Review : The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay ( British Library Crime Classics #1 )

Sir Osmond Melbury is having a family gathering for Christmas at his country mansion Flaxmere but his sister is of the view that nothing good could ever come of the Melbury family gatherings . For a change , Sir Osmond has planned to liven up the Christmas festivities by having one of the guests dress up as Santa Claus and distribute the presents to his grand – children and the servants . Sir Osmond is found dead in his study with a bullet to his head by Oliver Wittcombe who is playing the Santa . While Oliver seems to have every opportunity to have fired the shot that killed Sir Osmund , he does not have an obvious motive . But almost every other member of the house party seems to have had their own motives but no easy opportunity as Oliver and also private suspicions about the identity of the killer . When the Chief Constable of Haulmshire thinks that he knows the family too well which could pose some difficulties for him but eventually realizes that there are too many things he does not know about the family . As the investigation proceeds , a startling discovery comes up : There were two Santas and not one . . .

The Santa Klaus murder is a classic country manor mystery . Sir Osmund ‘ s Santa plans need not fool you into thinking that he is the benevolent and affectionate man . He has always enjoyed a charged atmosphere and having people tip – toe around him . The patriarch demanded abject submission to his wishes from those around him and threatened them with reducing their inheritances if they chose to do otherwise . The family knows this to be no idle threat – his eldest daughter Hilda Wynford who was widowed at a young age with a child has not received any kind of support from her father because she married against his wishes except to be allowed at her father ‘ s house . ( Doesn ‘ t Sir Osmund bring to mind  wealthy entrepreneur Aristide Leonides from Agatha Christie ‘ s The Crooked House ? ) The narrative is structured as written accounts of the days prior to the tragic Christmas Day starting from the day when the members of the house party began to trickle at Flaxmere by some members of the house party . We also have a detailed chronicling of the investigation by Col . Halstock , the Chief Constable of Haulmshire and one chapter narrated by the amateur detective of this book , Kenneth Stour who also happens to be the ex – lover of Sir Osmond ‘ s daughter Lady Edith Evershot . . .

Col . Halstock is more like Watson and Kenneth , Holmes . While we have seen detectives who deduce a man ‘ s physical profile from his stride or read into something as random as a splash of candle grease or ponder about the most trivial observations of one ‘ s day , Col . Halstock sees a dislodged cover of a typewriter in the study where Sir Osmund had been murdered and does not think for a moment about getting it checked for fingerprints . Let the above statement not put you off . I think hardcore crime fiction fans would love being one – up over the investigating officer and the amateur sleuth for a change . However , all these gaffes during the investigation could not be held against Col . Halstock simply because he does not have the facts at all or is often mislead by the accounts of the inmates of the house who are keen on safe – guarding their loved ones whom they think have a decent motive for murdering Sir Osmund . Some humor , a good pace and the discovery of a new clue or perspective with each chapter , Col . Halstock is definitely not a detective bad enough to put you off this case . With the timely inputs from Kenneth Stour and his own decent deductions , the narrative keeps the reader engaged and is very enjoyable . And no , I did not guess the identity of the murderer correctly despite flattering myself that I spotted a few key clues even before the misinformed detective on the case spotted it . . .

Despite the good pace of the multiple narratives keeping the readers hooked , I felt that the writing of certain scenarios could have been better – while certain family members attribute ” solid ” motives to few others , there is not a single private conversation or confrontation to add weight to their arguments that X / Y have a good motive to bump off the old man . All those suspects did not utter a single menacing word against Sir Osmund . While I never guessed the culprit , I would have liked a narrative from him about how he almost pulled off a perfect murder . . . Certain characters do not get a mention in the POSTSCRIPT chapter – after all the concern I had invested on the suicidal ex – chauffeur I would definitely like to know if his fortunes took a turn for the better or if Sir Osmund ‘ s Miss Lemon got her next job . . .

Rating : 3 . 75 / 5

Despite some flaws , you definitely would not regret getting a taste of Golden Age Crime Fiction writing from Mavis Doriel Hay , whom I think definitely needs wider recognition . Highly recommended from me . If you have already read the book , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book and also which cover do you prefer . Until the next review then . .

Review : Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park

Plot synopsis from Goodreads :

Adopted into the household of her uncle – by – marriage , Sir Thomas Bertram , Fanny Price grows up a meek outsider among her cousins in the unaccustomed elegance of Mansfield Park . Soon after Sir Thomas absents himself on estate business in Antigua (the family’s investment in slavery and sugar is considered in the Introduction in a new , post-colonial light ) , Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive at Mansfield , bringing with them London glamour, and the seductive taste for flirtation and theatre that precipitates a crisis .

My thoughts on the book :

While several reviewers have too often moaned about Fanny Price ‘ s  ‘ inferiority ‘  to the other Austen heroines , I think that they simply do not consider the fact that Fanny ‘ s social standing is very different from the rest . The chief complaint which everybody seems to have is this Fanny is too timid . Do these readers who complain that Fanny is  ‘ a creepmouse ‘ expect her to have Elizabeth Bennet’s vivacity or Emma Woodhouse’s self assuredness while she is residing under her uncle ‘ s roof because her parents cannot afford to raise her ? A poor relation is only above the servants of the great house and has nothing to give herself airs about if you need some enlightening about how the society operated in Jane Austen ‘ s time . Sometimes , it is also upto  the readers to get the expectations right . . .

