Christmas Top Ten 2016

1. The Mistletoe Murder - P.D. James
Faber £10

"For decades two women ruled and shaped the landscape of crime fiction. It was equally sad that both died within six months of each other. We will never see their like again. James and Rendell were giants of the crime genre and we will be sad never to crack open a new book from either lady. However, we can now enjoy four of James’ festive tales, two of which feature her famous detective, Adam Dalgliesh. I guess it was decided to give James’ new offering a theme, but it would have been nice to have all her short stories in one volume such as ‘The Girl Who Loved Graveyards’ and ‘Great-Aunt Allie’s Flypapers’, again featuring Dalgliesh. One can only hope that Faber will be collecting the rest of her short stories in another volume. For the time being we have these four festive appetisers from one of the very few women who truly earned the title, ‘The Queen of Crime’."

2. Bryant and May: London's Glory - Christopher Fowler
Bantam £8.99

"Fowler has his tongue firmly in his cheek when delivering these tasty little Bryant and May morsels on his platter. At moments I laughed out loud. Fowler brilliantly combines comedy with murder and a clever puzzle - all shaken (not stirred) with a dash of Golden Era Crime magic. If you love someone enough then you can do no better than buy them this book. Hugely entertaining – and quite bonkers! Wonderful stuff!"

3. Bird in a Cage - Frédéric Dard (Translated by David Bellos)
Pushkin Vertigo £6.99

"It is Christmas Eve and Albert has travelled back home to the apartment of his dead mother. It has been six years since he left this place and even now he is wondering why he has come back. Fleeing the memories, Albert finds himself in a restaurant and opposite a woman and her young child. It is from that moment that you can feel the momentum of this short novel start to turn, spiralling things out of control. At a time of joy, Albert is beginning to feel trapped – but how much is of his own making? Pushkin Vertigo is currently publishing the novels of different French masters of the psychological thriller and this is one that stands out for me. It amazes me that Dard was so well-known back in his day, in fact a huge seller in his day and yet virtually forgotten these days. This short tale has a dash of Highsmith about it. Neither of the main protagonists is very pleasant, but I really couldn’t stop myself from watching the noose get tighter and tighter. Exceptional. "

4. Shot Through the Heart - Isabelle Grey
Quercus £7.99

"Not everyone enjoys a cosy, so if you prefer your crime fiction based in modern day, then you would do no harm in reaching for the second in the D.I. Grace Fisher series. A lone shooter claims the lives of five people on Christmas Day, the first victim being a police officer. Grace Fisher is brought in to find out what caused this person to perpetrate such an atrocity. The identity of the killer is known from the beginning. This is more a meditation on what drives someone who has lived a ‘normal’ life, to become a killer. Isabelle Grey is a former editor of a magazine and brings a strong sense of reality to Ivo Sweatman, a crime reporter. Paring up with Fisher, both try to put aside their deep suspicions of each other, to find the truth behind these terrible killings. A brutal but mesmerising book."

5. Murder Under the Christmas Tree - Ed. by Cecily Gayford
Profile £7.99

"As with the annual Christmas murder mystery novel that appeared to die out with Agatha Christie, collections of short stories also fell out of fashion. I have several Ellery Queen and Winters Anthologies along with a few others that were devoted specifically to Christmas, but as with all things, the demand declined, (I imagine as many duplicated stories from other anthologies), so they stopped altogether. Now, as with buses, two come along at once. Unlike the British Library edition (see below), Cecily Gayford has stuck to the big names. Showcased here are Conan Doyle, Sayers, Allingham, Marsh, Dickson, Crispin and Chesterton: all iconic as they are recognisable merely by their surname! My favourite is Ngaio Marsh’s ‘Death on the Air’. Perfect for anyone who will only be able to snatch bite-size moments of criminal pleasure over the festive season! "

