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Twelve Golden Age Christmas Masterpieces
Christmas is a very special time of year, full of mystery and murder and madness everywhere! Here are a dozen masterpieces of Christmas and New Year crime fiction from the Golden Age of the genre. Hopefully, these books will keep your mind occupied while you sit by a roaring fire and sip your favourite beverage. So have a very Merry Christmas and an absolutely fantastic New Year – and try not to commit too many nasty crimes – except on paper!! Thanks to all my readers for your interest in my site this year! Also see A Locked Room Christmas at our sister site TheLockedRoomMystery.com Three great reviews of these titles to follow!
Golden Age Christmas Masterpieces
Note: A Christmas crucifixion!
It’s Christmas in Chicago, and Inspector Richard Queen is enjoying a busman’s holiday at a conference on gangland violence—but his son, amateur sleuth Ellery, is bored silly. Until, that is, Ellery reads of an unusual killing in rural Arroyo, West Virginia: A schoolmaster has been found beheaded and crucified. Ellery hustles his father into his roadster and heads east, since there is nothing he’d like better for Christmas than a juicy, gruesome puzzle.
When the Queens arrive in Arroyo, they learn that the victim was an eccentric atheist, but not the sort to make enemies. What initially looks to be the work of a sadistic cult turns out to be something far more sinister. In the months ahead, more victims will turn up all over the world—all killed in the same horrifying manner. It will take several bodies before Queen divines the clue that unlocks the mystery of the Christmas crucifixion.
Note: It all began on New Year’s Eve… and ended the next Christmas!
The nine tellerstrokes from the belfry of an ancient country church toll out the death of an unknown man and call the famous Lord Peter Whimsey to investigate the good and evil that lurks in every person. Steeped in the atmosphere of a quiet parish in the strange, flat fen-country of East Anglia, this is a tale of suspense, character, and mood by an author critics and readers rate as one of the great masters of the mystery novel.
Note: One less for Christmas dinner?
‘There we were, all gathered together for a Christmas party, and plunged suddenly into gloom.’
It’s Christmas at Hampstead’s Beresford Lodge. A group of relatives and intimate friends gather to celebrate the festive season, but their party is rudely interrupted by a violent death. It isn’t long before a second body is discovered. Can the murderer be one of those in the great house? The stockbroker sleuth Malcolm Warren investigates, in this brilliantly witty mystery.
‘Kitchin’s knowledge of the crevices of human nature lifts his crime fiction out of the category of puzzledom and into the realm of the detective novel. He was, in short, ahead of his day.’ H. R. F. Keating
Note: A predictable Boxing Day?
Fergus O’Brien, a legendary World War One flying ace with several skeletons hidden in his closet, receives a series of mocking letters predicting that he will be murdered on Boxing Day.
Undaunted, O’Brien throws a Christmas party, inviting everyone who could be suspected of making the threats, along with private detective Nigel Strangeways. But despite Nigel’s presence, the former pilot is found dead, just as predicted, and Nigel is left to aid the local police in their investigation while trying to ignore his growing attraction to one of the other guests – and suspects – explorer Georgina Cavendish.
A Nigel Strangeways murder mystery – the perfect introduction to the most charming and erudite detective in Golden Age crime fiction.
Note: Wanted: Santa Claus
“This extremely clever country-house murder mystery is the perfect holiday gift for the avid cosy crime fan. It has an aristocratic setting, a dead earl, and a major suspect … There are loads of clues, red herrings, and twists in a truly classic Christmas mystery with all the golden age patina.” –Globe and Mail
Aunt Mildred declared that no good could come of the Melbury family Christmas gatherings at their country residence Flaxmere. So when Sir Osmond Melbury, the family patriarch, is discovered – by a guest dressed as Santa Klaus – with a bullet in his head on Christmas Day, the festivities are plunged into chaos. Nearly every member of the party stands to reap some sort of benefit from Sir Osmond’s death, but Santa Klaus, the one person who seems to have every opportunity to fire the shot, has no apparent motive. Various members of the family have their private suspicions about the identity of the murderer, and the Chief Constable of Haulmshire, who begins his investigations by saying that he knows the family too well and that is his difficulty, wishes before long that he understood them better. In the midst of mistrust, suspicion, and hatred, it emerges that there was not one Santa Klaus, but two. The Santa Klaus Murder is a classic country-house mystery that was rediscovered by the British Library and became one of the first novels in the Crime Classics series.
Locked Room Review
Note: Training for Christmas?
A snowbound train should be a safe, if slightly inconvenient, place to spend Christmas, no? Not in Mystery in White: Death, it turns out, is a passenger on this run, and as passengers begin to fear, and some make a bid for escape, J. Jefferson Farjeon keeps ratcheting up the tension, holding readers in his grip until the surprising conclusion.
