This is the latest collection of Christmas mysteries from The British Library Crime Classics. Many readers of detective stories love Christmas mysteries, but until a while ago there wasn't an awful lot of them around to choose from, so thanks to heaven that some forgotten classics have been unearthed and republished. Although I have to admit that Mavis Doriel Hay's The Santa Klaus Murder, the British Library's first yuletide mystery, wasn't really my cup of tea at all. Crimson Snow is thankfully more enjoyable.
When looking through the contents I realised that three of these stories had already been anthologized in The Black Lizard Big Book Of Christmas Mysteries. These were Christmas Eve by S. C. Roberts, Julian Symons’ The Santa Claus Club and Josephine Bell’s The Carol Singers. The Carol Singers must be one of the most depressing Christmas tales ever written as it is about a bunch of criminals disguised as carol singers who target old ladies, robbing and killing them. Christmas Eve is a short Sherlock Holmes play, while The Santa Claus Club is one of the weaker stories featuring Symons' private detective Francis Quarles.
Let’s take a look at the rest:
Fergus Hume’s The Ghost’s Touch is your typical ghost-story-cum- mystery that plays out exactly the way you would expect it to, but that’s part of its charm. We have two brothers, one well-off, the other struggling financially; a manor house with a haunted bedroom, which kills everyone who spends the night there (the haunting of course goes back to a centuries old curse). Obviously someone will spend the night in this room and eventually it will become clear that the evil lurking there has some very real, human origin. Fergus Hume is an almost forgotten author today, even though his book “Mystery Of A Hansom Cab” was one of the bestselling detective novels of its day.
Edgar Wallace needs no introduction. Even if you have never read any of his books or watched any of the movie adaptations made from them, you must have heard of him. Today Wallace is often dismissed as a mass-producer of cheap thriller literature, a bit like the James Patterson of his time, he was however a much better writer than he gets credit for. The Chopham Affair is a clever little story with a surprising twist at the end.
Margery Allingham is considered one of the crime queens along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. Unlike her peers she is not as widely read today anymore, even though after her death the adventures of her serial-detective Albert Campion were continued by other authors. She might be the sort of writer you either love or hate. Personally I’ve always been immune to her charms, however her novels are very uneven in tone verging from the outright comical to the quite serious. The Man With The Sack does not have the most complex plot, Campion has to catch a jewel thief at a Christmas party.
Victor Gunn’s novella Death In December is the most fun entry in this collection. Featuring his larger than life detective Bill “Ironsides” Cromwell along with his assistant Johnny Lister this is another ghost story and also an impossible mystery of sorts. The detectives have been invited by Lister’s father to his country house. Everything is set for the Christmas celebrations when the bloodied corpse of a dead man appears in a haunted room sending the occupant into hysterics, before disappearing just as suddenly without a trace. A mysterious figure appears who seems to be able to walk without leaving footprints in the snow and there is a secret passage leading into a dusty vault. So all ingredients are here for a riping good yarn. It may not be the greatest mystery ever written, but it is so entertaining that you easily forgive the flaws in plotting.
Christopher Bush is an author I’ve had on my radar for a while, but after reading Murder at Christmas I’m glad I didn’t bother with any of his novels. It is written in such a sleep-inducingly dull style that it does not surprise me the least that the author has fallen into obscurity.
Off The Tiles by Ianthe Jerrold is a quirky little story, a bit absurd and improbable, but not without its charm.
Mr. Cork’s Christmas by Macdonald Hastings was originally published as a Christmas competition in a magazine with readers having to figure out the titular secret, thankfully the solution is also reprinted here along with some interesting ideas sent in by readers. Mr. Cork is an insurance expert who has to deal with a murder and jewel robbery at a hotel.
Deep And Crisp And Even by Michael Gilbert features Police Sergeant Patrick Petrella who was also the protagonist in two of Gilbert’s novels. This is a tale about the modern police force seeming a bit out of place in this more classical collection.
Crimson Snow might not be what you would call an essential collection of yuletide murder yarns, but one could do worse when looking for some atmospheric Christmas mysteries.