Review : The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories ( editor : Martin Edwards )

My next read for the holiday season is The Christmas Card Crime , an anthology of Christmas mysteries edited by Martin Edwards . The individual stories have been rated ( check out the stars next to the title for the rating ) . Also , there are only quick holiday season references and no detailed delving into the festivities of the season . Still , I would say that there are some gems here which should not be missed . . . Here’s a quick look at the teasers for each of the eleven stories – I should warn you that this is a mixed bag . . .

A Christmas Tragedy by Baroness Orczy ** :

Lady Molly ‘ s lady – in – waiting is the narrator here . I have several complaints against this one – the narrator ‘ s tone was obsequious throughout the story ( I could have lived with that if Lady Molly had done some decent detective work . But her actions and suspicions are frequently attributed to her excellent intuition ** Duh!!** ) and took on a snobbish tone when it came to narrative about the servants of the manor where she is investigating the murder of one Major Ceely . The motive for the murder seems to be pretty absurd and there is next – to – nothing detection done by our ” detective ” whose detective powers are praised to the skies . While I can understand that the pen has been wielded by one of Lady Molly ‘ s social standing to warrant this narrative style and that it has not aged well , the close to zero detective work made this a boring read . I would suggest anyone to save this one for the last and start with Crime At Lark Cottage or The Christmas Card Crime . . .

By The Sword by Selwyn Jepson **** :

The Cathertons have always died by the sword . Read this one to find out how this family curse plays out in the latest death in the family . A clever one but the story – telling could have been better with holding the reader ‘ s interest . . .

The Christmas Card Crime by Donald Stuart ***** :

A group of passengers in a train end up in a lodge with a shady past . One of the passengers ends up murdered and another seems to have someone shadowing her . Plus there is the torn half of a Christmas greeting card which she seems keen to protect from someone . Why is it that an old , torn Christmas greeting card hold much value ? The solution to this one is a really clever one . . .

The Motive by Ronald Knox **** :

A lawyer narrates a curious case in which he defended a man named Westmacott ( yes , that ‘ s a nod to Agatha Christie ) . A very interesting and clever story but you might probably have to stick with the somewhat mediocre narrative to get to the superb ending – I would say that the ending is worth persisting with this one . ( The narrative alone would have got only 3 stars but I loved this story – so , bumping it up to a 4 . . . )

Blind Man ‘ s Hood by Carter Dickson **** :

A couple arrive at their host ‘ s late and a young woman narrates the story of a mysterious death in the same house . A superb locked room mystery with a delicious paranormal twist at the end . . .

Paul Temple ‘ s White Christmas by Francis Durbridge *** :

Paul and his wife have flown to Switzerland for Christmas but what they don ‘ t expect is a mini – adventure which plays out the moment that land in Switzerland . There is not much mystery here and it is very predictable . . .

Sister Bessie or Your Old Leech by Cyril Hare ***** :

Timothy , a banker , recounts his tracking down of his ” blackmailer ” and getting rid of this supposed blackmailer . But , in a deliciously ironic twist , he has only put himself at the mercy his blackmailer once again who signs the blackmail notes as Your Old Leech . . . I loved this one and will be picking up more by this author in the future . . .

A Bit of Wire Pulling by E . C . R . Lorac :

Inspector Lang from the Yard recounts a murder which took place in a Christmas party in which he was present .

I am not very good at visualizing contraptions or mechanisms even if they are explained in the For Dummies fashion . So I would reserve my judgement on this one . I only remember that the solution involved what the title is about – some wire pulling .

Pattern of Revenge by John Bude *** :

Two men loved Karen Gaborg and one of them is now serving time for her murder . Now , the other one is confessing to Karen ‘ s murder and detailing how he framed his rival for her murder . Some elements of the solution were not very surprising but it was a pretty decent read . . .

Crime at Lark Cottage by John Bingham ***** :

John Bradley stops at a home near Skandale where a woman and her daughter reside . The woman seems frightened and hints that she would like the visitor to stay for the night . Eventually Bradley comes upon a newspaper article which enlightens him as to the strange situation which he finds himself in . . .

This one has a brilliant narrative which managed to fool me about the trajectory the plot was about to take with a superb twist at the end . . .