6. Crimson Snow - Ed. by Martin Edwards
The British Library £8.99

"Martin Edwards and The British Library Crime Classics Collection is a match made in Heaven… or Hell… depending on your criminal standpoint! Edwards again brings us a selection box of treats in the form of crime fiction nibbles! Edwards has trawled the depths of crime fiction for buried treasure. He is a bit like a crime version of Jacques Cousteau! Now Edwards and B.L. have brought to the surface delights, many of which have not been in print for many years. Allingham is the big star here, but the remainder you may have heard of, but not necessarily read. Included are Julian Symons, Michael Gilbert, Josephine Bell, Ianthe Jerrold, alongside a few of the old masters, Edgar Wallace and Fergus Hume. If you are worried that you might get your loved one something they have already read… then go for ‘Crimson Snow’. Edwards has rescued these from the murky depths and buffed up these old gems so that they shine! "

7. Another Little Christmas Murder - Lorna Nicholl Morgan
Sphere £8.99

"The vintage Christmas mystery is back in fashion. It all started two years ago with J. Jefferson Farjeon’s, ‘Mystery in White’ which was a runaway bestseller in 2014. Last year it was Francis Duncan’s ‘Murder for Christmas’. Both were from the Golden Era and both authors were totally forgotten. Now it is the turn of Lorna Nicholl Morgan (no, me neither…) who has emerged from the ashes of forgotten writers. I have yet to read this one, but ‘Another Little Christmas Murder’ (first published in 1947) promises more murder amongst the merriment! Dilys Hughes finds herself snowbound in Yorkshire and is rescued by Indigo Brown on his way to his uncle’s remote manor, Wintry Wold. The family are less than welcoming to both and soon a death occurs. This ticks all the boxes for the usual Christmas mystery and would make the perfect stocking filler for any crime fan. "

8. Fireside Gothic - Andrew Taylor
HarperCollins £12.99

"There is nothing better during the festive season than to be frightened out of your wits by the unknown and the downright spooky! M.R. James was perfect at bringing alive a sense of unease and an all pervading sense of doom. Here, Andrew Taylor brings us ‘Fireside Gothic’, which appears to emulate James with three spooky novellas. I have not read this yet, but the cover promises ‘three tales of fear, retribution and death’, then you have an idea this is not going to end well for those people in these stories. The first, ‘Broken Voices’ starts at Christmas before the Great War. Two schoolboys are forced in to the others company and they hear eerie tales about the local cathedral from an elderly teacher. Tempted, the boys venture out to investigate his claims… but some things are best left alone. The second has a familiar premise of a man stumbling across a cottage on a dark night and a woman who begs him to leave… only to come back the next morning to find woman and cottage both vanished! The last is ‘The Scratch’ featuring a cat – I let you figure out what it could be about! In the hands of such a virtuoso wordsmith as Mr. Taylor, I am sure that these tales will be chilling and spellbinding! "

9. The City in Darkness - Michael Russell
Constable £19.99

"Christmas 1939. Stefan Gillespie is abruptly called to Laragh, an isolated mountain town to investigate the case of a missing postman, believed killed, and Laragh's Guards are hiding something. Laragh is close to the lake where Stefan's wife drowned years earlier, and when events expose a connection between the missing postman and her death, Stefan realises it wasn't an accident, but murder. Russell’s novels are quite panoramic and this is no different from the previous two. Here he mingles the convoluted politics of Ireland with memories of the Spanish Civil War. I am greatly enjoying this book and am sure it will keep any entranced. "

10. Moskva - Jack Grimwood
Penguin £7.99

"It all starts on Christmas Eve 1985 with the discovery of the body of a young boy shaved from head to toe and missing the little finger from his right hand. New Years’ Eve 1985 and Army Intelligence Officer Tom Fox is newly stationed to Moscow. He has a brief encounter with the sulky step-daughter of the British embassador. Days later she has vanished and so starts an investigation that puts Fox in danger with the truth echoing down the decades. This is for those readers who are not hankering for a neatly wrapped mystery of a body found under the Christmas tree. This is far grittier stuff and not for those with a weak stomach. This one has stayed with me since reading it at the beginning of the year. New out in paperback."