Crime at Christmas by C.H.B. Kitchin – an excellent study of setting and character

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It is generally agreed that nothing can beat a good Golden Age Mystery at Christmas, and this 1934 novel reprinted in 2015 fills the bill admirably. A large house, with a group of ill assorted guests, a determined (amateur) detective, a murder or two and some diverting red herrings. Economic double dealings, mixed motives and unfulfilled romance are superbly realised in this little known but admirable novel. This tale is not confined to the house itself, but it is in the immediate environs that a mystery begins and deepens during a deeply trying Christmas for all concerned, but especially “the stockbroker sleuth, Malcolm Warren”. While this is not the most strongly plotted novel of its type, the characterisation and setting is so richly described that it is a thoroughly enjoyable read of its genre.

At the beginning of the book, Malcolm as narrator recalls a financial transaction in which he is instructed to buy shares on behalf of a Mr Quisberg. As he has a harmless and unspoken passion for Mrs Quisberg, and indeed is going to stay at the family home for Christmas, it becomes a very important transaction. When he arrives at the large Beresford Lodge in Hampstead he discover a full house, complete with servants and a resident nurse for a younger son. There are several adult children present as Mrs Quisberg has been married before, and they include a young woman, Amabel, with her gentleman friend, Dixon. Other guests include extrovert and expert Dr Green and another son, Clarence. A young male secretary, Harley, has brought his mother to stay for a night. An early tragedy means that the festivities are very subdued. There is much taking to sick beds and suspicion at least on Malcolm’s part, while the energetic Dr Green promises to remedy all difficulties. There is much observation of small incidents by Malcolm, and red herrings aplenty as another death occurs.

There are sometimes novels which so skilfully convey a setting that the reader feels as if they could successfully navigate around the house and garden as described, and this is one of those books. There are points at which it seems overwritten, and overly detailed, but essentially this is a book which takes the reader along very well. There is a previous story referred to in which Malcolm is also unwillingly involved in a murder investigation, and certainly he is a trusted part of the case with little fuss. This is a confidently written book, with a firm grip on plot and characters. It is not a spectacular mystery, but well fulfils the demands of the genre. It is a complex tale, but well controlled and the final chapter manages to tie up the loose ends. I enjoyed its clever insight into the various characters, and appreciated the fact that the deaths were causes of actual sorrow to some of the characters rather than just an elements in a puzzle or unfortunate events. I would recommend this book for any time of the year, because the Christmas timing is a convenient reason for getting people together rather than a vital part of the story. It is an entertaining and enjoyable book, with a skilful feel for setting and characters.


We managed to get to some shops today, and have started on the Christmas essentials. We have bought Christmas presents for a pair of Tortoises, goldfish, a pair of cats, and of course Selwyn, the Vicarage cat. He is very interested in the bag of gifts! Tomorrow morning we have some visitors who will help to clean and repaint the crib figures (the nativity figures on broomsticks for ease of story telling to a packed church three times) so I am hoping to still be able move through the hall…

If you are on twitter, follow #vicaragexmas for more details of our progress…