Friday, January 15, 2016

Murder For Christmas - Francis Duncan

I've always been a fan of vintage/golden age crime, and last year I read quite a bit of it - mostly in the form of British Library crime classics, but Christmas also bought me a couple of seasonally themed murders. The first of these was Francis Duncan's 'Murder For Christmas'. I don't know if statistically people are more likely do one another in over the festive season, but I do know my own patience is at its lowest ebb of the year and there's always someone who's particularly trying... (Though it's strictly tears before bedtime rather than violence.)

I didn't know anything about Francis Duncan (actually 2 minutes research shows that almost nobody does, that it's a pseudonym and there was a hint of mystery attached See here) or anything about this book beyond that it was first published in 1949. There's nothing concrete in the plot to suggest an actual date for the setting but somehow it feels inter, rather than post, war. Mostly because it's never mentioned and thetes no sense of austerity about the setting. I don't know why I get so obsessed with knowing when a books set, but I do.

The plot is clever enough with some excellent twists, there's plenty of atmosphere, and if the solution hinges on some psychological gymnastics on the part of the detective (retired tobacconist, Mordecai Tremaine) that's no criticism. The set up is the classic snowbound country house on Christmas Eve with an unlikely collection of guests and a suitably, if inexplicably, tense atmosphere. Mordecai has been invited (after brief previous acquaintance) with the promise of a mystery to get his teeth into, out of curiosity he shows up to find himself in a house with enough in the way of undercurrents to make a murder seem inevitable. Then, in a very festive touch, Santa Claus is found shot under the Christmas tree.

Tremaine slowly unpicks the problem along with the local policeman, and before the turkey leftovers could have been disposed of the mystery is solved with a mercifully low body count (I generally feel one murder is plenty).

If the book has a fault it's the authors habit of using everyone's full name all the time - not so much a fault as a tic, but one I quickly found slightly distracting. I'm mentioning it because forewarned is forearmed and in every other respect this is an excellent, as well as suitably seasonal, read.


  1. The time one really wants full names at every mention is in collections of diaries and letters, etc., for all those times one comes back to the book and cannot remember who "dear Mary" or "Bunny" was...

  2. My memory for names could be better, so initially it was helpful, but eventually I just found it distracting.