December 8, 2014

Christmas Mysteries by Ruth Anderson of Booktalk and More!

There’s something about the Christmas season – the season of peace on Earth and goodwill to all – that makes me crave stories of mystery and murder. Arguably I’ve just admitted to being QUITE warped, but hear me out: can you imagine anything more deliciously satisfying than curling up under a quilt on a cold winter’s night, with a mug of hot cocoa and a classic mystery to threaten your warm cocoon with a few spine-tingling chills? I THOUGHT NOT. *wink*

I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few of my favorite stories to tempt your own reading appetites this holiday season. After all, reading is to my mind the perfect escape from the stress of holiday shopping (and crowds!).

My introduction to a little Christmas-time mayhem came in the form of a short-story collection given to me by my parents several years ago – Murder for Christmas, edited by Thomas Godfrey.  It’s out of print, but easily accessible from used booksellers, and several stories are happily in the public domain. This anthology collected stories from authors like Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle to twentieth-century masters of the genre like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Rex Stout.

If you’re unfamiliar with this collection, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Dickens’ contribution is the perennial classic “A Christmas Carol.” However, you would be wrong. This collection introduced me to a Yuletide offering of an entirely different stripe from Scrooge – “To be Taken with a Grain of Salt,” which first appeared in Dickens’ journal All the Year Round. It’s a fantastic ghost story, replete with Dickens’ trademark irony and subversive humor.

Another favorite is Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” a Sherlock Holmes short story and Christmas classic. I admit, I came to Sherlock Holmes first via film, as watching episodes of the classic Jeremy Brett television series was an entertainment staple of my childhood. If you’ve never explored Doyle’s classic writing, this story is a great place to start, the story of a priceless stolen blue carbuncle found inside a Christmas goose. And once you’ve read the tale, I recommend seeking out the television episode which is available in its entirety on YouTube and on balance is a wonderfully faithful adaptation of the story.
Agatha Christie’s contribution to Christmas mysteries is the Hercule Poirot short story, “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding” (found here, chapters one through five). Poirot is persuaded by a prince’s agent to retrieve a priceless stolen ruby, and to that end join the Lacey family for an “old-fashioned Christmas in the English countryside.” From the stately country home to the possibly poisoned plum puddings, Christie hits all the right notes in this deliciously atmospheric seasonal tale. The television adaptation, featuring David Suchet as Poirot and filmed under the story’s alternate title, “The Theft of the Royal Ruby” is worth seeking out as a companion piece.

Other favorites worth checking out are “Dancing Dan’s Christmas” by Damon Runyon (available here as part of the Damon Runyon Omnibus), a delightful example of Runyon’s humor and unparalleled ability to bring the guys and dolls types that populated early 20th century New York to vibrant life on the page. “The Adventure of the Dauphin’s Doll” was my introduction to Ellery Queen mysteries. “The Necklace of Pearls” by Dorothy L. Sayers is a Yuletide-set introduction to her sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, and “Christmas Party” sees Rex Stout’s investigative odd couple Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin solve a murder at an office Christmas party.

While the anthology that introduced me to the joys of a little Christmas-set mayhem is out of print, happily several of these stories and many more are found within the pages of Vintage’s The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, a fresh collection released just last year. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy Sleuthing! 

Thank you so much for sharing, Ruth!  Visit Ruth at her blog, Booktalk & More!

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