Two seasonal books – Murder in Midwinter by Various authors, and Christmas Calamity at the Vicarage by Emily Organ

Sideways on, but I think you get the idea…

Murder in Midwinter by Various Authors

A collection of seasonal stories from various classic well known authors, this particular selection was published in 2020. This book has several tales that are set at Christmas, but they can certainly be read and enjoyed at other times as examples of very good writing. 

It includes writers who have featured in other collections from Profile Books; I was especially pleased to see Dorothy L. Sayers featured once more in a short story “The Queen’s Square”  that originally appeared in the 1933 collection “Hangman’s Holiday”, a country house mystery. As in other collections, there are contributions from Cyril Hare, Margery Allingham (Mr Campion) and an impressive story from Arthur Conan Doyle. Anthony Berkeley writes of mysterious motives and more. John Mortimer’s Rumpole has an eventful Christmas for once, and Ruth Rendall’s story of a would-be sleuth is startling in its domesticity. My favourite is undoubtedly Ellis Peter’s classic “A Present for Ivo”, which looks at the power of books in a completely novel way…

As always it is difficult to sum up what each story is about without giving away the point of the story. I thought that each of these stories work very well in setting up the context of the action, the main characters, the nature of the mystery and the solving of the crime where appropriate. It is very difficult to establish and achieve so much in such a short narrative, while conveying special information which may be very linked to the story. Well known characters like Rumpole are well known for their idiosyncrasies so perhaps less character building has to be done, whereas introducing new characters as attempted by Ellis and Rendall needs a little more exploration. Each author is skilled at writing stories that sit well in their time context, and I can honestly say that I enjoyed each one. 

Christmas Calamity at the Vicarage by Emily Organ

This novella is a super introduction to two redoubtable private detectives, Mrs Churchill and her assistant Miss Pemberley who have the privilege of living in an English village at some indefinable point in the twentieth century. This particular story is set just before Christmas when as expected from the title they are invited to the Vicarage for a Christmas party. The ever hungry Mrs Churchill is enticed to attend by the offer of a famous “mince pie mountain” prepared by the cook as well as the entertainment of recitations and the orphanage choir. Copious amounts of sherry are taken and the behaviour of some of the village characters are accordingly affected. 

The very hungry Churchill is dismayed when she cannot find the whereabouts of the mince pie mountain or indeed any other food. Instead she gets rightly upset to discover the choirmaster shouting at the perfectly competent singers for their performances, and frustrated when trapped in a long performance of “A Christmas Carol”. Fortunately for the intricacies of the story this is the sort of old Vicarage that has many rooms, exits and entrances, so the discovery of a body throws the local police into some confusion and excitement. Soon Churchill and Pemberly find themselves in hot water and discover that proving their innocence can be harder than tracking down the real culprits. 

As cosy murder mysteries go, this book follows many formulas of an enclosed group of people in a large house that holds many secrets. The official police investigation is at best incompetent, and yet the talented amateurs are struggling to prove their version of events. It is a funny book which depends heavily on characters and expectations, as well as a small badly behaved dog. I found it an amusing book which I recommend as full of interesting ideas and funny incidents, though probably not aimed at the serious crime enthusiast.