Book Review: The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries (Part Four)

This year, I am taking on The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, a 674 page tome containing 59 individual stories about the Christmas season. Conveniently, it’s broken up into blog-post sized sections. This is section five.

An Uncanny Little Christmas

  • The Haunted Crescent, Peter Lovesey - Okay, yeah, I like it. Nice unexpected twist.
  • A Christmas in Camp, Edmund Cox - Huh. Very odd. Problematic.
  • The Christmas Bogey, Pat Frank - I don't know why this is in this section, but it’s funny and cute.
  • The Killer Christian, Andrew Klavan - Not bad. Not a style I enjoy. But not bad.
  • The Ghost’s Touch, Fergus Hume - Also not bad, though a bit obvious.
  • A Wreath for Marley, Max Allan Collins - I expected a dark twist, instead I got a solid sweet period Christmas Carol.

This section focused on ghost stories. The two I liked least of these tales were "A Christmas in Camp" and "The Killer Christian". The first is from 1911, and has all of that awkwardness about British authors writing about their time in India. The story itself is very odd, too. It’s a little bit a morality tale and a little bit a ghost story and a lot patronizing. "The Killer Christian" has a lot of baggage caused by the circumstances of its writing: it was a gift for customers of the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC, so it shoehorns in a bunch of references. The story is about a religious hitman who tries to change his ways after an experience in which he sees a (fake) angel, and it’s okay, but not really to my taste.

"The Haunted Crescent" is a more traditional ghost story, about an investigation on Christmas Eve into a long-ago murder. It's very well done. "The Ghost’s Touch" is a decent example of a ghost story being used for attempted murder.

The best stories are the two I haven’t mentioned yet, and they are very different from each other. "The Christmas Bogey" doesn’t seem to have much to do with ‘uncanny’, so I don’t know why it’s in this section, but it follows an unidentified radar blip on Christmas Eve, and the series of events as each person who could or should deal with it reacts differently due to the holiday. It’s a tight piece: a puzzle box and a joke in short story form.

"A Wreath for Marley" is a retelling of A Christmas Carol set in America in the 40’s. Richard Stone, PI, is the main character, and his partner, Jake Marley, has been dead a year when the story opens. Stone has been getting crookeder and meaner since before Marley died, and he’s due a little ghostly intervention. He is, of course, visited by Marley himself, who wants Stone to solve his murder, and three ghosts to bring him through the past, the present and the future. The choices of where to parallel the original and where to stress the differences make for both an intellectually and emotionally engaging tale. It’s got great style and swagger, and a satisfying close.