British Library Crime Classics publishes a Christmas anthology each year and curling up with it on Christmas Eve has now become a tradition of mine. But alas, like with many other things in 2020, it didn’t go the way I hoped this Christmas, and I didn’t quite manage to pick this up until a few days back.
A Surprise for Christmas is a top-notch seasonal mystery collection without a single dud! Even though a couple of stories are straight-up formulaic, all twelve stories included are cozy and fun to read.
Give Me a Ring by Anthony Gilbert, which is novella length, is my favorite. In it, a young woman is preparing for a wonderful Christmas Eve to be spent with her fiancé. This will be a “rehearsal for their life together that was going to start soon,” so she wants everything to be perfect. However, when she runs out that evening to buy a few bits and bobs they love, she gets lost in a fog that appears without warning in London. For some time it looks like she is well and truly lost, far away from civilization. That’s when she happens upon a trinket shop which is where her troubles begin. A beautiful ring on the window display draws her attention, and she goes inside to buy it. What she doesn’t know is that the shop is a part of a drug ring, with a pickup scheduled that evening involving that ring! The shop owner is impressed by his boss’s choice of a mule (What a fine way to throw the police off if their scent! No one would think this fine young lady is involved in any shady business!) and her “acting.” He plays along, even though he thinks she’s “overselling” it, and the nice young lady offers to drop off the shop owner’s gift on her way home so the recipient will have it in time for Christmas! Later that night, when a miscommunication regarding the whereabouts of the “gift parcel” leads to the girl getting drugged and kidnapped, it’s up to her fiancé to find her and stop her from being killed. She is such a sweet girl, and I didn’t want anything bad to happen to her, so this story kept me at the edge of my seat the entire time. It is quite thrilling, and I’d watch a dramatization of it if there ever was one!
Carter Dickson’s Persons or Things Unknown is another memorable story. In it, the perpetrator chooses an ordinary murder weapon, but the way he disposes of it after the deed is quite ingenious. If this deplorable man didn’t sleep talk, he would have most certainly gotten away with murder!
I have been meaning to read Ngaio Marsh’s books for a while, but Death on the Air was my first foray into her works. This story features an unusual method of murder. It’s totally fitting, and masterful. The only let down is the murderer confessing to stop an innocent man from going to jail! I’m not in the habit of condoning killing, but the victim here was a tyrant who made life a living hell for those around him, so I couldn’t sympathize. 😶
Julian Symons’s Father Christmas Comes to Orbins actually appeared in a British Library Crime Classics holiday anthology before under the name ‘Twixt the Cup and the Lip. Bookworms will get a kick out of this story because it is about a bookseller called Payne who is also a criminal mastermind! Payne has successfully pulled off six jewelry heists before, and now he is after the Russian Crown Jewels in display at Orbins. He has a sophisticated operation underway, but some unforeseen events muck up his plans on the day of the heist. This is an utterly amusing story I wouldn’t mind reading every Christmas! Thank you British Library for the reprint. 😃
Note: Many thanks to British Library Publishing for sending me a review copy of A Surprise for Christmas.