The only thing that surprises me about the number of murder mysteries set at Christmas is how few uncles or siblings get done in (anyone else who has seen a very drunk uncle wandering the halls not even decked in so much as a sprig of holly will understand). Meanwhile there's something reassuring about the recognition that gathering your nearest all under one roof might be a bit stressful (though the most dramatic thing, apart from the naked uncle, that's happened in my family at Christmas is a bout of tears and a melted chopping board).
Not so the Gray family in Anne Meredith's 'Portrait of a Murderer ' where the family return from church on Christmas morning to find their patriarch, Adrian Gray, dead in the library. The reader has already witnessed the murder and knows the who, how, and why. When it becomes clear that it really was murder the rest of the family have a pretty shrewd idea as well, but more than one person had motive. Will the carefully manipulated evidence be enough to get someone else hanged?
The Grays are a fairly unpleasant bunch - an ambitious politician who wants money from his father to pay of his mistress and buy a peerage, a dodgy financier as a son in law who wants money to stay out of prison and his vain and shallow wife, a bitter daughter to keep house, another steeped in depression after her marriage has been a conspicuous failure. A younger son who could be a promising artist but has married a woman who's dragging him into the gutter, and a father who didn't much care for any of them.
What makes this book so good is the way that Meredith draws each character in their own specific unhappiness making it clear that some can find their way back to happiness, but others will not depending on the person they are and what it is they hold most dear.
This is a darkly compelling murder mystery with a real emphasis on dysfunctional family dynamics, and it's absolutely perfect for reading on a dark winter night and making you grateful for the imperfect family you have. It's a fine choice for the 50th book in the British Library crime classics series - one that feels like a genuinely lost gem rather than an interesting curiosity (I like both sorts, that's not intended as a criticism) for the way it explores what the right thing to do is when you have split sympathies and more than one person is seriously guilty of something.