The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories – edited by Martin Edwards
Another of those wonderful anthologies of some classic and other long-forgotten crime stories with a Christmas theme compiled by the inestimable Martin Edwards and published as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. It is a bit like a selection box of chocolates, eleven in all, too rich to devour in one sitting and with the occasional indigestible nugget but, on the whole, a satisfying and pleasurable experience. What is there not to like?
My favourite of the collection is Cyril Hare’s Sister Bessie or Your Old Leech in which Timothy Trent, a banker, tries to unmask his blackmailer during the course of a Christmas party. The story has a surprising twist which does not bode well for the cocksure Trent. Richard Knox’s The Motive also features a surprising twist at the end, causing the reader to double-back on all of their assumptions they had made whilst reading Sir Leonard Huntercombe’s account of a client of his by the name of Westmacott, suspected of attempted murder and murder.
I also enjoyed ‘Twixt the Cup and Lip by Julian Symons in which a gang try to pull off a jewellery heist in Oxford Street but find that their best laid plans are thwarted on all sides. Just be careful what shoes you wear is the take away I got from this tale. The eponymous story, by Donald Stuart, features all the classic ingredients of a Christmas crime story, strangers pushed together in a suitably creepy and mysterious inn, stranded by snow. It is an open invitation for kidnap, murder and attempted murder and Lowe does not disappoint.
I also associate Christmas stories with ghosts and spectres and Edwards does not disappoint. The most atmospheric is Blind Man’s Hood by Carter Dickson in which a couple of guests turn up late for a country house party. They are entertained by the maid who tells of the murder of Jane Waycross there many decades earlier but things aren’t all that they appear to be. As someone who is fascinated by the interplay of luck in success, my next book will be on this subject, I enjoyed By The Sword by Selwyn Jepson. The killer thinks he has come up with a perfect plan but fate and predetermination lead to his downfall.
And a crime collection wouldn’t be complete without an impossibly convoluted plot. This is supplied by E R C Lorac’s A Bit of Wire-Pulling in which Inspector Lang, detailed to protect industrialist, Sir Charles Langton, who has received a death threat. Lang fails in his immediate task but is astute enough to see through the murderer’s elaborate plot.
For me, the strawberry creams in the collection, I only eat them under sufferance, are Baroness Orzy’s A Christmas Tragedy in which Lady Molly, astonishingly a high-ranking Scotland Yard ‘tec in an age of nailed-on male chauvinism, clears a young man’s name from accusations of doing away with his prospective father-in-law and Francis Durbridge’s Paul Temple’s White Christmas. The latter is so light and flimsy that it could easily have been dispensed with without harming the collection.
Of course, the charm of these collections is that there is something for everyone. I’m looking forward to reading the first of the Christmas collections, Silent Nights, perhaps with a pair of slippers given at Christmas on my feet and a glass of gin by my side. You can’t beat it.