'The Santa Klaus Murder' came to me by way of Elaine Random Jottings and was my first read of the year. It concerns the murder of a difficult patriarch on Christmas day - apparently done to death by Santa Klaus - or at least someone in a Santa Klaus suit. A discontented family has gathered under the paternal roof, all of them with reason to want the old man out of the way, the reasons are basically all money, and there's an element of urgency added to the family anxiety courtesy of an indispensable and shapely private secretary.
Sir Osmand Melbury isn't a very nice man, and far to many of the family are principally interested in his wealth or there own affairs to be particularly likeable either - as the chief constable feels moved to observe that they all lie far to easily and with far to little provocation. It's the lies about little things that obscure the truth of what happened, and for all the protagonists claim that they don't think they were important details they all have things to hide and people they think they might be protecting.
Hay does a couple of things which are interesting - the first is that she writes from the perspective of seven different characters - mostly from that of Col. Halstock the chief constable who sees the family as an outsider and quietly gives the lie to their own images of themselves. It's a handy way of spreading suspicion around - the family obviously have their own doubts about each other. Hay also, I think, subverts our expectations about many of the characters; she certainly had me changing my sympathies all through the plot. As a murder mystery this is classic golden age country house stuff - a decent page turner with some real class about it, the plot is reasonably ingenious with a conclusion that was neat in so far as tying up the murder went, but just a little bit ambiguous as to the likely happiness (and characters) of some of the family. It's also interesting to read as a record of class attitudes of the time. Sometimes 1936 seems very close, other times it's quite clearly a long time ago. The Melbury's are presumably all good Tories with very fixed ideas about class and where people fit in to it. It's hard to judge on the back of one book whether Hay was simply sharing her own prejudices or if she was making a point. I'm inclined to believe that these are her actual opinions, so it'll be interesting to see if her other books reflect the same social mores.
I've written enthusiastically about the British Library publishing books like this before (back in November) I'm even more enthusiastic now I've read this. The possibilities for what they might unearth in the future are intriguing to say the least - 2014 does indeed have things to look forward to.