQ novel, Brad has also mentioned reservations. The Goodreads blurb mentions a teacher being murdered on Christmas Eve and perhaps that is why it was included on another Christmas Mystery list.

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  2. ravenking81 says:

    I’m always on the lookout for good Christmas mysteries. Over on goodreads there is a pretty exhaustive list of them, but some of the books included seem to be more wintry than specifically Christmassy.

    Are you familiar with “The Late Clara Beame” by Taylor Caldwell? I seem to recall it is set around Christmas time. I enjoyed it when I read it, admittedly quite a long time ago. It is not a very well-known novel, Caldwell mostly wrote historical mysteries and I believe this was her only foray into psychological thriller/ mystery territory .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bkfriedman says:

    Love your invitation to get involved in supplying number ten, Kate! Not sure about Egyptian Cross either – wouldn’t it be more Easter-y?” – but Queen’s The Finishing Stroke is DEFINITELY a Christmas story! It’s far from being my favorite Queen, but it has a wonderfully nostalgic glow about it, and it positively REEKS of Christmas, with another corpse found under the tree and the presents themselves being a huge part of the mystery! Thanks so much for the shout-out. Now I’m going to go over to Puzzle Doctor’s to read the McGown review. I hear this is one of her best!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, I spent ages trying to think of one more book and then I realised that that was too much effort and I should get my lovely readers to help me out instead. I did find the Egyptian Cross Mystery on a Christmas mysteries list and I have doubled checked and in the good reads blurb it does mention a school teacher being murdered on Christmas Eve. However, glad to know there is another more definitely themed Christmas EQ novel.

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  4. Roger says:

    “I have read Michael Innes’ Lament for a Maker (1938), but again this is one best avoided.”
    Why? It’s a good homage to The Moonstone and a very fine book in itself.
    In fact, Innes has quite a few Christmas/winter books: There Came Both Mist and Snow and Appleby’s End and Candleshoe are examples.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well it’s been quite a while since I read Lament for a Maker so was mainly having to go off my Goodreads rating of the time, but I think overall I do tend to struggle to enjoy Michael Innes books, either finding them a dull or too ridiculously fantastical. Think my favourite Innes was actually one without Appleby in called What Happened at Hazlewood. I have read There Came Both Mist and Snow, but I haven’t read either of the last two and hadn’t even heard of the Candleshoe one, so good to know about those. Are you quite an Innes fan then?

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  5. realthog says:

    though the former is definitely one I am interested in reading

    The latter is well worth a read too.

    I’m with Roger on Lament for a Maker. Indeed, I might see if i can dig it out for a reread at some stage — thanks for the reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. An English Murder by Cyril Hare is excellent

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bev Hankins says:

    If you’re looking for a Christmassy Queen novel, then I’d suggest The Finishing Stroke. Very Christmassy….and I found it quite good too.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have the Christmas Mysteries compilation from last year (am only about half way through!) but have added the Silent Nights compilation from the British Library Crime Classics series to the collection for this year. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is ok but not very Christmassy – The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding is much more fun – but once again Christie re-uses a short story plot device (The Man in the Mist from the Partners in Crime collection).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. TomCat says:

    I’m afraid I am one of those who did not care for The Santa Klaus Murder and wish I had picked The Black-Headed Pins instead, but not sure if I’ll be reading another Christmas mystery this year. However, I’ll keep your other recommendations for Hay in mind. Even though Curt Evans (from The Passing Tramp) held similar opinions on Murder Underground.

    Some other Christmas mysteries that could be added to the list: Nicholas Blake’s Thou Shall of Death, Gladys Mitchell’s Dead Men’s Morris, Pierre Véry’s L’Assassinat du père Noël (The Murder of Father Christmas) and A.C. Baantjer’s De Cock en het lijk in de kerstnacht (DeKok and the Corpse on Christmas Eve).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I think I am all christmased out now in regards to my reading and I forgot about that other Blake novel. Thanks for the other Christmas suggestions, especially the French and Dutch (?) ones as I have never heard of them before.

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  10. More a novella than a novel – Maigret’s Christmas is brilliant. The edition I have also came complete with 9 other Maigret shorts including one of my favourites “Seven Little Crosses in a notebook”. Well worth a read – http://the-bookhound.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/old-time-detective.html

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  11. Pingback: My Year in Christmas Reads | crossexaminingcrime

  12. MaudL says:

    I never see Thou Shell of Death by Nicholas Blake mentioned, though I think it’s much better than The Corpse in the Snowman. Other favorites of mine, apart from the ones you listed (great choices, btw): There Came Both Mist And Snow by Michael Innes, The Act of Roger Murgatroyd: by Gilbert Adair, Postmark Murder by Mignon G. Eberhart.

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    • Thou Shell of Death is probably the better Blake novel, but to be honest like with so many books I forget they are actually set at Christmas. So thanks for your great suggestions. I had forgotten about both the Innes and Adair novel. Haven’t read the Eberhart book.

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