by Vicki Cameron
There is no escaping the Christmas holiday season. It surrounds us with advertising tinsel, fills us with fancy cooking, smothers us in sentimental thoughts. World leaders talk about peace while comic strip characters wrestle with Christmas trees.
In the Western world, Christmas is a time for giving gifts. Deck the malls with throngs of shoppers. Hark the herald hucksters sing, let us toys to the children bring.
Mystery author P.G. Wodehouse recommends the giving of something shiny. He says the shinier a gift is, the more it is thought to have cost, and thus the better the giver looks in the eyes of the receiver. Wodehouse suggests books are excellent gifts, as their covers are always shiny.
Maybe you will be lucky enough to receive a brand new mystery novel, or an anthology of mystery short stories this year. Maybe some thoughtful person will wrap for you a shiny Christmas mystery, a murder in tinsel, crime with sleighbells. Christmas mystery stories, with their twists and hidden clues, are as much fun to unwrap as Christmas gifts.
Why do writers chose to set murder and crime stories in this happy holiday season?
First, there is the cast of stock characters, well known to all — Santa, the ghosts of other Christmases, the three Wise Men, the shepherds, and the main players in the Nativity scene. These characters need no introduction. They come equipped with a backstory. They can be tinkered with, shaped into the unexpected, given an evil underbelly. Well, maybe not the Holy Family, but all the rest are fair game.
Especially Santa. Now here’s a character begging to be given center stage in a murder story. He’s disguised, face and figure. He carries a sack, perfect for concealing stolen goods. He’s expected to show up in strange places late at night. He is never turned away.
Second, Christmas gatherings of friends and kin are often riddled with tensions. When a mid-sized group of people collects under one roof because they must, ill feelings can step over to the dark side quicker than you can say “koshed with a roasted chestnut.”
Some authors pay only lip service to Christmas, mentioning it in passing while they get on with the story. Others sew Christmas in to the story so tightly the story could not possibly take place if it weren’t Christmas.
For your enjoyment, here are gifts of Christmas short stories written by three wise authors of today. Bill Pronzini‘s Nameless Detective runs into the department store Santa’s worst nightmare in “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Marcia Muller‘s Sharon McCone searches for a runaway teen in “Silent Night.” Ed Hoch takes you back to the first Christmas in “The Three Travellers.”
All of the classic mystery authors tried a Christmas mystery or two. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle trotted out his famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, through the cold London streets at Christmas in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” Well into her eighties, Agatha Christie produced what her publishers called ‘a Christie for Christmas’ every year, including “Murder For Christmas,” featuring Hercule Poirot. Humorous short story writer Damon Runyon shows Christmas at the speakeasy in “Dancing Dan’s Christmas.” Four classic Christmas mysteries are brought to you at this website.
A few choice classics have been displayed here under the Mystery tree, to save us all from trudging through the out-of-print book racks. Tuck into a wingback chair with a hot cup of tea and a box of Christmas shortbread, and enjoy.