C.H.B. Kitchin

Crime at Christmas

""...I felt a strange pull towards this book and found myself lapping it up in large doses." "


Malcolm Warren has been invited to spend the Christmas festivities at the home of one of his biggest clients, Quisberg. The huge rambling manor near Hampstead Heath is a spectacular building, but even upon his arrival, Warren begins to feel uncomfortable. His client and another guest, Dr. Green are seen outside whispering in earnest before Quisberg drives off to London for an overnight meeting, anticipated to be back Christmas morn. Warren quickly senses underlying strains amongst the fractured family and their random guests, a strange evening that is brought to a rapid conclusion when Warren falls and hurts his arm during an impromptu round of 'musical chairs'. It isn't until Christmas morning that Warren finds one of the guests did not make it through the evening and is found to have suffered a horrible death. Despite the case being placed in the capable hands of Inspector Parris, Warren just can't help himself becoming involved and starting his own investigation.

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I have been aware of this book for many years but never got round to it (there are only so many Christmas mystery books you can read in December), so a re-issue from Faber was perfect to knuckle down and cross this one off the list. I have seen differing reviews and knew how Kitchin wraps up this particular book. Malcolm Warren who appeared in Kitchin's more famous novel, 'Death of My Aunt', has been invited to Hampstead for Christmas. And it turns out to be utterly miserable with a family of what can only be described as spoiled siblings who are utterly contemptible. There are really no redeeming factors for any of the players in this drama and Warren observes more than once he wishes he could just pack up and leave. I, for one, would have been out the door preferring to spend Christmas alone rather than stay in a house with people who were about as welcoming as an angry scorpion. The story goes along the same vein as many Golden Age mysteries produced in the 1930's, but this stands out as Kitchin is remarkable at characterisation. Each individual is drawn perfectly and nobody is presented as a simple 'plot device' to drive on the puzzle of this book. The book ends with a strange interview between Malcolm Warren and an anonymous 'reader' to explain a few points of the book in detail. (I promise this is not giving away the plot!). I cannot understand why Kitchin felt this was the best way to wrap everything up, but you do get the feeling towards the penultimate chapter that things had got a little too fantastic (part of the solution involves a wind instrument played on Hampstead Heath) and that Kitchin had dug himself in to a bit of a hole. Saying that, I felt a strange pull towards this book and found myself lapping it up in large doses. Although the conclusion may frustrate some, this is still a well-written book of its time and I found it thoroughly enjoyable. If anything, I would suggest anyone who despairs of the normal family invasion at Christmas to read this and thank the stars you are not in the same boat as poor Malcolm Warren trapped in splendour with the Quisberg family!

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