Festive Mysteries 2015

1. Silent Nights - Ed. by Martin Edwards
British LibraryCrime Classics £8.99

"The British Library deliver another gorgeous looking book of a selection pack filled with ill-wishes. Edwards has gathered together big hitters like Conan Doyle, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers, Edmund Crispin, G.K. Chesterton, Nicholas Blake sit alongside others that not even I have heard of in the form of Raymond Allen, Ralph Plummer and others. J. Jefferson Farjeon who last year had the runaway success with ‘Mystery in White’ last Christmas, appears here with another long lost story, ‘The Absconding Treasurer’. Ethel Lina White will always be known for her novel and the numerous re-makes of ‘The Lady Vanishes’ (originally published as ‘The Wheel Spins’). Edwards includes her short story, ‘Waxworks’ which is a wonderful creepy tale. I have a feeling that like Christie, White took this short story and lengthened it to a full novel, ‘Wax’. The British Library and Martin Edwards have scored another bullseye with this fabulous little collection."

2. Murder for Christmas - Francis Duncan
Vintage £8.99

"This is a re-issue of a forgotten classic from Vintage. Again, here we have family and friends collected for the festive season in an old country house. You do wonder if the people of the upper classes ever learnt not to congregate at these parties as there seems to be a high probability that one of them wouldn’t see Christmas morning! Duncan grasps the festive season with gusto by not only presenting a body beneath the Christmas tree, but the corpse is also dressed in a Father Christmas outfit! Duncan’s writing can be a bit florid at times, but this is all good fun and certainly would be a marvellous stocking filler for any fan of Christie."

3. The Long Shadow - Celia Fremlin
Faber Finds £12

"Many who know me have had to listen to me sing the praises of Fremlin’s work. When I knew that Faber Finds were re-issuing Fremlin’s entire catalogue in early 2014, I jumped at the chance to write a short biography of Fremlin. In this novel of suspense Imogen, with the coming festive season, is coming to terms with the recent death of her husband in a car accident. As always, this isn’t only a suspense novel, but a novel on the theme of widowhood (something Fremlin herself was used to with her first husband having died a few years before this book was published) and it is fascinating to see the small nuances of people’s attitude when meeting someone who they then find out has recently lost a loved one. But was he loved? I am sure that when you have read the last sentence of the first chapter that you will be compelled to read on. Sublime."

4. Flynn - Lesley Grant-Adamson
Faber £0

"As with Celia Fremlin, I have long championed Grant-Adamson’s books to many and am surprised they are still out-of-print. If you haven’t discovered Grant-Adamson, then I highly recommend her books. If I had to be pushed to make a comparison, then I would say she is similar to a British Highsmith in style and characterisation. Here we have P.I. Laura Flynn who has done some work for a fashion designer who has not paid her fees. Then, Flynn’s ex-client is found face down in the Thames a few days before Christmas. This is not the usual cosy with a big house in the country, but a hardened look at rain-spattered London and what goes on in its dark streets. Originally published in 1991, it was thought this was the first of a series, but this is the only one featuring Flynn. This is classed as one of Grant-Adamson’s best and a perfect introduction to her work."

5. Shadow on the Wall - Jonathan Aycliffe
Constable £7.99

"Written in the style of M.R. James, this errie tale left me with chills across my shoulders and the hairs on my neck standing! Everyone loves a good ghost story at Christmas – it has bizarrely become an intrinsical part of the holidays, and this re-issue from Aycliffe’s novel which originally appeared in 2000 hits the right spot. Although it is not immediately apparent, the flow and use of language places this tale during the Victorian era. Aycliffe’s story is played out against the barren lands of the Fens, which only enhances the feelings of dread and misery. As the harsh winter grips and fog drifts across the dark land like a wraith, you cannot help but feel cold and vulnerable as evil stalks a village in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I had to put this book down as I was getting so chilled to the bone by Aycliffe’s magnificent prose. As with ‘The Turn of the Screw’, this is a slow burner, but Aycliffe perfectly ratchets the ‘chill factor’ with the assured hand of a consummate professional. This is very creepy stuff - and Aycliffe leaves a suggestion that maybe the evil hasn't quite been driven away..."

