RogerBW's Blog

Christmas Stalkings, Charlotte Macleod 29 August 2019

1991 Christmas-themed mystery anthology. Thirteen stories deal with crime (mostly murder) at, or themed on, Christmas.

  • "Counterfeit Christmas" (Charlotte MacLeod) is a Peter Shandy piece, and as in the novels of MacLeod's I've reviewed recently the crime is mostly downplayed in favour of the quirky people. Enjoyable but very slight.

  • "The Running of the Deer" (Reginald Hill) is a tale of Joe Sixsmith, West Indian comedy PI (who rattles off a series of observations about his client, only to be told "no, that's my brother") sent to a country house over Christmas to look into the local lamping gang. It's frankly heavy-handed in its treatment of racism, and Sixsmith jumps to the correct conclusion without sharing his evidence with the reader.

  • "Liz Peters, PI" (Elizabeth Peters, the author of the Amelia Peabody series among others) casts the author herself as a private investigator, and does an effective job of combining humour with a real investigation.

I work out of my house because it's more convenient; I mean, hauling a word processor and printer around with you gets to be a drag. I'm a mystery writer. It's a dirty job, and nobody really has to do it. I do it because it's preferable to jobs like embalming and mucking out stables. They say a writer's life is a lonely one. That's a crock of doo-doo. I've got enough of a rep so that people come to me. Too darned many of them, but then that's the way it goes in my business. Too darned many people. You could say the same thing about the world in general, if you were philosophically inclined. Which I am.

  • "Angels" (Medora Sale) has a murder at a school play; the technicalities are interesting, and there are some good people here, but there's a weird lack of protagonist (two people whom I believe to be her series protagonists solve the mystery, but don't get much of the narrative time). It's good enough that I'll give her first novel a try, though.

"Do you suppose they've arrested [X] as well?"

"I hope so," said [Y] with an enormous yawn. "Then I won't have to mark her essay on George Eliot over the holidays."

  • "The Only True Unraveller" (John Malcolm) is less of a mystery and more of an excuse for Gilbert and Sullivan trivia – enjoyable in itself but inconsequential, and I didn't think much of the protagonist, who turns an obvious accidental death into a concealed body for no good reason. Might still give his novels a try.

  • "The January Sale Stowaway" (Dorothy Cannell) is a tale of hiding in a department store, told at a distance. It's pleasing but again very slight, perhaps taking the "cozy" label a bit too far.

  • "The Santa Claus Caper" (Bill Crider) has a Comedy Romantic Triangle, which doesn't work well, and a too-obvious plot.

  • "Family Christmas" (Patricia Moyes) is an effective twist on the miserly tyrant and his grasping children, even if the murderer's ignorance of a key fact is a bit implausible. There's a beautiful wistful sadness here that I don't often see. I'll look for more from this author.

  • "Miss Melville Rejoices" (Evelyn E. Smith) is an odd piece, where the protagonist is a murderess (only of bad people, of course) and in this case not even guilty of the actual killing. Charming in its way, but I don't want to read more.

  • "Two In The Bush" (Eric Wright) is a tale of crime planned and executed; it fits rather oddly among the others, and has an air of sentimental boozing and punch-ups that I don't really enjoy.

  • "The Fabulous Nick" (Mickey Friedman) is narrated by Father Christmas, who (finding a letter from a child telling him to Stay Away) takes it on himself to solve a theft and clear, well, his own name. Mildly enjoyable, but no more.

  • "A Political Necessity" (Robert Barnard) is another planning-of-crime story; you know from the start that it's going to go wrong, and the only question is how. Nasty and effective.

  • "Fruitcake, Mercy, And Black-eyed Peas" (Margaret Maron) is self-consciously folksy writing of poor black people by a white person. It may even be authentic but it sits wrong as well as lacking fun.

As one would expect, it's a very mixed batch, but there were enough good stories in here that I'm glad to have read it.

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