This year, I am taking on The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, a 674 page tome containing 59 individual stories about the Christmas season. Conveniently, it’s broken up into blog-post sized sections. Here’s section six.
(Section 1, 2, 3 & 4, 5)
A Scary Little Christmas
- The Carol Singers, Josephine Bell - A well told tale. I liked the extensive picture of the victim before the real plot.
- Waxworks, Ethel Lina White - Creepy. I liked it, except for a hint of period-typical sexism.
- Cambric Tea, Marjorie Bowen - Weird pacing, weird ending, a bit deus ex machina.
- The 74th Tale, Jonathan Santlofer - First piece of true horror.
- The Uninnocent, Bradford Morrow - Decent tone, but unsatisfying. A bit ‘mystery for it’s own sake’.
- Blue Christmas, Peter Robinson - Nice vignette of melancholy and hope.
There’s a bit of everything in this section. The two that didn’t really work for me were "Cambric Tea" and "The Uninnocent". "Cambric Tea" is about a doctor called to the bedside of a man who believes his wife is poisoning him. The twist, of course, is that the wife is the doctor’s former lover. It has a slow pace and odd structure that hasn’t aged well, and the characters come out okay through no action of their own.
"The Uninnocent" and "The 74th Tale" are both portraits of dark characters from their side of the story, but The 74th Tale works better. The Uninnocent has an okay prose style, it’s about a woman looking back at a childhood marred by a belief that the ghost of their dead brother was causing her and her sister to commit awful acts. However, the payoff is kind of vague, and the story is left slightly too much of a mystery for my taste. The 74th Tale, meanwhile, has a creepy, steady build that you can’t look away from.
"Waxworks" is a fun story about a young ambitious newspaper woman who spends Christmas Eve in a supposedly haunted and cursed wax museum, and "The Carol Singers" is a solid investigation story. The only scary part of the latter is during the actual murder, the rest is first a detailed picture of the victim’s life, and then the story of how the killers are caught.
The standout in this section, though, was definitely the last story. "Blue Christmas" is about a police detective called in to oversee a missing person case on Christmas Eve. There’s something off about the family’s story, but the tale takes a turn into emotional crisis, when they find the missing woman perched on a high viaduct above train tracks. Detective Banks goes up to try to talk her away from the edge, and the story ends on a hopeful note, that sometimes people can change their unhappy lives, or at least try to be human for each other, even at Christmas.