Title: A Criminal’s Christmas
Book: Murder under The Christmas Tree
Authors: Ian Rankin, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, Arthur Conan Doyle, Val Mcdermid, Ellis Peters, Edmund Crispin, G. K Chesterton, Ngaio Marsh & Carter Dickson
Price: 299 (paperback)
Publisher: Profile Books
Winter is that time of the year when the world rejoices under Christmas trees and mistletoes. There is warmth in the cold air and our hearts are rank with the spirit of Christmas. It is that time of the year when Children get presents and almost everyone has a smile upon their face. But what if darkness comes along, fear runs amok and Death spreads its fiery wings across the many people aloof of its presence. What if the Murky Man at the Christmas party isn’t here to offer you a present but to steal your necklace instead? The result is a criminal investigation to find Whodunit.
‘Murder under the Christmas Tree’ is one such compilation of ten short stories, all in the backdrop of Christmas. It boasts of a long list of Authors that have contributed immensely to the genre of detective novels. It has the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle who created the Sherlock Holmes series. His story titled ‘The Adventures of the Blue Carbuncle’ has the brilliant Sherlock Holmes himself in another one of his mysterious cases. Holmes hasn’t much of evidence to work with except a Hat and a dead Goose, and what he infers from them is unbelievable. But after his explanation his inferences make complete sense. Val McDermid’s ‘A Traditional Christmas’ is a whodunit. Diana and her girlfriend make a trip to Amberley to enjoy a traditional Christmas with Diana’s family, but after spending a few romantic days, some cracks in this traditional family emerge, until one stormy night, they encounter the dead body of Edmund, Diana’s brother.
Dorothy L Sayers offers ‘The Necklace of Pearls’, which is the tale of Sir Septimus Shale, who offers his daughter Margarita a pearl every year on Christmas Eve. The twenty first pearl was the occasion of a special ceremony. But the ceremony takes an unceremonious turn when the celebrated Pearl necklace is stolen.
G.K. Chesterton’s ‘The Invisible Man’ is an intriguing Whodunit, where the author goes back to his favourite Sleuth, Father Brown to solve a ghastly crime committed by an invisible man. The book also has contributions by other authors who have made the detective fiction genre famous. This involves Ian Rankin, Ngaio Marsh, Carter Dickson, Margery Allingham, Ellis Peters and Edmund Crispin.
The detective fiction stories primary interest is to invoke the curiosity of the reader. This form of storytelling involves giving out hints and directions laid out by the author throughout the text. Many times they tend to lead the reader in a different direction, pointing towards a character that isn’t guilty of the crime. Sometimes they are like puzzles that need to be added together to come to a conclusion, which is an unpredictable one. Ronald Knox provides the following explanation “a detective story must have as its main interest the unravelling of a mystery; a mystery whose elements are clearly presented to the reader at an early stage in the proceedings, and whose nature is such as to arouse curiosity, a curiosity which is gratified at the end.” Many of the stories in ‘Murder under the Christmas tree’ follow the rules of detective fiction and raise the curiosity of the reader.
The book has many notable characters like Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, Inspector Rebus and Brother Cadfael and also has three of the four female writers who were called the ‘Queens of Crime’ in the golden age of detective novels (1920’s and 1930’s), which involves Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Many of the authors are British but some are from Scotland, New Zealand and America.
‘Murder under the Christmas tree’ has ten different stories with ten different authors, and since most of these stories are from the Golden age of detective novels i.e. the 20’s and 30’s its tone and language is not contemporary. How many of these stories, even though they’re classics, would be relevant to today’s reader is a question. Ian Rankin and Val Mcdermid do add a touch of contemporary writing to the mix though.
The book has Christmas in its setting throughout but there is nothing Merry about it for its characters. The mysteries keep unfolding in locked rooms, under mistletoes with Invisible men attempting to look for persons or things unknown. The sleuths are wise and solve complex puzzles. Sometimes the revelation may chill the spine and make the implausible plausible. But in the end the Christmas crimes are solved, ten times over.