Twixt the cup and the lip by Julian Symons *** :

A jewel heist masterminded by a bookseller goes awry in every way possible , all thanks to his bungling comrades . The narrative is on the lighter side and the solution is quite clever . . .

If you have already read this anthology , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book  . If you have any interesting Christmas themed recommendations , please do share them . Until the next review then . .

Review : Sleep No More by P D James

My next read for the holiday season is Sleep No More : Six Murderous Tales by P . D James which can be a companion read for my previous holiday read . Each of these tales has a murderer committing the ‘ perfect ‘ murder in Agatha Christie ‘ s dictionary – the murder that goes unpunished by law . But can the definition of ‘ the perfect murder ‘ be that simple ? We have few murderers having a witness to their crime who choose to look the other way and for some it makes the reader wonder if a prison sentence would have been a lighter punishment than the futures they are condemned to . Some stories like The Victim & A Very Desirable Residence have you questioning if the victim is the murdered person or the perpetrator . Here’s a quick look at the teasers for each of the stories . Hope they would induce you to pick up this gem of an anthology . My favorite was The Victim – the ending just left me stunned .

As usual , every story in this anthology packs a powerful punch with a brilliant twist to the ending but some pack a mighty powerful punch that leaves you gasping and wondering if you read that right and reading it a second time around . . . As I had mentioned in my previous post , if P D James ‘ murder mysteries are a tad macabre for you for the holidays , then you can pick up this gem for the Halloween . . .

The Yo – Yo ( 2006 ) has a 70 something narrator recount how he came into the possession of the Yo Yo which he finds while rummaging through his personal papers . . .

In The Victim ( 1973 ) , Princess Ilsa Mancelli ‘ s first and the most obscure of ex – husbands is the narrator – when the then Elsie Bowman marries her wealthy employer Collingford , the unnamed narrator decides to do away with the man who stole his wife from him . For a year , he plans the perfect murder and writes threatening notes which are delivered to his intended victim twice a week all through the year . Finally , the deed is done and you might think that now he can move on . . . But is this the ” perfect ” murder which he had planned all year long ?

The Murder of Santa Claus (1984)
Sixteen year old Charles Mickledore has been invited to celebrate Christmas at his step – uncle ‘ s mansion in the country . However , his step – uncle ends up murdered in his Santa costume ( it had been his uncle ‘ s Christmas tradition to deliver his gifts for his guests in the guise of Santa Claus at each of their rooms ) . Charles , eagerly awaiting his Christmas present had been the last person to see his uncle alive . The house party had consisted of his step – uncle ‘ s step – son , an elderly couple who were the previous owners of the manor , a successful actress , the uncle ‘ s secretary – cum – housekeeper and the other servants . Mickledore had soon found that his step – uncle was not popular in the village and had every reason to take any threat seriously . Now a successful crime novelist , Mickledore decides to finally write to the police about what he had really witnessed on that fateful night . . .

In The Girl Who Loved Graveyards ( 1983 ) , we have a girl who has a strange fascination with graveyards and she grows up dreaming of visiting her father ‘ s grave who died of influenza shortly after her tenth birthday . When she goes for a viewing of her maternal grandmother ‘ s house , she strangely begins to act out her subconscious memories which she had repressed all these years . What started out as a story with supernatural overtones turned out to be a whoddunit with a creepy twist . . .

A Very Desirable Residence ( 1976 )
The narrator and his colleague are fascinated by the private lives of their headmaster and his much younger wife who seems to be almost tiptoeing around her husband during their frequent dinners with the couple . One day , the headmaster is arrested for attempted murder of his wife after one of the servants finds her with her head inside the gas oven . What follows the trial is a revelation which you have not seen coming in a million years . . .

Mr. Millcroft’s Birthday ( 1992 )
Mildred and Rodney Millcroft might be cheated of their sizeable inheritance if their father ‘ s confession to the murder of their uncle who left their family the fortune starts making rounds – so they decide to take matters into their own hands and destroy the evidence . . . Every P D J anthology seems to have one story like this one which is a romp and a welcome inclusion for the readers after the mildly unnerving earlier stories . . .

Rating : 5 / 5

If you have already read Sleep No More : Six Murderous Tales , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book  . If you have any interesting Christmas themed recommendations , please do share them . Until the next review then . . .

A Very Merry Christmas to all my readers . . .

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 . .