6. Crime at Christmas - C.H.B. Kitchin
Faber £8.99

"Kitchin’s novel is atypical of its time. A large rambling house (this time not deep in the sparse countryside, but Hampstead, London) where a number of oddly-assorted guests and family members gather for the festivities which don’t go down very well. It is a strange plot and in a way you do feel that Kitchin had painted himself in to a corner with such a bizarre plot. However, I very much enjoyed it as Kitchin is sublime at characterisation. The ending is a bit of a damp squib, but although the conclusion is weak, I very much enjoyed my journey as Kitchin chronicled poor Malcolm Warren’s abysmal Christmas. Read this and you’ll be pleased that your family gatherings are nothing like what happens in Kitchin’s book!"

7. Twelve Deaths of Christmas - Jackson Sharp
Penguin £7.99

"This is a brand new release from Penguin so I haven’t had time to read it yet, but added it in this Top Ten purely due to it being ‘of the season’. It all kicks off on Boxing Day when the body of a retired copper is found dead from a fall off a building. His death is labelled as a suicide, but soon more bodies turn up and D.I. Kerry Cox is caught up in the vicious game of a serial killer. This is for those of you who love a good modern serial killer thriller and not in to classic crime, or for those who have read everything with a festive murder and crave something new. You may well want to try this one on for size. "

8. The Santa Klaus Murder - Mavis Doriel Hay
British Library Crime Classics £8.99

"Hay wrote only three mystery novels in three successive years – and then no more. The British Library has published all three and this was to be Hay’s last one. This one is narrated by different voices, although most of the novel is seen through the eyes of Colonel Halstock, Chief Constable of Haulmshire. Needless to say this involves the Melbury clan plus guests staying at the country residence of Flaxmere. Every member there would benefit in some way with the demise of Sir Osmond Melbury – and the head of the family is duly found with a bullet hole in his head on Christmas Day. Parts of the story can be convoluted, but thankfully a cast list and plan of the ground floor are included to help you keep up with Hay’s narrative. This is a jolly alternative if you have exhausted Christie et al."

9. An English Murder - Cyril Hare
Faber Finds £13

"This book was brought to my attention a few months back by the crime writer, Sheila Bugler. I read this some years ago and had quite forgotten it when collating my Xmas titles. I couldn’t remember much about the plot except that it had a strange little foreign man (sound familiar?) and that I had enjoyed it. I re-read it and was taken by how this book works on different levels. Not only is it a murder mystery of some standing, but is also a penetrating look at the last days of the privileged, those who had lived in big houses with an army of servants and how life after the war(s) had changed society. Workers' expectations of life had risen and nobody dreamt of ‘being in service’ all their days anymore. Hare also sets his sights on the decline of the obligatory title of a Lord. Dr. Bottwink, a man of uncertain Eastern European origin is the man who puts the puzzle together in a house full of people who view him with distain as a ‘foreigner’. You couldn’t get away with this today, but here it feels as though Hare is poking fun at the narrow-mindedness of the British aristocracy. There is also a hint a dig and/or homage to Christie’s own Poirot who faced a lot of racism throughout her books. This is an extremely involving tale and one of a very high calibre. A book that is well-worth settling down to over the Christmas holidays."

10. Murder at the Old Vicarage - Jill McGown
Pan MacMillan £8.99

"I placed this on my Top Ten last year and this title has been re-issued by MacMillan under the U.S. title (the UK title is ‘Redemption’) and given it a snowy cover to reflect the festivities. This is the second book in the Lloyd and Hill series and a series I adored. McGown was a self-confessed fan of Agatha Christie and this is reflected in her plots. This one is a direct homage to the Queen of Crime. After her death in 2007, it was a travesty that McGown was out-of-print so quickly, but now MacMillan are again doing this wonderful author justice yet again. This book is the perfect accompaniment to the coming holidays and I am willing to bet my slice of Christmas pudding that you will then go on and read the remaining twelve books in the series."