“Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend.” ~ Agatha Christie
This lovely collection of four short stories republished now, two years after the death of its author, P.D. James, by her estate, has a holiday flavor. If you are a mystery fan, doubtless you have read some of this prolific writer’s work in the past. Included is a preface written by James about the art and challenge of short story writing, and the demise of the popularity of the once ubiquitous genre. Those of you who watch public television might be familiar with her Cordelia Gray mysteries as well as the Adam Dalgliesh detective movies. James wrote 14 Dalgliesh books and he crosses over into two of the Cordelia Gray stories.
Two of the four stories in this collection feature a young Dalgliesh.
It is evident in these Dalgliesh (his name is Scottish in origin translating as “field of green”) stories that his “cleverness” is, in fact, his remarkable ability to hone in on every detail of the empirical evidence and physical clues while closely attending to witnesses recollections. Like a human cheesecloth, Dalgliesh filters out lies and inaccuracies, and voila, the culprit is revealed!
Although I enjoyed both of the Dalgliesh stories, my favorite, by a very slim margin, is “The Boxdale Inheritance.” Dalgliesh is asked by his beloved godfather, Canon Hubert Boxdale, to investigate the death of Boxdale’s grandfather which occurred 67 years prior. The canon has been left a legacy of 50 thousand pounds by his step-grandmother’s estate, but he cannot accept it until he knows it is not “tainted,” and that his step-grandmother did not poison her much older husband. James outdid herself in this one. Not only does she reveal a tender side of Dalgliesh, but she tells one humdinger of a story in the process. The revelation of the poisoner is pure, flawless James, worthy of Dame Agatha Christie herself.
The second Dalgliesh story is “The Twelve Clues of Christmas.” Dalgliesh’s Christmas visit to his aunt’s home is interrupted before he even arrives when he is waved down by a man shouting that someone is dead. He needs to be taken to a phone booth to call the police. Dalgliesh does make it to his aunt’s home, but not before he enumerates 12 clues to help the local police solve the murder of thelocal oddball.
“The Mistletoe Murder,” the title story, is written in the first person. It is Christmas, 1940 England, and a crime writer is reminiscing about her 18-year-old self, widowed just two weeks after becoming a bride. She has been invited to spend Christmas at her maternal grandmother’s home and to meet her cousin, Paul. The young woman welcomes the opportunity to get to know her mother’s side of the family, but a bit dismayed to find that a non-family member, Rowland Maybrick, also a guest, who turns up dead in the library on Christmas night. The clues seem to indicate that an intruder, known to Maybrick, was let in through the library’s outside doors and got away. It is not until after her grandmother’s death when the war widow protagonist (we are never given her name) who inherited the extensive book collection, visits the library to sort through things, that the murderer is revealed.
“A Commonplace Murder” raised the hairs the back of my neck. Even sitting on the lanai in the sunshine, it was nevertheless chilling to read the rationalization of a witness to a murder maintaining silence while the wrong man was tried, convicted and hanged for that murder. When the true killer is revealed at the very end, the reader, like The Shadow, knows “What evil lurks in the hearts of men.” Not exactly Christmas material, but still a great read for crime fiction lovers.
This is a great little book and a nice way to pass a few hours. It is a thoughtful gift for yourself, anyone who loves “whodunits” or someone who you would like to introduce to P.D. James. I gave it a 4.5/5.0 rating. The writing, plot development and characterizations are impeccable.
This year, Chanukah and Christmas coincide. Whether you celebrate one or another, I wish you a relaxing holiday season and a Happy New Year! Thanks for spending some of your time in 2016 with me.
Maggie Gust has been an avid reader all her life. Her past includes working as a teacher, as well as various occupations in the healthcare field. She shares a hometown, Springfield, Illinois, with Abraham Lincoln, but Florida has been her home since 1993. Genealogy, reading, movies and writing are among her favorite activities. She is self-employed and works from her Naples home. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or maggiesbookinblog.com.