But these not – so – favorable  reviews actually helped me to get started with the book without much expections about the heroine and helped me to finish it without much regret . This should be the prime takeaway from this review – Have no great expectations and you will get through the book comfortably . Otherwise , you are definitely going to be disappointed . . .

One scathing observation  from a critic quoted by Claire Tomalin in her Austen biography  ( review here ) says that he found Fanny repellent : cold , self – righteous , rigid with prejudice , ‘ the most terrible incarnation we have of a the female prig – pharisee ‘ .

For me , while Fanny is rightly characterized as the creepmouse who is only too happy to sit sit unobserved and  observe the drama around her , the fact that her internal monologues almost always run along  the lines of ‘ Is this right  ? Is this wrong ? ‘ seemed a little absurd and was really exasperating . Considering the characters of her companions at Mansfield Park ( with the exception of Edmund ) , it seems very odd that she should be obsessed with the rights & wrongs like this . I also felt that it was a bit uncharacteristic for Fanny to wax eloquent at times when time and again the reader is reminded  that her education was not on par with the daughters of the house . . . I was able to overlook  her out – of – character , almost – too – poetic raptures  but even I had enough of Fanny ‘ s constant moralizing or her judgemental opinions ( regarding Mary Crawford particularly )  that I fully agree with the critic on every point except for finding her repulsive .  Any reader would recognize the underlying jealousy ( which Fanny stubbornly refuses to acknowledge even to herself  ) in the case of Mary Crawford – Fanny tends to play  up even the slightest hint of a vice in Mary Crawford to Edmund particularly , while she comfortably remains mum on the subject of her cousins ‘ scandalous elopements . . .

Atleast for me , Fanny ‘ s inferiority is in the fact that she does not get or never got  or probably would not get much love from the readers like the other Jane Austen heroines . We are not able to root for her like we did for every other Austen heroine – in fact despite all of Mary Crawford ‘ s ‘ deviousness ‘ as Fanny & Edmund would say , I wanted her to get married to the man whom she loved . But coming to think of it now , it ‘ s a match made in heaven between the two cousins . . .

That ‘ s enough of a rant about Fanny Price I guess . Now , lets talk about her love story .

I am not the first ( or going to be the last  ) reader who has this complaint – Fanny ‘ s love for Edmund is always hinted but the same Edmund who exclaimed ‘ My only sister ‘ on seeing Fanny  ( shortly after Mariah ‘ s elopement ) should fall in love with her some three or so chapters later is very much unlike Jane Austen who gave us Pride & Prejudice , Persuasion , Sense & Sensibility . If Austen had hinted at a budding romance halfway through the novel , I could have easily made peace with this romantic pair . The only problem with this lead pair is that nowhere in the book a keen reader would discern anything romantic in the interactions between the two until the big reveal . It seems that Jane Austen desperately wanted a happy ending for her book . With all other young people married or banished from Mansfield Park , she had no other people to pair up except for these two . .

Another sore point about Mansfield Park  was the writing . There were too many overly long sentences that wrapping my head around those was a trial . It was becoming quite tedious reading about Edmund and Fanny discussing the Crawfords & their merits / vices at length . . . Austen heroines who were more insightful than Fanny ( like Anne Elliot ) did not bore the readers with discussions about the characters of their neighbours . I enjoyed the chapters on Sotherton excursion , Fanny visiting her family and any other family drama very much after plodding through yet another discussion between Fanny & Edmund or even worse , Fanny ‘ s thoughts . .

* Just an idea *

Another thing which struck me after reading about Lady Bertram & Mrs . Price is that Jane Austen prefers having only the silly or sometimes indifferent parent(s) or sometimes guardians ( like Lady Bertram as in Fanny ‘ s case ) around her heroine – If you think about Mrs . & Mr . Bennet , Sir Elliot , Mr . Woodhouse , Mrs . & Mr. Price , you might also begin to see the pattern . If Austen chooses to have both the parents instead of only one ( as in Persuasion & Emma ) , then it means that both have varying levels of idiocy or eccentricity . I wonder why Austen chose to characterize the heroine ‘ s parents as people who could use some of their offspring ‘ s intelligence . . .

Final thoughts

On the whole , Mansfield Park is not going to be one of my Austen favorites . I still  have Northanger Abbey and  Sense & Sensibility  to read and having seen much positive response to  S & S , only  Northanger Abbey will decide the final rankings for Austen novels . I am confident that  in my rankings , no other Austen novel is going to beat Persuasion for the top spot . . .

Rating : 2 . 75 / 5

If you have already read the book , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book  . . . Until the next review then . . .

P . S : I think that the current situation is the best time to tackle some classics . I don ‘ t think I would have had enough patience with Mansfield Park if I had read it during ” old  normal times ” . Here are  my discussion posts on Wuthering HeightsPart-1 , Part-2 if you want to check it out . . .