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 : The Hunting Party

Huntin'Party

Author : Lucy Foley

Publication Date : 2019

Publisher(s) : Harper Collins

Plot Summary :

A group of old friends have come together to celebrate the New Year of 2019 in a remote Scottish hunting lodge . There are Giles & Samira – the new parents , Nick & Bo , Julien & Miranda – the ” Golden ” couple , Mark & Emma and finally , Katie – the singleton in the group . Then one of them is found dead . It does not look like an accident . . .

My thoughts about the book :

The Hunting Party is described as ‘ Gripping ‘ by Sophie Hannah . It also has other one – adjective praises by authors like A J Finn and Laura Marshall . I picked up this book on seeing these praises and am resolved in future not to pick up any book based on any author ‘ s recommendations alone . . . The most questionable adjective that can be given to this book is from Laura Marshal – ” Eerie ” .

The narrative covers the period from Dec 30 2018 to Jan 2 2019 . The story has 4 first person narratives  from Miranda , Katie , Emma and Heather ( the Lodge manager ) and a third person narrative  for Doug (  the Lodge gamekeeper ) . There were a few aspects of the writing which did not sit well with me . . .

Too many dandelions :

I seemed to trip upon the dandelions – sometimes a lone one and sometimes in clusters almost in every single chapter . I was trying to make allowance for one or two popping up occasionally , but the more often you encounter them , the less patience you have left to deal with them . When I trip upon a dandelion , my brain goes – ” Here comes the next one . . . Doesn’t it sound . . . “  . I get interested in the choice of words put together for the newly – minted simile / metaphor and for the next 5 minutes this one is going to have my attention .

” And there is a red bloom around her head where it has struck the rocks – a starburst , a supernova of red . . . “

The problem with the current crop of suspense / detective fiction writers  is , they try to emulate the literary fiction in terms of  language & narrative  – with disastrous results . While experimenting with hyper-realistic narratives and flowery language , the current breed of crime fiction writers seem to forget that they are writing for the suspense genre where a good pace is the key to guarantee the reader a great reading experience [ ” the ending that leaves the reader breathless ” , ” the shocker that you can never see coming ” and other similar reactions . . . ]

Thankfully , the author stopped with the flowery language and did not go for the hyper – realistic narrative . Perhaps , none of the characters  are portrayed with a depth that would require a hyper – realistic approach or any innovative narrative technique to actually peel off the layers off the character the reveal the real person .

The usage of  ” millennial ” slang  in the narratives :

While the narrators are millennial , trying to capture that in the slang is not a good idea . I never realized millennial conversations ( with those filler words ) , when put on paper looks so bad . . . There is the liberal mindless usage of the f*** word , the afterthoughts without which some characters can’t seem to finish a sentence – all these were major put – offs . Here is one :

” ‘ But who wants Westminster – all those sweaty bodies pressed together – when you can have this ? ‘ Emma asks . ‘ This place ‘ , she spreads her arms wide , ‘ and best friends . ‘ She links her arm with mine , and smiles at me , a proper , warm smile . I want to hug her . Thank fuck for Emma . ” 

The thing which amused me highly is this one :

There is a chapter which is narrated by the character when she is drunk . ” Being in a temporary state in which one’s physical and mental faculties are impaired by an excess of alcoholic drink ;  intoxicated ” is the definition provided for the word drunk . And here , the narrator is perfectly aware of her surroundings .  Here is a second one from the same narrator  –

” It’s the way he says it : so quiet , under his breath , so that no one else can hear . I suddenly feel cold in a way that I don’t think has anything to do with the freezing air . I take a step back . . .” 

For someone who says ” I feel numb . I’d forgotten I had so much wine before the champagne . My thoughts are jumbled , my mind fuggy . . . “ , she sure has a heightened awareness of self and her surroundings to be able to pin down even the smallest reaction she had to somebody ‘ s words . . .

Frankly , I was so disappointed with this one – I was looking for a solid closed circle mystery  and the setting looked promising for a good mystery . Instead  the average writing and a not-very-convincing solution to the question ” Who is the killer ? ” only made me wish that I hadn’t bothered with this one . . .

Rating : 2 . 75  / 5

Is there something in the post you disagree with ? Feel free to write about it as well in the comments section . . .

Until the next review then . . .

A final note :

This might be the last post for this year – unless I get a short read I need to rave about . . . Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year in advance . . .