“Murder, Mayhem and Mistletoe” (by Elizabeth Elwood)

With Christmas less than two weeks away, Elizabeth Elwood is about to debut in EQMM with her story “Ghosts of Christmas Past” (January/February 2018—on sale December 19). Although she is new to EQMM, she is not new to mystery writing, having authored five books in the Beary series, the most recent of which is The Devil Gets His Due and Other Mystery Stories. Before turning to mystery writing, the British-born Canadian author spent many years performing with music and theater groups and singing in the Vancouver Opera chorus. She is also the creator of twenty marionette musicals for Elwoodettes Marionettes and a playwright with four plays produced in the U.S. and Canada, the most recent, Body and Soul, the winner of two Community Theatre Coalition awards and the recipient of two additional nominations. As you’ll see from this post, she is also a great reader, with some excellent suggestions for your holiday reading!—Janet Hutchings

Why is it that crime writers love to combine the Season of Peace and Goodwill with a juicy murder mystery? Incongruous themes? Not really, when you consider how psychologists expound on the subjects of anxiety, tension, and depression at Christmas. The web abounds with sites that offer tips on how to avoid stress during the festive season. It’s the time of year when families come together, whether the individual members like each other or not. There is an expectation that the feuds be buried, or at least suspended, no matter how much resentment might be simmering under the surface. One is conscious of obligations to others, whether or not the will is there to follow through. There are gifts to be purchased, which stretch budgets that may already be out of control. People who are alone feel lonelier; those who are inundated with relatives feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Such a lot of smoldering emotions for a crime writer to plunder.

As if the turbulence of family relations was not sufficient to tempt a mystery writer, Christmas also provides a wealth of opportunity for atmospheric settings. What could be more ‘cozy’ than firelight flickering in the hearth and snow falling outside the window? What can be more chilling than a black winter night with only the soft beam from a streetlamp lighting footsteps in the snow? What possibilities for sinister disguise lie in the cross-dressing of a Christmas pantomime? What great opportunities for the evil-minded are presented at those parties and dinners where food abounds and glasses and plates are often left unattended. No wonder mystery writers can’t resist creating a Christmas dilemma for their detectives to solve!

Christmas mysteries have been around for a long time. Charles Dickens certainly knew how to wring drama out of the Christmas season, and what a trend he began. Sherlock Holmes solved the puzzle of a goose that provided a lot more than Christmas dinner; G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown recovered “The Flying Stars,” diamonds that disappeared at a Christmas party; Hercule Poirot’s Christmas included a body in a locked room; Ngaio Marsh produced a corpse that was Tied up in Tinsel; Jessica Fletcher indulged in A Little Yuletide Murder; and Rumpole has a whole book of Christmas stories. Even PD James fans received an unexpected present last year when four of her seasonal stories were published after her death under the title The Mistletoe Murder. There are many anthologies too, such as Christmas Stalkings or Murder Under the Mistletoe, books that feature a host of stories by writers such as Margery Allingham, Peter Lovesey, Reginald Hill, Charlotte MacLeod, Patricia Moyes, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Current authors continue the trend. The detectives in Deborah Crombie’s compelling novel, And Justice There is None, mingle Christmas shopping with the investigation of a particularly brutal pair of murders; Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks suffers through a Blue Christmas; and Anne Perry has written an entire series of Christmas novellas, as have M.C. Beaton and Vicky Delany. Mary Higgins Clark, with her daughter, Carol, has also produced a set of seasonal mysteries and Charles Todd took a break from the Inspector Rutledge series to publish a holiday tale called The Walnut Tree. The list goes on and on.

Giving books as Christmas gifts has always been an important part of our family tradition. The other tradition that we love revolves around theatre and children’s entertainment. For more than twenty years, my husband and I worked our way through December performing marionette shows at New Westminster’s Bernie Legge Theatre and the Burnaby Village Museum, but finally, this year, we are taking a well-deserved break. So what am I going to do with all this extra time at Christmas? Our holiday season will include a visit to the Vagabond Players pantomime, a trip to historic Fort Langley to enjoy their holiday displays; leisurely shopping excursions in downtown Vancouver instead of rushed dashes to the mall; and much more time for visiting with friends and family. Last, but definitely not least, I am going to enjoy a relaxing time sitting by the Christmas tree and reading the deliciously cozy mystery stories that I put on my Christmas wish list—firelight flickering, snow drifting down outside the window, and the mysteries only within the pages of my book. A Merry Christmas indeed.

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