Day 1160: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories

Cover for The Mistletoe MurderThe Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories is a short collection of four previously uncollected stories by P. D. James. Two of them are set at Christmas, and two feature Adam Dalgliesh, one when he was a newly made sergeant.

“The Mistletoe Murder” is written as a reminiscence, as if it really happened, and P. D. James herself is a character (or the unnamed narrator is a mystery writer). A war widow, she is invited for Christmas at her grandmother’s house, after years of a family feud. There she spends almost all of Christmas Day with her cousin Paul. Another guest is Rowland Maybrick, who has been invited to value a coin collection and whom the narrator finds unappealing. The next morning, he is found with his head smashed in.

“A Very Commonplace Murder” is about an unpleasant man, Ernest Gabriel, and his memory of a murder. Having sneaked into the office at night to view a pornography collection owned by his deceased employer, Gabriel witnesses an illicit love affair going on next door. When the woman is murdered, Gabriel knows her young lover did not do it, but will he give evidence?

In “The Boxdale Inheritance,” Adam Dalgliesh’s godfather, Canon Hubert Boxdale, receives an inheritance from his stepgrandmother. But 67 years ago, Allie Boxdale was famously tried for the murder of her elderly husband. Although she was not found guilty, the Canon asks Dalgliesh to help determine whether she was or not before he can accept the legacy.

Finally, in “The Twelve Clues of Christmas,” young Sergeant Dalgliesh is flagged down on the road to his aunt’s house in Suffolk by Helmut Harkerville, who wants to report his uncle’s suicide and says his phone is out of order. Adam takes him to a phone box but then brings him home to inspect the scene. There he spots 12 clues that tell him this was a murder and the identity of the murderer.

In general, I don’t much enjoy crime short stories because they don’t allow time to develop a plot or characters so must rely on tricks. These stories, though, were a little more clever and interesting than the usual. I only guessed the solution to the second story, and I think some of the clues in the last were not fairly revealed. But the first and third stories held surprises. Overall, this was a set of entertaining mystery stories, much lighter than James’s usual fare.

Related Posts

Silent Nights

The Tuesday Club Murders

Murder at the Manor

Day 41: Death Comes to Pemberley

Cover for Death Comes to PemberleyDeath Comes to Pemberley is an unusual attempt by P.D. James, a mystery with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and their family and friends as characters. P.D. James is, of course, the queen of the mystery novel, but I had to admit to some disappointment with this effort.

On the night before the Darcy’s annual ball, the Darcys, his sister Georgina, the Binghams, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and a suitor of Georgina’s have just finished dinner when a coach careers into the yard containing Lydia Wickham, who says that someone is trying to murder her husband. As you will remember from Pride and Prejudice, Lydia would have been ruined by Wickham had not Darcy paid him to marry her, so the family has been at outs.

The men all go off to find Wickham bending over the body of his friend Major Denny. Although the evidence seems to suggest that Wickham has murdered Denny, he insists that after an argument he left the coach containing the three of them, on their way to crash the Darcy’s ball, and didn’t know what happened to Denny.

Although James is a little more successful at capturing the style and time of an Austen novel than other modern writers who have used the Darcys as characters, she spends no time on character development at all, leaving this to the readers’ knowledge of Pride and Prejudice. Yet, at the same time, she unnecessarily, considering the novel is supposed to take place six years later, has characters rehash the events of the original. Although I cannot recall the details, I also have a note that the novel was repetitive.

I have generally avoided reading the plethora of new books riffing on the reinterest in Austen, but I was looking forward to this one because James is usually so good. Although not at all a bad book, I feel that this was not one of her better efforts.