Published by British Library Publishing
Publication date – 1 October 2015
Source – own copy
Aunt Mildred declared that no good could come of the Melbury family Christmas gatherings at their country residence Flaxmere. So when Sir Osmond Melbury, the family patriarch, is discovered – by a guest dressed as Santa Klaus – with a bullet in his head on Christmas Day, the festivities are plunged into chaos. Nearly every member of the party stands to reap some sort of benefit from Sir Osmond’s death, but Santa Klaus, the one person who seems to have every opportunity to fire the shot, has no apparent motive. Various members of the family have their private suspicions about the identity of the murderer, and the Chief Constable of Haulmshire, who begins his investigations by saying that he knows the family too well and that is his difficulty, wishes before long that he understood them better. In the midst of mistrust, suspicion and hatred, it emerges that there was not one Santa Klaus, but two.
The Melbury family are gathering at the country home of their father, Sir Osmond, for yet another Christmas. Amongst them the would be fiance of the youngest daughter Jennifer, and the man who Sir Osmond would rather marry her. On Christmas Day, after food has been eaten and people are trying to make merry, Sir Osmond is found dead in his study, found by Santa Klaus himself. But who fired the fatal shot?
A country house murder mystery wouldn’t be complete without secrets, suspicions and money. There are worries about the mental health of family members, the need for money to enable fulfilment of a life long dream and frustrated desires of the heart. Through in the mix a patriarch who is controlling and devious and the recipe is there for a murder to be announced. This of course leaves the reader with many suspects to consider and many clues to sift through.
After the denouement there are a list of clues and questions that showed how the culprit was identified which was a good way of showing logically how the investigators deduced the affair.
One of the weaker sides to the story were the number of characters. There was a list at the front of the book to refer to but it didn’t always help when some had nicknames and others had names beginning with the same letter. There was also a plan of the house. Whilst I love a good map, it didn’t always tie up with the descriptions in the novel, or at least it didn’t to me.
It is always interesting to read books from this period. There is an essence that can never quite be matched, with traditions that have now fallen by the wayside. It did set me in the mood for more of the same, in fact, I read another country house Christmas murder mystery straight after.
In short, a pleasant way to spend a few winter evenings. After all, Christmas isn’t Christmas without a country house murder.