The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly

’Twas three nights before Christmas…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Three days before Christmas, Inspector Nightingale is called to the scene of a suspicious death. An elderly woman has been found dead in her bed, and given her age it may have passed as natural but for the fact that she appears to have been robbed. Her trunk, which she always kept securely locked, is empty. Nightingale soon discovers she was a Russian Princess who had fled to Britain during the Revolution, bringing with her many fabulous jewels and valuable pieces of art. There has been a recent spate of burglaries and Nightingale suspects this is the latest, somehow gone wrong, leaving Princess Olga dead. But where is the Princess’s grandson? And why is there a note of the name and address of a local dealer in jewellery in her room? Nightingale and his sergeant, the rather cheeky and irreverent Beddoes, set out to investigate…

This isn’t a whodunit – although there is a mystery element around the grandson, the police are never in much doubt that the robbery ties in with the others, and the bulk of the story is about following Nightingale, and occasionally Beddoes, as they try to identify and catch the thieves. It’s very well written and both the settings – first the busy pre-Christmas streets and alleyways of Islington and later the blizzard-bound countryside of Kent – are used to great effect. Nightingale and Beddoes make a great team, obviously fond of each other and with a kind of rapport that comes from having worked together before. Each has full confidence in the other and they are more like equals than superior and subordinate, and there’s a lot of humour in their interactions.

The Princess’s backstory as a Russian émigrée adds another element to the story, and gives it the human interest aspect that can sometimes be missing in stories about thefts and police hunts. And the jeweller whose name is found in her room is a great character – a shrewd businessman with his own Russian background, is he the gossipy charmer he likes to portray, or is this a cover for shady goings-on? Nightingale’s constantly changing opinion about him and other people who might or might not be involved is a lot of fun and gives us a real feel for his character, as an honest man who wants to think the best of people but whose job means he has to consider the worst of them too.

Mary Kelly

The first half of the book sets up the story and introduces the characters, and then the second half becomes more of an action thriller as the hunt for the jewel thieves hots up. I found the whole thing a quick, interesting and enjoyable read that kept me turning the pages – I ended up reading it all in one day which is unusual for me. Apparently Kelly only wrote a few books and then stopped, which is a real pity since on the basis of this one she was clearly very talented. I hope the BL might reissue the two other Nightingale books sometime. And with its Christmassy timing and snowy settings, this one is a perfect read for the festive season. Highly recommended!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

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31 thoughts on “The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly

  1. This one does sound good, FictionFan! I like the dynamic between the two detectives; it sounds refreshingly functional. And the princess’ history sounds suitably mysterious, too. This one ticks a lot of boxes for a good, traditional mystery, and it’s interesting the way she also wove in a touch or two of the thriller. That does take skill, and I can see why you liked this so well.

    • Russian princesses should be obligatory in crime novels, I feel! And if you’re going to have a robbery, what could possibly be better than a Fabergé egg! 😉 The two ‘tecs were very good in this and I thought their interactions were quite realistic. And the blizzard in Kent made it nicely wintry – blizzards are always fun so long as they’re fictional! 😀

  2. Lovely to end the week on a 5 star read. My own reading has been oddly fragmented recently, and the last few novels I have read have been real chunksters as it happens. I could really do with something like this, as it sounds quite charming without too much brain power required from the reader, plus I think I need something I could get through in one sitting.

    • I feel I’ve been reading too many classics recently and am looking forward to a spate of lighter crime novels to refresh my poor overworked brain cell. I love the length of vintage crime – most of the BL ones seem to come in around 220-240 pages which for me is a couple of evenings usually. I vastly prefer that to contemporary crime novels that take me several days to read – they stop feeling like light refreshment then…

  3. It sounds like this one has lots going for it! I like that it has a Christmassy element to it, but not so much you couldn’t enjoy it any time of the year.

    • Yes, exactly! The Christmas stuff is incidental – it adds a bit of fun, but certainly doesn’t mean you couldn’t enjoy it at any time. The blizzard makes it delightfully wintry though – blizzards are always fun so long as they’re in books… 😀

    • The BL have taken to doing one Christmassy themed book every year recently – I love them, although because I get them for review I always feel obliged to read them in November! 🎅

  4. It sounds ideal for Christmas. I haven’t read anything by her, in fact I don’t even remember hearing about her before.

    • I think she’s really one of the ones who’s been completely forgotten – I’d never heard of her either. The BL is doing such a great job of finding the pearls among these old books… 😀

    • Warm?? It’s been freezing here! The cats have gone on strike – they won’t go out for more than a couple of minutes at a time. Fur coats clearly aren’t all they’re cracked up to be… 😉

  5. Sounds like a fun mystery! In my world, Inspector Nightingale belongs in the ‘Rivers of London’ series though. I wonder if the author was inspired by this book (there is an awful lot of references in the Rivers of London books, I probably only spotted a fraction of them).

    • Ah, I’ve never read the Rivers of London books, but it’s possible – depends how good his knowledge of vintage crime is! I certainly had never heard of this author or detective before, but then I’m no expert. I hope the BL bring back more of her stuff though… 😀

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