A Surprise for Christmas edited by Martin Edwards

Ho! Ho! Aargh!

😀 😀 😀 😀

What better time to be thinking about murder than when getting together with your loved ones for some festive cheer! (Only 350 shopping days left – better hurry!) This is another collection of vintage crime stories from Martin Edwards and the British Library, each with a Christmas theme. There are twelve in the book, as always with a mix of very famous authors like Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and GK Chesterton, along with some that are less well known, to me at least.

And, as always, the quality is somewhat mixed, although there are no real duds and a few standout stories among them. I gave six of them four stars, while three got the full five, so I’d say this was a pretty solid collection overall. The stories I ranked highest all came at the end, which left me feeling much more impressed than I was, perhaps, halfway through. I felt it was a bit of cheat to include a Julian Symons story that had turned up in the Christmas collection just a couple of years ago, though, giving it a different title this time. But that will only matter to geeks like me who read all of the crime anthologies the BL produces, and it is a good story!

As usual, here’s a flavour of a few of the ones I most enjoyed…

Dead Man’s Hand by ER Punshon. A servant and his wife plan to murder and rob their employer. This is a very short and quite slight story, but it uses the heavy snowfall in an intriguing way to provide cover for the murderer, and gives a nicely dark picture of evil and guilt.

On Christmas Day in the Morning by Margery Allingham. On Christmas morning, a postman is run down by a car and killed. The police think they know who the men were who were in the car, but it seems they couldn’t have done it since the postman was in a different place when they drove drunkenly through the village. It’s up to Campion to work out if they are the guilty ones, and if so, how it happened. This is quite an interesting take on breaking an unbreakable alibi, but what lifts it is the insightful and somewhat sad picture of how lonely Christmas can be for those without families around them.

Give me a Ring by Anthony Gilbert (aka Anne Meredith). On Christmas Eve, Gillian Hynde loses her way in a sudden London fog and steps into a shop to ask for directions. Unknowingly, she has walked into danger, and finds herself kidnapped and held captive. The story is mostly about her fiancé’s desperate attempts to find her, with the assistance of Arthur Crook, lawyer and scourge of the criminal classes – and apparently a successful series detective back in the day. This is a nearly novella-length thriller, very well written, fast-moving and high on suspense, especially since both Gillian and Richard, the fiancé, are likeable protagonists.

The Turn-Again Bell by Barry Perowne. An elderly rector is waiting for his son to come home on Christmas leave from the navy. The plan is that the son will marry his childhood sweetheart on Boxing Day, in the Rector’s ancient Norman church. But there is a legend that each Rector will at some time hear the church bell toll just once on Christmas Eve and this is a portent that he will not live to see the following Christmas. This is a beautifully written, perfect little story, admittedly with no actual crime in it but with all the right messages for Christmas, and it left me with a tear or two in my cynical eye, and a warm fuzzy feeling of goodwill to all mankind. Can’t be bad, eh?

So a good mix of style and tone, with everything from high octane thrills to more thoughtful festive fare. And proves it’s not always necessary to murder someone to enjoy yourself at Christmas…

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

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36 thoughts on “A Surprise for Christmas edited by Martin Edwards

    • Unfortunately I can hardly ever find these vintage crime stories online. Either they’re not old enough to be out of copyright or crime fans aren’t as dedicated to putting things online as horror fans seem to be! It’s a very new release, though, so hopefully your library will get it in at some point. 😀

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  1. It’s very good to hear that most of these were at least quite good, and some excellent, FictionFan. So often, collections are more misses than hits. Of course, Edwards does such a great job of editing and curating that I’d have been surprised if you were thoroughly disappointed. I wonder now if there were fewer holiday murders this past year, because we weren’t able to get together with family for Christmas… 😉 😉

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    • Hahaha, well, I managed to get through it without murdering anyone, though Tommy came close a couple of times! (Why do cats think I want to get up and let them out at 5 a.m. in winter???) I don’t know if it’s my mood, but most of the anthologies I’ve read this year seem to have been more consistent than usual – fewer complete duds!

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    • Yes, I usually find that, but both the Christmas collections I’ve read this year – this and a horror one – have been more consistent than usual, happily, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both.

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  2. I feel a bit cross about the Symons story, how can they just change the title – we deserve better. May be Martin Edwards will read your review and give an explanation. . .

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  3. I’ve always said Christmas is a great time for murder! I must say I’m shocked that they included the same story with a different title-can they do that? Just change the title of a story? Isn’t that against some sort of rule…I don’t know which rule, but it seems wrong hah

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  4. I think this one’s going to have to go on the wishlist. (hopefully to be added to the TBR by Christmas) I guess I’ve got plenty of time…. 😉

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  5. That’s odd they repeated a story under a different title, they must have run out of ideas. It sounds like it was a good collection over all though, I might try one of these collections next Christmas.

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    • Martin Edwards did say in the intro that he was beginning to find it difficult to find stories that weren’t in the previous collections, but I still felt cheated! It would probably have been better to leave it out and just have the book be shorter. Although of course it’ll only annoy people who read the earlier collection.

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  6. I’ll have to keep this book in mind for next Christmas. I’ve already read the Margery Allingham story in a different collection (by a different publisher) and enjoyed it.

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    • I felt as if I might have read the Allingham story before too, but a long time ago. Eventually if you read a lot of anthologies you’re bound to start getting duplicates, but so long as there’s a long gap between them I’ve usually forgotten them anyway!

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  7. it’s not always necessary to murder someone to enjoy yourself at Christmas…SNORT! Peace and goodwill to all mankind are so 2021 (has if really started, yet?). 2020 seems to be hanging on kicking and screaming, like certain elected officials….

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