Making Merry with Murder
Every family who celebrates Christmas does it a little differently. Do you open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas day? Do you go out caroling or sit home watching Miracle on 34th Street?
Most important -- at least if you come from a family of bookworms like mine -- what do you read for Christmas? Dickens' Christmas Carol? "A Child's Christmas in Wales?" "The Night Before Christmas?" How the Grinch Stole Christmas?
These days, my December reading list almost always includes Charlotte MacLeod's wonderful Christmas mystery, Rest You Merry. If time allows, I'll reread the whole thing. But even if I'm way behind on cards and shopping, I make time to read the hilarious first chapter, in which Professor Peter Shandy finally tires of being nagged about decorating for the holiday. In years past, his unadorned house has been the one dark spot -- or note of sanity, depending on your point of view -- on a street so elaborately festooned that it becomes a major New England tourist attraction for the entire month of December.
I won't spoil the book for you by giving away exactly what Shandy does to get even with the over-zealous civic boosters who've been tormenting him. Or how his scheme backfires, with homicidal results. Read the book yourself. It's a wonderful tonic to the holiday blues -- and a great beginning to MacLeod's popular comic mystery series featuring Peter Shandy and other denizens of the Balaclava Agricultural College.
Of course, to read it, you're going to have to find it. Alas, like so many wonderful classic mysteries, Rest You Merry is currently out of print. If you can't find it in your local library or used book store, you might try substituting one of the Christmas-themed anthologies MacLeod has edited. Both Christmas Stalkings: Tales of Yuletide Murder and Mistletoe Mysteries are available in paperback, and will give you the chance to sample holiday offerings from over a dozen of the best in contemporary mystery writers in addition to MacLeod.
But then, there's always been something about Christmas that inspires mystery writers. In Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," the great detective celebrates the holiday in characteristic fashion by solving a major jewel heist and the puzzling case of a missing Christmas goose. Agatha Christie's dapper Belgian sleuth performs similar wonders in Hercule Poirot's Christmas.
More modern crime writers as various as Mary Daheim (The Alpine Christmas), Jane Haddam (Not a Creature Was Stirring), Margaret Maron (Corpus Christmas), and Patricia Moyes (Who Killed Father Christmas) have all given us wonderful holiday treats.
In fact, mystery writers are a lot like Ebenezer Scrooge -- the reformed, post-ghost Scrooge, who "knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!"
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