December days, when the dark comes early and stays late and the cold never leaves. When the damp seeps into my bones and the grey clouds fill the sky, louring like bad news waiting impatiently to be heard. On December days, books are my best refuge, transporting me to a world more festive in which I need do nothing but relax and listen.
For the rest of the month I’ll be escaping into the world of Christmas crime. This week I’ll be listening to a cosy Christmas mystery in the Cotswolds based around a pantomime turned lethal, reading a Golden Age Murder Mystery set in an English country house, and dipping into a collection of Christmas crime short stories written by all those English crime writers I’ve heard of but haven’t yet read.
‘Agatha Raisin And The Blood Of An Englishman’ by M. C. Beaton (2014)
M. C. Beaton is the best known nom de plume of Marion Chesney Gibbons (who also wrote as as Jennie Tremaine, Sarah Chester, Ann Fairfax, Charlotte Ward and under her maiden name, Marion Chesney). She died in December 2019 at the age of eighty-three, with more than 160 books to her name with about 100 of those being regency romances. Originally from Scotland, she moved to Oyster Bay, New York with her husband. She subsequently lived in Virginia and then New York City before returning to the Scottish Highlands, finally retiring to live in the English Cotswolds.
It was under the name M. C. Beaton that she created her two most famous characters: Hamish Macbeth, the Scottish Highlands’ least ambitious Police Sergeant and Agatha Raisin (early) retired PR guru turned Private Detective based in a small Cotswold village. Since his creation in 1985, Hamish Macbeth has been the lead in thirty-three novels. The thirty-fourth novel, ‘Death Of The Green-Eyed Monster’ is scheduled for posthumous publication in February 2021. 1992 saw the first Agatha Raisin book, ‘Agatha Raisin And The Quiche Of Death’. By that time, the author was living in the Cotswolds and wanted to situate a character there who was ‘…someone you didn’t like but you might want to win out in the end.” The gin-swilling, politically incorrect, often tactless Agatha was the lead in thirty-one novels, the last of which ‘Hot To Trot’ was published this year.
I read the eighteenth Agatha Raisin book ‘Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye’, as part of my 2018 Christmas reading. It was a light read with a funny, clever plot and engaging characters, that helped me get into the mood for Christmas. I’m hoping that ‘Agatha Raisin and The Blood Of An Englishman’ will serve the same purpose. What could be more festive than murder at a pantomime?
‘An English Murder’ by Cyril Hare (1951)
It’s rare to find a crime book written by someone with as much knowledge of the law and the people who serve it as Cyril Hare. His real name was Alfred Clark. Born in 1900, he took a First in History at New College, Oxford and was called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 1926. He worked in the office of the Director Of Public Prosecutions and later became a County Court Judge. He published ten novels as Cyril Hare as well as plays and short stories. He died of TB at the age of fifty-seven.
I bought ‘An English Murder’ because of the cover. I think it’s gorgeous. I also bought it because, although I didn’t think so much of Cyril Hare’s first novel, ‘Tenant For Death’, this one is set at Christmas, is adapted from a radio play and so should have good dialogue so the dialogue and it was written six novels and fourteen years after ‘Tenant For Death’.
I’m hoping for a book that lives up to its cover and takes me back to an England long gone and show me a mystery worth solving.
‘Afraid Of The Christmas Lights’ edited by Miranda Jewess (2020)
I bought ‘Afraid Of Christmas Lights’ after I saw it on T. E. Kinsey’s Twitter feed. The cover is nice. It offers a lot of little Christmas reads and the profits go to frontline domestic abuse charities.
T. E. Kinsey is the only contributor that I’ve read a novel by. I really enjoyed his first Lady Hardcastle cosy mystery ‘A Quiet Life In The Country’ and I have some more of the series queued in my TBR. I also have ‘Sleepy Head’ the first book in Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne series in my TBR pile. The rest will be new to me.
I’m hoping for the literary equivalent to the traditional Christmas tin of Quality Street that I can dip into throughout the week. I hope to read some good Christmas-with-a-twist yarns and discover some writers I’d like to read more of.