Christmas and murder really shouldn’t go together. It’s like peanut butter and pickles or something else that should never, ever be combined. But it also makes sense. Family gatherings are where everyone knows a bit too much about each other, and there are memories of the deepest loyalties and deepest betrayals. All of these mysteries deal with family gatherings gone wrong. And each one is delightful. (I came across a few that weren’t delightful; they did not make the list.)
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
Simeon Lee gathers his mostly estranged family for Christmas. Hoping the verbally and emotionally abusive patriarch has grown sentimental in his old age, they gather, only to find that the old man is baiting them to fight about the will. When Simeon is found dead, there is no shortage of suspects and Hercule Poirot must determine if the motivation was money or hatred. As a mystery, this is a 10/10 with twists, turns, and family drama. As a Christmas story, it isn’t the most festive on the list.
Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron
Part of a mystery series featuring Jane Austen as an amateur sleuth, Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas follows Jane and the Austen family as they celebrate the Christmas season at an estate named the Vyne. After Jane’s first evening at the Vyne, one of her fellow guests leaves early, as he is on his way to deliver the recently signed Treaty of Ghent. However, his horse immediately returns without him and the remaining guests find the man murdered and the treaty missing. Jane can only conclude that one of their party is a murderer. This is a book intended for readers who are Regency lovers first and cozy mystery lovers second.
The Mistletoe Murder by PD James
This short story collection was the best surprise of this reading list. Being a fan of complicated mysteries with multiple subplots and fields of red herrings, I wasn’t so sure about reading mysteries in short story form. I was surprised at how satisfying these stories were and just how much James was able to do with both character and plot twists in such a short space. The title story was the best of the group and the ending was just so, so perfect. While these were all originally published as Christmas stories, only two felt truly Christmassy to me and the two others . . . mildly wintry. In spite of this, this collection is strongly recommended.
A Christmas Party (Envious Casca) by Georgette Heyer
Two elderly brothers, one a curmudgeon and the other a jolly fool, live together in an English manor. When one brother decides to invite the whole family to celebrate Christmas, it can only end in murder. Originally, I was going to claim The Mistletoe Murder as my favorite of the bunch. That was until I read this book. I didn’t go in with great expectations. Georgette Heyer was an author of Regency era novels, but she also published a few mystery novels, of which Envious Casca (later named A Christmas Party is one). I think I was expecting this one to be silly, but I was immediately drawn in. The humor and characterization was very Jane Austen, while the plot and twists were all Agatha Christie. I am definitely reading more of Georgette Heyer, and I plan to get this book trending on Twitter with #Won’tAnyoneConsiderNatsLumbago? and #GiveMaudHerBookBackYouBarbarians. (Join me on Twitter to assist my crusade!)
What’s on your reading list this holiday season?