This week, I’m continuing trying to read my way into festive cheer by reading crime books that are linked to Christmas. This week’s writers are all English but from different periods. I have a modern novel, dressed as a police procedural, but which is really about climbing inside the heads of people from very different social backgrounds. I have two golden age mysteries from 1936, one set partly in an English Country House at Christmas and one set in a charming snow-clad Oxfordshire village. Both mysteries feature Christmas Eve murders.
‘Death Comes At Christmas’ by Gladys Mitchell (1936)
My experience of Gladys Mitchel’s Mrs Bradley novels has been mixed. The first two I tried didn’t work for me but that left with another sixty-four Mrs Bradley novels to sample.
Last year I finally struck gold with the twenty-third Mrs Bradley novel ‘Murder in the Snow: A Cotswold Christmas Mystery’.
So I’m going to follow through with another Christmas mystery ‘Death Comes At Christmas’ which was her seventh Mrs Bradley novel.
The original title of ‘Death Comes At Christmas’ was ‘Dead Men’s Morris’. The publisher’s summary for that title is a little different than the Christmas branded version:
‘A dead solicitor, a suspicious pig-farmer and a local ghost disturb Mrs Bradley’s holiday to Oxfordshire. Nothing is as it seems however, and the inimitable detective must work fast if she is to protect her nephew’s household from a resourceful killer.
So, a Christmas murder, a ghost, Morris Men, a suspicious pig farmer, lots of snow and the frankly intimidating Mrs Bradley. Sounds perfect for reading my way into Christmas.
‘Thou Shell Of Death’ by Nicholas Blake (1936)
Nicholas Blake is the name under which the poet, Cecil Day-Lewis earned his living by writing detective novels, all but four of which featured amateur detective Nigel Strangeways.
I read his debut novel, ‘A Question Of Proof’ last year and was more impressed by the language, the quirkiness of the Nigel Strangeways’ character and the skilful rendition of the atmosphere of a minor Public School in the years after World War II than I was with the plot.
This year, I read the fourth Strangeways novel, ‘The Beast Must Die’ and found that the quality of the plot had caught up with the quality of the writing and produced an excellent mystery. So, now I’m going to read the second Strangeways novel which, of course, is set a Christmas.
I’m hoping for a good murder puzzle, a sparkling relationship between Strangeways and the explorer/suspect Georgina Cavendish and a side-trip to Ireland that should give me a feel for an Ireland now long gone.
‘Missing, Presumed’ by Susie Steiner (2016)
Susie Steiner is an English writer who spent twenty years as a journalist, including eleven years at The Guardian, before publishing her first novel in 2013. That year she wrote an article in The Daily Mail entitled: “‘I’m slowly going blind’: Author Susie Steiner should be celebrating the publication of her debut novel; instead, she is contemplating an uncertain future as a hereditary disease destroys her eyesight.” The article opens with:
It can sometimes seem that just when you get the thing you want most in life, something else gets taken away, as if some celestial reckoning is going on. This year, my first novel sold in a publishing auction: a lifelong dream came true. Six months later, I was registered blind at Moorfields Eye Hospital. ‘
In 2016, Susie Steiner published her second novel ‘Missing, Presumed’, the first book in a trilogy about Detective Sargeant Manon Bradshaw. The book was selected by the Oprah Book Club in the US and Richard and Judy’s WHSmith Book Club in the UK and was nominated for Barry Award for Best First Novel (2017), and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Shortlist .
The second book in the series ‘Persons Unknown’ was published in 2017. The final book, ‘Remain Silent’ was published in 2020.
I’m hoping to fall in love with Susie Steiner’s writing and to be left keen to read the whole trilogy.
Susie Steiner’s website contains this low-key comment about Susie Steiner’s health:
‘In May 2019 she was diagnosed with a brain tumour (Grade 4 Glioblastoma) and has spent most of 2019 undergoing treatment: six hours of brain surgery, chemo radiation, and six cycles of chemotherapy.’