Nothing says the holidays for me more than a good old-fashioned Christmas murder mystery. I also like the more modern ones, but give me a snowed-in estate in England, with house guests galore, a burning Yule log, a flaming pudding, holly branches cut fresh from the woods and stuck behind centuries-old picture frames, and I am just the jolliest reader ever.
The best thing about reading Christmas mysteries in the weeks leading up to the big day itself is that the joys and pleasures of the season come early and often, as long as I can find the books to read, and the time to read them, and the glass of wine to drink while reading...
But finding the right Christmas books can be hard, very hard. I've been lucky in the past, and I have favorites to revisit (Dickens' Ghost Stories for Christmas - and I don't just mean The Christmas Carol!) but this year I really hit the jackpot. My favorite mystery peddler has put together his best collection ever -- Otto Penzler's The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. I could not resist this cover, and when I got the book home, and settled myself in with wine, cat, and even a fire going in the fireplace, I discovered that behind that fabulous cover, paradise awaited me. The paradise where snow falls and Yule logs burn and punch is poured -- and a dead body (or two) appears to spice everything up.
I love this collection of short stories and how could I not? The first story is by Agatha Christie -- The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding -- and all the stories that come after are as diverting, pleasing, and murderous as her sumptuous offering. But it's not all high tea in jolly old England -- there is the pleasure of Ed McBain in San Francisco and Mary Higgins Clark in New Jersey and a fun historical piece (the 1950s) by Ed Gorman set in Iowa. There is even a ghost story -- but I can't tell you by whom or its title, or I'll give the whole thing away. Read the book, and discover for yourself. If you love mysteries, and enjoy the holidays (or even if you don't), you'll love The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries.
Of course, Anne Perry has come out with her annual Christmas offering. A Christmas Hope is a lovely, light pleasure (even with a murdered young woman and some evil lords and a valiant lady trying to do what is right) and goes well with a glass of eggnog and a cookie. If you have to read your books on the subway or in the California sun or behind a closed office (or bathroom stall) door, don't worry! Reading Otto Penzler's great collection or Anne Perry's latest offering will make you feel as if you were sitting by a frosted window, fire burning low on the hearth, carols on the radio, cookies on a tray, and Santa on the roof.
Joy to all and to all a good night -- of reading.