Thursday, December 29, 2011


Christmas and Mysteries

Is there anything more satisfying on a blustery winter's eve than curling up with a good mystery? And a Christmas mystery at that?

Each year a new crop of Christmas crime novels and anthologies turns up on the shelves and I'm told they sell like the proverbial hotcakes. What is our fascination with this unlikely combination of joyous celebration and murder?

Vicki Cameron in an article for Mystery. Net a few years ago wrote:
"First, there is the cast of stock characters, well known to all -- Santa, the ghosts of other Christmases, the three Wise Men, the shepherds, and the main players in the Nativity scene. These characters need no introduction. They come equipped with a backstory. They can be tinkered with, shaped into the unexpected, given an evil underbelly. Well, maybe not the Holy Family, but all the rest are fair game.

Especially Santa. Now here's a character begging to be given center stage in a murder story. He's disguised, face and figure. He carries a sack, perfect for concealing stolen goods. He's expected to show up in strange places late at night. He is never turned away."

Ah hah. I happen to love short stories so I usually start the season by re-reading some of my favourites from Blood on the Holly, a splendid anthology edited by Caro Soles as well as a Folio Book called Christmas Crime Stories. This latter is a combination of old and new stories for the season. Then when the January issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine arrives (usually in early November) I devour those and often go back to some favourites from other years.

And each year I try out a new batch of Christmas novels. This year I discovered Alan Bradley's I Am Half Sick of Shadows. I've loved all the Flavia de Luce novels but this one has the added spice of being set in England during a blinding snowstorm. Bradley, a Canadian, places all his books in a post-war English village. His eleven-year-old heroine, Flavia has an encyclopedic knowledge of poisons and the nerve of a canal horse. Bradley admitted in a recent article in the Globe and Mail that he'd never actually been to the British Isles when he wrote the first Flavia novel. He found his inspiration from a unrelentingly British grandmother and plenty of reading and research.

I recommend I Am Half Sick of Shadows to anyone who loves a good Christmas mystery but now I’m running out of books and the season is far from over. Does anyone have a suggestion for me?

Sue Pike has published a couple of dozen stories and won several awards including an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story. Her latest, Where the Snow Lay Dinted appeared in the January issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Sue and her husband and an opinionated Australian Shepherd named Cooper spend the winter months in Ottawa and the rest of the time at a mysterious cottage on the Rideau Lakes.


  1. I'm with you on 'I am half sick of shadows'. What a wonderful holiday read. I galloped through it at full throttle like Flavia on Gladys (at a more congenial season for bicycling).

  2. If I may mention WInter of Secrets, the third Constable Molly Smith novel. Set in the snowy mountains of B.C. it begins on Christmas Eve and ends on New Year's Day. Egg nog is drunk, shortbread is eaten, turkey cooked, cops are called to scenes of slipping pedestrians and family fights. Lots and lots of skiing. And tragedy on the slopes.

  3. And if I may ... A Killer's Christmas in Wales by Elizabeth J Duncan was reviewed by Margaret Cannon in the Globe and Mail as "this year's best Yule mystery."

  4. Winter of Secrets was one of the first books I downloaded onto my new Kindle, Vicki. Loved it!

    And Elizabeth - thanks for the nudge. I've heard good things about this book and it has the added enticement of a Welsh setting (which must be as close as dammit to an English village.)