Tortuous tinsel: 10 crime books for Christmas

Ah, the good old Christmas season. A time of family, a time of goodwill, a time of heightened emotion and… sometimes… deadly passion. Christmas-themed crime fiction seems to be making a comeback, with many popular authors penning short stories and Amazon one-offs for the season. In the US it’s become a bit of a tradition for famous writers to write something for their fans in the holidays, and the rest of the world is starting to catch up. Here are 10 more books for you to try when you feel you have overindulged in roast turkey, pudding and wine.

Note – For the many among us who miss the great PD James, Faber has put together a delightful little Christmas present called The Mistletoe Murder. We will review this separately, but if that book gives you an appetite for other Christmas-themed crime fiction, there is plenty out there for all tastes…

1 – Crimson Snow edited by Martin Edwards
If you’re in the mood for Christmas short stories, Martin Edwards has edited an anthology of classic crime stories set in winter, mostly around Christmas. You can indulge in the short fiction of well known authors such as Margery Allingham or Edgar Wallace, or discover lesser-known Golden Age authors such as Christopher Bush or Fergus Hume. Another gem in the British Library’s rediscovery of vintage literature.
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2 – Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
No Golden Age compendium would be complete without this little treat: a locked-room mystery with a dysfunctional family gathering at a large country house for Christmas, and culminating in the murder of the tyrannical patriarch. Luckily, Hercule Poirot is on hand to bring matters to a satisfactory conclusion.
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3 – Maigret’s Christmas by Georges Simenon
From one great Belgian detective to one great French one, due to appear on our screens again on Christmas Day in the UK with Maigret’s Dead Man (see trailer below). However, Simenon is on top form in Maigret’s Christmas too with a holiday themed collection of nine stories. The author uses his customary wit and ability to describe psychology, setting and the everyday delights of a Parisian Christmas so well with just a few turns of phrase. The title story, in particular, will stick with readers, in which a bedridden seven-year-old girl insists that Father Christmas visited her room late at night and lifted up the floorboards.
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4 – A Christmas Secret by Anne Perry
Anne Perry can be relied upon to produce a Christmas novella with plenty of fine period detail every year. In this book, we find a newly-married couple, Dominic and Clarice Corde, arriving in a cold and snowy village to fill in as substitute vicar while the Rev Wynter is away on leave. The welcoming and cosy vicarage and the hospitable neighbours seem all too perfect, until they find out that the reverend has not gone on holiday after all. Something sinister is on the loose and the young couple find themselves in danger.
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5 – How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
Not strictly speaking a Christmas story, but the ninth novel in Penny’s much loved Inspector Gamache series starts in the idyllic Quebec village of Three Pines clad in a winter mantle of snow, replete with ice hockey games, hot chocolate and carol singing. The setting is as attractive as always, but is tangential to this story about the death of a woman once considered the most famous woman in Canada, and an epic battle between good and evil within the police ranks. Serious crime in a cosy setting would be the best description of Louise Penny’s work.
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6 – Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon
This classic murder mystery was a surprise bestseller when it was re-released in 2014. In a new twist to the country house murder mystery, and reminiscent of And Then There Were None, it tells the story of a group of travellers stuck on a train stranded by snow on Christmas Eve. Fearing that they may find themselves marooned all night, they decide to walk to the next station but on their way there come across an empty but welcoming house, with door open, dinner laid, kettle boiled and a fire on, but no-one seemingly at home. Attracted by the warmth and the mystery of the house, the passengers end up trapped in this remote location, with a murderer in their midst.
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7 – Murder for Christmas by Francis Duncan
Another recently rediscovered vintage murder mystery, this book achieved even more notoriety as virtually nothing was known about the author. Once more, we have the classic snowbound country house on Christmas Eve with an unlikely collection of guests all at odds with each other. Mordecai Tremaine is an amateur detective and local tobacconist, who cannot resist helping the police solve the murder of Santa Claus under the Christmas tree.
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8 – Deck the Halls by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark
The first collaboration between bestselling American suspense author Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, herself a prolific crime writer. This book, which has been adapted for TV, unites sleuths from the authors’ solo efforts (Carol contributes Regan Reilly and Mary contributes cleaning lady turned lottery winner Alvirah Meehan) and is a cheerful, entertaining kidnapping story, if not entirely plausible.
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9 – Dying for Christmas by Tammy Cohen
Christmas tales don’t have to be all historical or cosy. Cohen’s tale of an obsessed stalker, kidnap and torture will appeal to those who’ve had enough of festive bling and sentimentality. This is most definitely an anti-Christmas novel. Jessica Gold is being held captive by a stranger who tries to win her over with a series of increasingly bizarre gifts. A clever, dark, twisted way to reinterpret the Christmas carol The 12 Days of Christmas.
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10 – Merry Christmas, Alex Cross by James Patterson
Finally, for those who still crave some thrilling action scenes over the festive season, popular author James Patterson is treating his readers to a special bumper edition of high-octane interventions in this Christmas special. There are three cases that Alex Cross becomes involved in while trying to celebrate Christmas peacefully with his family: a small incident in a church; a domestic hostage situation in the suburbs; and a terrorist attack in Washington DC, all written in his trademark lean and mean style. This will provide page-turning entertainment when you have overindulged in roast turkey with all the trimmings.
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