Eleven stories, eleven classics, and surely something for everyone in this book of crime classics brought out in time for Christmas by the British Library. As Martin Edwards points out in his excellent introduction to this volume in the Crime Classics series, the short story is a format well suited to crime tales. There is certainly no room for lengthy descriptions, character examinations and guessing at motive when the story is only a few pages long; as Edwards points out, every word must count. In these stories every crime is set up, executed and solved (or the solution is presented) brilliantly. There are no loose ends, empty speculation or confusion, but that is not to say that there is any lack of impetus in these tales of death and double dealing. They are all seriously enjoyable tales, often more thematically winter than actual Christmas events, and I was glad to receive a copy of this, the twelfth collection of short stories in this series.
Another fascinating element of this book is the brief introduction to each author written by Edwards, giving biographical details and the place of the story in the entire canon of writer’s work. It also points out where the story originally appeared, and how difficult it may have been to read it without this book. The author’s range from Baroness Orczy, of Scarlet Pimpernel fame, with one of her “Lady Molly” stories, a woman apparently gifted with all sorts of intuitive skills appreciated by Scotland Yard in solving murder. While Jepson’s story “By the Sword” sounds grand, it actually concerns a country house mystery of multiple motives. The eponymous story concerning a Christmas card has a large cast, an effective detective, and a railway journey affected by the wintery weather. The other stories cover a large range of situations; distantly described crimes from the oddest of motives, observations on families and relationships, and a complex tale of jewel robbery. Murder is rarely a straightforward issue in these tales, elegant schemes replace brutality, natural justice often wins out.
This book has some very welcome short stories by authors that have been largely ignored since the time of their greatest popularity; it is only with the start of this series that writers such as John Bude and E.C.R. Lorac have been rediscovered and enjoyed in the novels reprinted by the British Library. As with any collection of this nature from different authors written at different times, some novels work better than others and will appeal more to a particular reader differently at different times. However, the stories are all of a high quality and will appeal to anyone who is a fan of the Golden Age of Detection writings. Despite the festive title, these stories are not so Christmas based that they can only be read at that time of year; this book would make an excellent gift as every recipient would find stories that would appeal in this collection. While some crime novels are more suited to one reader or another, this collection has a broader range. I would recommend it has a gift or as a treat for anyone interested in mysteries written in a different age but with themes familiar even today.
Life in the Vicarage at this time is busy. The weekend was dominated by a display of nativity/ crib scenes in one of the churches. Happily we actually had more than fifty sets in the end, ranging from the tiny in a jewelry case to a large set of antique figures. Over a hundred and seventy people came to see them, including lots of small people who enjoyed spotting the main characters and various animals. It was a good day but a bit tiring. Thankfully virtually all of them have been collected intact; none of them had a huge monetary value but many had been in families for years, with children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren expecting to see them at home. No two were the same, but I am still looking for one we bought in September and put away safely…