Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Silent Nights

 Silent Nights (2015) by Martin Edwards (ed)

 One of several seasonal Golden Age short story collections put together by the British Library Crime Classics. Christmas in England in the Golden Age of mystery is a time to gather in country houses with family and friends, to have goose and plum pudding, to play games of charades, perform homespun theatricals, and perhaps perform a magic trick or two. The authors of the stories in this collection perform some tricks of their own--revealing the solutions to mysteries of missing jewels, purloined bank notes, and, of course, a murder or two. Readers will find familiar stories by Doyle and Sayers as well as a few stories never reprinted before. ★★★★

"The Blue Carbuncle" ~Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Doyle's Christmas classic featuring Holmes, a hat, a goose, and a most valuable gem.

"Parlour Tricks" ~Ralph Plummer: A simple but clever story of a retired policeman and a magician who made more than a glass of water disappear.

"A Happy Solution" ~Raymond Allen: A young man uses the solution to a chess problem to prove his fiancée innocent of theft.

"The Flying Stars" ~G. K. Chesterton: The Flying Stars are diamonds and they disappear during a Christmas pantomime. Father Brown is able to see exactly where the stars have flown.

"Stuffing" ~Edgar Wallace: Like Doyle before him, Wallace plays a trick with a Christmas bird. 

"The Unknown Murderer" ~H. C. Bailey: Reggie Fortune is looking forward the the holiday and his marriage, but becomes involved with a particularly nasty murderer who doesn't mind using children's parties as their killing field.

"The Absconding Treasurer" ~J. Jefferson Farjeon: When it's time to pay out the Christmas Club monies, the money is gone and so is the treasurer. It's natural for the club members to think that Mr. Parkins had run off with the cash. But Detective X. Crook knows well that things aren't always what they seem.

"The Necklace of Pearls" ~Dorothy L. Sayers: A valuable string of perfectly matched pearls goes missing at a classic country house Christmas party. It is up to Lord Peter Wimsey to see where they've gone before the culprit can make off with them permanently.

"The Case Is Altered" ~Margery Allingham: Campion finds himself in the middle of an espionage case when he spends Christmas at a friend's country estate and manages to save a young man from getting in over his head.

"Waxworks" ~Ethel Lina White: A visit to the waxwork hall of horrors at Christmas time. Various murders have happened in the local waxworks and Sonia, a young reporter looking for a story, decides to spend the night and investigate...this is perhaps not the best idea for a Merry Christmas.

"Cambric Tea" ~Marjorie Bowen: Christmas with a dose of jeaolousy, treachery, distrust, and maybe a dollop of arsenic in the cambric tea.

"The Chinese Apple" ~Joseph Shearing: Isabelle Crosland returns to England after living in Italy for many years to meet her niece for the first time. Her niece is all alone in the world now and the solicitors ask her to take the girl back to Florence. The niece isn't exactly what she expects... [Contains one of the most bizarre conversations I've read in a short story.]

"A Problem in White" ~Nicholas Blake: A train becomes stuck in the snow and the odd assortment of people in one of the compartments discuss a recent train robbery to pass the time. One of their number takes offense to something said and goes to another compartment. He winds up murdered and the reader is challenged to solve the crime. Solution at the back of the book.

"The Name on the Window" ~Edmund Crispin: An impossible crime--a man if found stabbed to death in an 18th C pavilion. There's heaps of dust on the floor, only set of footprints (the victim's), and only one way into the building (windows all locked). The dead man managed to write what appears to be the name of his murderer in the grime on the window...but appearances can be deceiving...

"Beef for Christmas" ~Leo Bruce: A rich man tells Sergeant Beef that he has been receiving threatening notes (apparently from one of his family members) telling him to stop spending his money so recklessly or be prepared to die. Beef is invited to the family festivities at Christmas and a corpse is in the offing...but it isn't Merton Watlow and it looks like a suicide...

First line (1st story): I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season.

"Why do you believe what people tell you about people? They're always lying--by accident if not on purpose." (Reggie Fortune; "The Unknown Murderer")

She looked at the black cavity, recognizing the first test of her nerves. Later on, there would be others. She realized the fact that, within her cool, practical self, she carried hysterical, neurotic passenger, who would doubtless give her a lot of trouble through officious suggestions and uncomfortable reminders. ("Waxworks")

[Wimsey] shepherded them to their places and began a circuit of the two rooms, exploring every surface, gazing up to the polished brazen ceiling and crawling on hands and knees in the approved fashion across the black and shining desert of floors. Sir Septimus followed, staring when Wimsey stared, bending with his hands upon knees when Wimsey crawled, and puffing at intervals with astonishment and chagrin. Their progress rather resembled that of a man taking out a very inquisitive puppy for a very leisurely constitutional. ("The Necklace of Pearls")

Last line (last story): "What? A drink, of course."


Deaths = 10 [one fell from height; two stabbed; one shot; one accident (fell and hit head); one natural (heart failure); one poisoned; one hit on head; two suffocated]

No comments: