Sunday, December 31, 2017

SILENT NIGHTS, edited by Martin Edwards

I stumbled across this at the library just before the holidays, and it was a natural. Perfect reading material for the break!

And boy, was it ever. This is another superior collection from British Library Crime Classics, so you can't go wrong. Author/scholar Edwards is a great anthologist and digs up all sorts of good and obscure stories for his collections.

There are some that are familiar, like Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," a natural for Christmas mystery anthologies, Chesterton's "The Flying Stars," and Sayers' "The Necklace of Pearls," all of which I skipped. I'd read them all before...why bother?

The rest, however, are a candy box. Ralph Plummer is an unknown author, but his "Parlour Tricks" is an unjustly overlooked and forgotten story for sheer cleverness. Raymund Allen's "A Happy Solution" was my least favorite of the book, in that it relies on a knowledge of chess, a game at which I am a hopeless muddle. (Seriously, I stink at chess. I gave up trying years ago.) "Stuffing," by Edgar Wallace, is an amusing twist-of-fate story that I enjoyed.

H. C. Bailey's Reggie Fortune stars in "The Unknown Murderer," and while it's not the best Fortune story I've read, it's still damn good as Fortune delves into a series of murders that appear to be distantly related to what we now call Munchhausen-by-proxy syndrome. "The Absconding Treasurer," by J. Jefferson Farjeon, is a fun thriller with a murderer being tracked down in the snow.

Margery Allingham's "The Case is Altered" was my first experience of Albert Campion, and I found it acceptable as the hero detective stumbles into a case of blackmail and espionage at a holiday house party. "Waxworks," by Ethel Lina White, mixes damsel-in-distress tropes with a streak of feminism. "Cambric Tea" by Marjorie Bowen builds as a conte cruel but has a happy ending, and "The Chinese Apple" by Joseph Shearing (actually by the same author, Bowen and Shearing were both pen names of the prolific Gabrielle Long) is a fun thriller about a woman meeting a relative for the first time and piecing together a recent murder.

"A Problem in White," by Nicholas Blake, is a fun mystery set on a train, with an elaborate solution at the back of the book. Edmund Crispin's "The Name on the Window" is an entertaining short starring his detective Gervase Fen, and Leo Bruce's "Beef for Christmas," a forgotten rarity, rounds out the collection.

This is great reading for the holiday season, and I recommend it unreservedly. I'll have a hard time keeping up with Edwards' collections; every so often I hear of another, and thank goodness the local library system is keeping up!

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