Murder on a Winter’s Night – Ten Classic Crime Stories edited by Cecily Gayford

Murder on a Winter’s Night – Ten Classic Crime Stories

Every year a book of ten classic tales from Profile books appears, and they are a welcome little treat featuring Golden Age classics from authors such as Margery Allingham mixed with one or two more contemporary tales from the likes of Mark Billingham. Some authors reappear in most of the volumes if not all, such as Arthur Conan Doyle in a chilling non Sherlock Holmes story. My favourite treat is the Dorothy L Sayers story, which is a most satisfying tale in this particular book. Not all of them are set at or focus on Christmas, which is worth knowing, indeed they are more concerned with cold and dark conditions, when everything seems different and more challenging. There is a mixture of detectives, both police and more amateur, and a few where there is a realisation that a crime has been committed. There are a variety of styles, from the sad to the amusing, and sometimes bordering on surreal. All are worth reading, and while some are less surprising than others, all are well written examples of truly classic crime stories where so much is accomplished in a very little space. 

The first story by Cyril Hare is a small gem of surprise, whereas the second by HC Bailey is more detailed. Allingham’s story relates a tale of Mr Campion being impressed, while Julian Symon’s story is a festive treat. “The Motive” by G D H and M Cole is clever, while Billingham’s story is very Christmas based. Conan Doyle’s tale is disturbing and perhaps the least festive, and a second tale called “The Motive”, this time by Ronald Knox, is a lawyer based story. The final story by Edmund Crispin is a clever little tale, as may be expected from a writer known for his interesting twists. My favourite story is the longest in the collection and features the ever popular (at least in my house) Lord Peter Wimsey who is enjoying a country retreat. It is concerned with night time apparitions and a few mysteries that appeal to the gentleman sleuth. There is a distinctive atmosphere of darkness and dampness in this story, as well as some interesting surprises even for the determined Wimsey. Big houses, a village church and country lanes are the setting for a twisty tale beautifully written as ever. 

This is a worthy book of seasonal tales in this gentle series. It is winter crime without the gore, where clever suggestion and mature puzzles dominate the narratives. This is a book that will suit Golden Age of detection devotees and those who enjoy well crafted tales equally, by authors who have stood the tests of time. It is another enjoyable book in this series which I recommend which can be read in any order by many people.    

Murder on Christmas Eve – Classic mysteries for the Festive Season and short concentration spans!

Image result for Murder on Christmas Eve - Gayford

This is one of those books that, despite the title, can be read at any point over the festive season as the stories are not completely linked to any one day. Edited by Cecily Gayford, they are winter tales where the weather is more significant than festivities. These are gentle mysteries that do not always feature a murder; where they do they are not gory tales or frightening thrillers, just elegant or funny mysteries, showing the best of their various authors talents. Such authors as Ellis Peters, Ian Rankin, and Val McDermid are at their best here, with representative little stories of deception, loyalty and desperation, all in keeping with their full novels.

This collection works so well because the mix of authors and stories mean that there is always something to draw the reader in, and often provide a satisfying collection. While Rebus ponders at a Dickens inspired party, McDermid looks at the loyalty of spouses. The classic writers such as John Dickson Carr present an impossible murder, and Margery Allingham’s Mr Campion gets a Christmas mystery. My favourite is the ‘detective’ cat that Ellis Peters depicts behaving in a very convincing way to help solve a nasty murder. Another gem is a very funny missing manuscript tale, a parody of hardened detectives with a hint of adult humour.

As with any collection of stories by different authors, some stories appeal more than others. The quality of all these stories is high, and they are classics of their various types. This is an ideal book for gentle consumption in those days when a full mystery novel seems too much, but puzzles still beckon. Not just for Christmas, but for the winter season.

This is certainly an easier and quicker read than the enormous book that Northernvicar was sent out for as part of my Christmas present (he collects railway dvds of an incredibly obscure nature, so all is fair). “Deadlier” is a collection of one hundred of the best crime stories written by women, edited by Sophie Hannah. I think I may have to review it before I have read all 100, but those I have found so far are classics. It should keep me quiet for a while…