2013-12-20 / Community

Library Links

Have yourself a merry little mystery
By Rachel Davis

“The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries,” by Otto Penzler has been getting a lot of terrific reviews. In this new anthology, Penzler has collected nearly 60 of his favorite Christmas mystery stories by a diverse range of authors including Agatha Christie, Thomas Hardy, Mary Higgins Clark and Ngaio Marsh, many of which are difficult to find anywhere else. The book has a fantastic cover, which caught my eye, and perusing the contents, also had me wondering why Christmas mystery stories seem to be a thing. This treasury is not the only example of this subgenre – far from it. There are so many Christmas themed murder mysteries and crime novels with titles such as “Six Geese A Slaying” (Donna Andrews,) “A Killer’s Christmas in Wales” (Elizabeth J. Duncan,) and “Christmas Mourning” (Margaret Maron) – it would be impossible to name them all.

As a mystery reader myself, I have my own ideas about why Christmas and mysteries so easily go together, but I thought I’d ask the opinion of some of my fellow mystery-loving library colleagues. One of my coworkers took a somewhat cynical view – popping out a Christmasthemed mystery is a great way to sell some perfect “gift books” at Christmastime. Another coworker thought it was more of a reader-driven than publisher- or author-driven phenomenon – people like to read about Christmas at Christmastime. We recently put a selection of our Christmas mysteries on display at the library, and quite a few of them are currently either checked out or on hold. For those library visitors, Christmas mysteries aren’t about buying Christmas gifts, but reading a good story.

The majority of Christmas-themed mysteries are of the cozy variety –interesting crimes that take place in a small, close-knit community, solved by a likable amateur detective; in other words, the sort of sleuthing thing you’d like to read about with a cup of tea and a cat on your lap. Christmas and coziness seem to go together. While it might seem an odd pairing – Christmas and murder – cozy mysteries are more about interesting characters and relationships, and puzzle solving, than they are about violence and mayhem. So if you’re in the mood for some holiday crime-solving, here are a few selections from this year’s offerings:

 “A Catered Christmas Cookie Exchange: A Mystery with Recipes,” by Isis Crawford (Kensington Books, 2013). This is the ninth book featuring sister caterers and amateur sleuths Bernie and Libby Simmons who must solve a crime involving rival contestants in a televised cookie contest.

 “Christmas Carol Murder,” by Leslie Meier (Kensington Books, 2013). Meier’s last Lucy Stone mystery was another holiday entry, “Easter Bunny Murder.” In this one, Lucy, a local newspaper reporter, is in a perfect position to determine who in the small town of Tinker’s Cove murdered a wealthy mortgage company owner.

 “Duck the Halls,” by Donna Andrews (Minotaur Books, 2013). In this humorous mystery, in the latest Meg Langlsow novel, pranksters threaten to ruin Christmas festivities at the local church, and when the pranks turn deadly, Meg steps in as sleuth to try to solve the crime.

 “The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries,” edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2013). As mentioned above this collection includes a rich variety of authors from the 19th through 21st centuries, arranged by category from “classic” to “uncanny.” And yes, it does make the perfect gift book for your mystery loving friends and relatives (my own sister will be opening a prettily wrapped package on Christmas morning.) But if you’re just interesting in spending some time with some great sleuths at Christmas time, Maine libraries have many, many titles – including Penzler’s latest collection – available for your holiday reading pleasure.

Rachel Davis is assistant director/children’s librarian at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth.

Return to top