A Surprise for Christmas and Other Stories Edited by Martin Edwards
A collection of twelve stories with a seasonal theme is always welcome, but this selection from Martin Edwards and the British Library Crime Classics series is very special for its variety. As pointed out in his Introduction to the book, there are some well known as well as some less famous authors represented here. The stories also vary in length from under ten pages to over eighty, which allow quite a range of effect, even if all are immensely entertaining. Some stories I recognised from similar collections, but all are good reads. The principle of entertainment is the main thing here; not intricate, clever plots but stories that attract and hold attention. I really enjoyed each story here, and found it difficult to put down. The separate introductions to each story by Martin Edwards are as ever informative, giving details of each author’s work and, where appropriate, the other name or names they wrote under. This book is a collection of real winter or Christmas gems, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
Catriona Louisa Pirkis tells of an early woman detective whose stories first appeared in 1893. Loveday Brooke is a young woman who works for a detective agency, and in this case is challenged to solve a country house mystery. It is a very tightly written story which reflects Lovejoy’s methods of quickly seizing the necessary details.Edwards points out that with no storytelling “Watson”, Loveday is “completely self – defining and self – determining”.
A well known writer, G.K. Chesterton, is seen in another country house mystery without Father Brown. Deeply unlikable characters meet their end in some stories, while in others mystery combines with mayhem, a haunted room with surprises. Some are very much of their time, the post war setting showing the effects of recent wars in at least two of the stories. My favourite story is also the longest, and it combines insight into a war blighted London, a disorientating fog, and a restless determination to find a missing loved one. “Give Me a Ring” by Anthony Gilbert is full of well drawn details that make up a story of near misses and the sort of situations that make the reader want to warn the characters of their danger. Although it includes a character the author uses in other short fiction, he does not dominate the story. Edwards reminds us that “Anthony Gilbert” is one of the pen names adopted by Lucy Malleson, and was her most successful. She also wrote as Anne Meredith, one of whose novels has been reprinted in the British Library series. This story builds the tension well, while including interesting comments on the significance of a young woman entering a public house.
This is a very entertaining and enjoyable selection of stories which mixes rare stories which have not been previously republished, through to classics of the genre. This book is a good introduction to the British Library Crime Classics series, which gives a good idea of the range in time and type of stories. It is an impressive read which I recommend.