Good Mystery Review
Note: A Locked Room Christie Christmas
It is Christmas Eve. The Lee family reunion is shattered when the tyrannical Simeon Lee is found dead in a pool of blood, his throat slashed. When Hercule Poirot offers to assist, he finds an atmosphere not of mourning but of mutual suspicion. It seems everyone had their own reason to hate the old man.
The holidays are anything but merry when a family reunion is marred by murder—and the notoriously fastidious investigator is quickly on the case.
Locked Room Review
Note: Scrooge gets his due!
A holiday party takes on a sinister aspect when the colorful assortment of guests discovers there is a killer in their midst. The owner of the substantial estate, that old Scrooge Nathaniel Herriard, is found stabbed in the back. While the delicate matter of inheritance could be the key to this crime, the real conundrum is how any of the suspects could have entered a locked room to commit the foul deed.
For Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard, the investigation is complicated by the fact that every guest is hiding something-throwing all of their testimony into question and casting suspicion far and wide. The clever and daring crime will mystify readers, yet the answer is in plain sight all along…
Note: Happy New Year?
Elderly patriarch James Paradine is murdered on New Year’s Eve after confronting a relative and demanding a confession, and the redoubtable Miss Maud Silver is charged with identifying a killer among several suspects
Note: A spirited Christmas in The Cotswolds
Mrs. Bradley has decided to spend Christmas with her nephew Jonathan and his wife Deb at their home in the Cotswolds. Upon settling in, the psychiatrist soon hears the story of a local apparition: the ghost of a country parson, it is said, can sometimes be seen at night slung over the gate leading to a grouping of trees called Groaning Spinney. As neighbours and locals visit Jonathan with seasonal greetings (for he has inherited, with the purchase of the large house, the mantle of village squire), Mrs. Bradley learns that the ghostly vicar has been spotted that evening by two travellers. She also makes the acquaintance of Tiny Fullalove, a man to whom Mrs. Bradley takes an immediate dislike. She fares better with Tiny’s brother Bill, a capable countryman named Will North, and farmhand Ed Brown, who has a knack for befriending and taming wild animals, particularly birds.
After the holiday, various villagers begin to receive anonymous letters carrying accusations and insinuations against themselves and others. The first letters are handwritten, subsequent ones typed. Jonathan points out that their spiteful content usually springs from a kernel of truth; e.g., a note detailing an affair between Tiny and Deb seems to elaborate upon an unwelcome pass Tiny had made previously. In the midst of this, and after a particularly heavy snowfall, the body of Bill Fullalove is found, slumped over the woodland gate in a morbid imitation of the parson’s demise a century before.
As Mrs. Bradley theorizes upon the source of the poison pen letters, she makes the acquaintance of the Inspector assigned to the suspicious death and pesters him into exhuming the recently interred body. Another discovery reveals itself with the winter’s thaw: the body of a woman, housekeeper to the Fullaloves, is found on the hillside, where it was buried for weeks under deep snow. The finding of dog collars and leads stuck into a rabbit hole provides for Mrs. Bradley further proof of her theory, and as she gets into riding dress to accompany her nephew on a fox hunt, she sets a trap that will flush out the guilty party and run it to ground.
Note: Lord Warbeck’s last Christmas?
A classic detective story from one of the best-loved Golden Age crime writers, Cyril Hare, originally published in 1951. The setting of An English Murder seems, at first, to be a very conventional one. A group of family and friends come together for Christmas at a country house, Warbeck Hall. The house is owned by Lord Warbeck, a dying and impoverished peer who wants to be among loved ones for what he thinks will be his last Christmas. The holiday decorations are up and snow is falling fast outside. The guests range from the Lord’s difficult son to a visiting Czech historian. There is, of course, a faithful butler and his ambitious daughter. But when the murders begin, there is nothing at all conventional about them – or the manner of their detection. This ingenious detective story gleefully plays with all of our expectations about what an ‘English murder’ might be and offers enough twists and turns to keep us reading into the night. ‘Of Cyril Hare’s detective stories my only complaint is, that they are too infrequent.’ Tatler
Note: A Christmas portrait!
It’s 1972, and while Elton John and Alice Cooper may be topping the charts, Inspector Alleyn’s latest case is set in that most gloriously retro environment: The country-house party. A Christmas party, as it happens, where Agatha Troy is enjoying the local holiday pageant and also painting the host’s portrait. The painting’s coming along fine, but the pageant goes a little pear-shaped when one of the players disappears. Could one of the party’s eccentric guests (are there any other kind?) have been involved? Or—perhaps more likely—could the finger of blame come to rest on one of the manor-house servants, each of whom happens to be a recent prison parolee? What luck! Inspector Alleyn is on hand to wrap up the questions into the perfect Christmas parcel.
A little Late for The Golden Age but still in the tradition and written by one of the Four Queens of Crime!