Friday, December 30, 2016

Short Stories with a Christmas Theme

Last year I started reading stories from The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited and with an introduction by Otto Penzler. It is one of those huge books: around 650 pages with two columns per page, and 59 stories. (That is how many I counted, some descriptions say 60 stories.) So it will be a few years before I finish reading all of them.

The stories are divided up into groups:

  • A Traditional Little Christmas
  • A Funny Little Christmas
  • A Sherlockian Little Christmas
  • A Pulpy Little Christmas
  • An Uncanny Little Christmas
  • A Scary Little Christmas
  • A Surprising Little Christmas
  • A Modern Little Christmas
  • A Puzzling Little Christmas
  • A Classic Little Christmas

So far I have read mainly stories from the first section of Traditional Christmas stories. My favorites in that section are:

"The Butler's Christmas Eve" by Mary Roberts Rinehart

First published in her short story collection Alibi for Isabel (New York, Farrar & Rinehart, 1944). I enjoyed this for the wartime setting. It was sort of a spy story, but it was really about a family and friendships, and I liked it a lot.

"The Adventure of the Dauphin's Doll" by Ellery Queen

First published in the December 1948 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I did not expect to like it as much as I did, but I was charmed with the description of the Queen family Christmas dinner preparations.
"So it was that when Attorney John S. Bondling called, Inspector Queen was in his kitchen, swathed in a barbecue apron, up to his elbows in fines herbes, while Ellery, behind the locked door of his study, composed a secret symphony in glittering fuchsia metallic paper, forest-green moiré ribbon, and pine cones."
This was an impossible crime story. The solution seemed fairly obvious to me, but it was still fun to read. The best part is that the structure and the humor reminded of the episodes of the Ellery Queen TV show, starring Jim Hutton. This story is examined in more detail at Reading Ellery Queen and Cross Examining Crime.

“MoreThan Flesh and Blood” by Susan Moody

This was first published in A Classic Christmas Crime, edited by Tim Heald (London, Pavilion, 1995). I thought this was a very good story, and very dark. It is the story of a man who has finally found a long lost relative after a long search. It loosely has a Christmas theme, but it did not seem to fit into the Traditional Christmas story section at all.

"The Haunted Crescent” by Peter Lovesey

This one is from the section titled Uncanny Little Christmas stories. It was first published in Mistletoe Mysteries, edited by Charlotte MacLeod (NewYork, Mysterious Press, 1989). That is actually where I first read the story. The story is narrated by a man looking into the reported haunting of a house in Bath.
"The ghost was reputed to walk on Christmas Eve. Knowing of my interest, they had generously placed their house at my disposal. I am an ex-policeman, by the way, and it takes a lot to frighten me." 
It is not a scary ghost story but it does have a nice twist. Very enjoyable reading.

Several other stories that are in this book appeared in Silent Nights, which I reviewed last year. These are:
  • "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" by Arthur Conan Doyle 
  • "The Flying Stars" by G. K. Chesterton
  • "The Necklace of Pearls" by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • "The Case is Altered" by Margery Allingham
  • "Waxworks" by Ethel Lina White
  • "Cambric Tea" by Marjorie Bowen

Of those, my favorite was "Waxworks" by Ethel Lina White, which I discuss here.

And how could I forget to mention my favorite Christmas story: "Christmas Party" by Rex Stout, which is in the Classic Little Christmas section. I first read that in a collection of four novellas in the book And Four to Go.  It was first published in Collier's, January 4, 1957, as "The Christmas-Party Murder". I reviewed it here.


Anonymous said...

I really like the variety of different sorts of stories and authors, Tracy. Thanks for sharing.

TracyK said...

I wish I had time to read a few more Christmas short stories this year, Margot, but I will have fun with them next year.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, I like reading stories from anthologies though I have never read from a big book. I dip into them as and when the mood suits me, just as I read poetry. This has such a great lineup of writers and stories.

TracyK said...

I am getting to enjoy short stories more and more, Prashant. In December I bought an anthology of crime fiction short stories by women over the last century and have read a few of those recently.

Clothes In Books said...

Some goodies there: I like the REx Stout one very much. And I love the idea of a book that you are spinning out over the years!

TracyK said...

I like the idea of taking a few years to read all the stories, also, Moira. What is nice about a book of Christmas stories is that I have a reminder every year to get back to it.