Grab a warm blanket and a cup of tea, before diving into these Christmas stories from the Queen of Crime. P.D. James’ four festive tales will keep you up at night.
This is the second book on my list of mysteries to read in December and one I’ve been hugely excited about. When I was a teenager, P.D. James was one of the few mystery authors stocked by our little local library, so I came to enjoy her Adam Dalgliesh detective stories.
The crime writer, Val McDermid, is also a fan. She has written a foreword, praising P.D. James’ witty subversions of established mystery conventions.
I find P.D. James’ style of writing, traditional but compelling. Some of her stories deal with viewpoints and attitudes that (thankfully!) rarely exist in the UK today and might be uncomfortable for modern readers. This was especially true of the second story in this series, which featured a protagonist who set my teeth on edge. If anyone else has read A Very Commonplace Murder, please let me know your opinions in the comments below!
The Mistletoe Murder
The first book in this Christmas compilation is a traditional country house mystery. The narrator is a seventy-year-old woman who is unable to forget a grisly murder that took place fifty years ago.
In the Christmas of 1940, the protagonist – a young war widow – made a holiday visit to her estranged grandmother. An unexplained death shattered the festivities and the killer was never caught.
This is a chilling story with a wonderful twist. Like every mystery in this book, it’s also short enough to finish while you wait for the Christmas turkey to cook.
A Very Commonplace Murder
A disturbing little tale that made my skin crawl. A voyeuristic, chauvinistic office worker witnesses an incident that could clear a murder suspect’s name. Will he speak out or leave the accused to stand trial? Unpleasant as it is, this story is masterfully written.
The Boxdale Inheritance
Like the first story in this collection, The Boxdale Inheritance could be described as a ‘cold case’. Detective Adam Dalgliesh is asked by his godfather to investigate a decades-old murder; he wants to know who was really behind his late grandfather’s untimely death. Dalgliesh unravels a twisting story of family jealousy and blackmail.
The Twelve Clues of Christmas
You can never go wrong with an opening scene that depicts a detective driving his classic car through the snow. Throw in a country house, warring family and a corpse with Christmas pudding in its mouth, and you have all the ingredients for a wintry murder mystery. P.D. James manages to create a festive classic in less than thirty pages.
Verdict: If you like in-depth crime stories with drawn out plots The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories probably isn’t the book for you. P.D. James has broken these tales into bite-sized chunks. Any one of them could be read in an hour or less on Christmas morning. As always, the writing is descriptive, and the situations are gruesomely chilling.