With Christmas less than a week away, I decided to repeat the search for new anthologies of Christmas mysteries I made two years ago and update my post about it from the www.themysteryplace.com forum. In 2010, the only new holiday anthology I found in print was Otto Penzler’s Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, a collection of stories originally produced as limited-edition pamphlets and offered to customers of the bookstore as Christmas gifts. This year, I discovered that the trade paperback of that collection had appeared since my last post on the subject (October 2011, Vanguard). Another paperback of an earlier hardcover edition worth mentioning is Candy Cane Murder (Kensington, 2011), featuring three novellas by Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine, and Leslie Meier. (The latter has contributed to EQMM). Also in 2011, Wildside Press brought together holiday tales from authors who include EQMM/AHMM contributors Ron Goulart, John Gregory Betancourt, and Liz Zelvin, in X is for Xmas: 10 Christmas Mysteries. 2012, however, comes up dry—at least as far as my Googling reveals. There are a number of individual holiday stories available electronically, but no new Christmas anthologies.
A decade ago, Christmas was as reliable a theme with anthology readers as cats; anthology publishers snapped up anything Christmas-themed. Perhaps that’s changed with the rise in popularity of the noir anthology. Not that noir and Christmas don’t go together at all, but the great majority of Christmas mysteries, at both novel and short-story length, are whodunits, and they tend, stylistically, toward the cozy end of the spectrum. There’s scarcely a big name in the world of the traditional mystery who hasn’t, at one time or another, written a Christmas short story or novel, and most of those books remain in print. There’s at least one collection of Christmas short stories by Simenon in reissue; Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas seems to get reprinted every few years; Anne Perry has penned a whole series of Christmas mysteries (the latest, A Christmas Garland, released by Ballantine on October 30, 2012); and Mary Higgins Clark has collaborated with daughter Carol Higgins Clark on a series of Christmas suspense novels. Lists that will guide you to other notable Christmas mysteries can be found at several Web sites, including www.cozy-mystery.com and www.goodreads.com.
It’s easy to see why Christmas would appeal to mystery writers. There’s such a contrast between the conviviality and good cheer assailing one at every turn and the stresses that underlie the season. Just the kind of dramatic opposition a writer needs; and isn’t it also one of the governing principles of cozy writing that murder should occur in a setting in which it’s neither normal nor expected? Then there’s the fact that Christmas is rife with secrets: presents that are meant to be a surprise; kids trying to discover what’s been hidden away and perhaps uncovering some dangerous adult secrets along the way.
There’s also the similarity between the traditional country-house setting used by writers of mystery’s golden age and the ordinary household at Christmas time: the family and other guests all closed in together (especially if there’s a good snowstorm); a little naughtiness under the mistletoe; a few offensive guests tippling too much rum-laced eggnog. Pretty soon you’ve got some motive brewing, and as for ways to carry out a murder, all those Christmas treats with their concealing spices are a culinary killer’s delight.
A lot of the Christmas mysteries we see at short-story length are humorous or satirical; there’s a lot of room for that in the distance that exists between the ideal of Christmas and its frequent reality. Others stories are, in a spirit truer to the holiday, redemptive in tone. This year half of our holiday issue (January 2013) consists of Christmas or New Year’s stories, starting with Peter Lovesey’s whodunit about a traditional seasonal treat, the mince pie, and continuing with bell ringers, disaffected suburbanites, and, finally, a New Year’s ghost. They’ll give you a good idea of the range of stories the season inspires.
You also won’t want to miss episode 40 in our podcast series, “A Good Man of Business,” the Christmas story that won last year’s Robert L. Fish Award for best short story by a new writer. Its author, David Ingram, not only does the podcast’s reading, he composed and performed the accompanying music.
If I’ve missed any new holiday anthologies, I hope readers of this blog will write and mention them. This would also be a good time—with just five shopping days left!—to let others know what your favorite Christmas mystery novels and stories are, so that they can find their way into someone’s Christmas stocking.
We will be taking a two-week break from posting new articles on this site, returning on January 9th.
In the meantime, here’s wishing all of our readers holidays full of merriment, (gentle) mischief, and a little mystery! —Janet Hutchings, EQMM
Virtually every year at this time I re-read Ellery Queen’s The Finishing Stroke, published in 1957 but set during Advent in 1929. One of Queen’s finest books in my view.