Recommended for classic mystery fans who need a break from peace and goodwill to all. 3/5 stars.
The blurb: Mavis Doriel Hay wrote ‘The Santa Klaus Murder’ in 1936, one of three detective novels she published in the 1930s.
A classic country-house murder mystery, ‘The Santa Klaus Murder’ begins with Aunt Mildred declaring that no good could come of the Melbury family Christmas gathering at their country residence Flaxmere. So when Sir Osmond Melbury, the family patriarch, is discovered — by a guest dressed as Santa Klaus —with a bullet in his head on Christmas Day, the festivities are plunged into chaos.
Nearly every member of the party stands to reap some sort of benefit from Sir Osmond’s death, but Santa Klaus, the one person who seems to have every opportunity to fire the shot, has no apparent motive. Various members of the family have their private suspicions about the identity of the murderer, but in the midst of mistrust, suspicion, and hatred, it emerges that there was not one Santa Klaus but two.
If you’re looking forward to reading a classic murder mystery, your heart lifts when you open the book and the first thing you see is a map of the ground floor of a country house which is basically the Cluedo (Clue for those of you in the US) game board. 🙂
It’s not just its country house-cut-off-from-civilisation setting which makes this a classic; this book is very much of its time. It was written in 1934 and the characters divide neatly into upper-class great and lesser twits, lower-class gold diggers and middle class people muddling through to figure out what the heck’s going on. The tone was so cut-glass it reminded me more of The Famous Five than Christie.
The plot is well-handled and unravels at a good pace. However, there were too many characters for me to have a good handle on who was where when what occurred. It didn’t help that the waters were further muddied by several characters having a nickname in addition to their “official” one.
This is a perfectly enjoyable, intellectual puzzle murder mystery. I’m giving it three stars because its so cookie-cutter in many ways. All the characters are playing the roles you’d expect of them and feel very flat, like paper dolls the author is pushing around her Cluedo board. Despite the author’s efforts to create tension between the family members, there was a distinct lack of drama. People get together, have slight disagreements, there’s some eyebrow raising and pointed coughing to indicate they’re irked, someone gets shot, everyone gets a bit flustered, it all get resolved. The end.
Overall: this is Christmassy, but in a good “antidote to schmaltz” way. If you enjoy watching a Christie TV adaptation over the festive period, I’d suggest making time for this seasonal classic too.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul