The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler

Review published on February 4, 2015. Reviewed by Erin Britton

There’s nothing like a festive felony to keep you occupied on a cold and miserable winter’s evening, which is what makes The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries a true seasonal ‘must have’. Featuring some 60 stories from the greatest crime writers in history, The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries is bursting at the [stocking?] seams with Christmas carnage, midwinter murders and Noël noir.

Whatever your festive mood, there’s a subsection of criminally good capers to suit you. From ‘A Traditional Little Christmas’ to ‘A Funny Little Christmas’, ‘A Sherlockian Little Christmas’ to ‘An Uncanny Little Christmas’, The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries has got you covered. Many of the best-loved crime authors are represented, with stories from the likes of Agatha Christie, Peter Lovesey, Arthur Conan Doyle, Colin Dexter, Ellis Peters, John Mortimer, Ed McBain, Sara Paretsky and Peter Robinson included among many others.

Of course, where there are famous authors, there are also famous characters and so The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries includes adventures featuring many favourite characters from the crime genre. Hercule Poirot is present in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding while Sherlock Holmes flexes his own little grey cells in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. Instantly recognisable sleuths can also be found in Morse’s Greatest Mystery and Rumpole and the Spirit of Christmas, while Brother Cadfael plays his own festive role in The Price of Light.

While some of the characters and stories are very familiar, there are also many more obscure and surprising works included. Whether it be authors who are now sadly forgotten, those who were never that big in the UK in the first place, or those who are not commonly associated with mysteries, there are stories in The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries that should be new to even the most ardent mystery buff. The standouts among the lesser known stories include The Thieves Who Couldn’t Stop Sneezing, the surprisingly upbeat yet still moralistic Christmas tale from Thomas Hardy, and Markheim, Robert Louis Stevenson’s festive dissection of good versus evil.

Each story is introduced by Otto Penzler (proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York and all-round King of Anthologies), who sets the murderous scene, introduces key characters and provides a bit of background about each author. These introductions are an informative, enjoyable extra and often point to other works that are very much worth checking out.

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries is an absolute delight. Not everyone will like every story but the included tales are, in general, top notch. Besides, even when a short story is more miss than hit, it’s still short. There are many stories that bear reading again and again and, whether you save The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries for the festive season or spread out the murder and mayhem across the year, there are hours and hours of wonderful tales of intrigue to keep you occupied.

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