Friday, December 8, 2017

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James

Reviewed by Jeanne

P.D. James was considered one of the modern grande dames of mystery fiction, being awarded numerous honors for her writing, including being named a Baroness.  Critics lauded her books as elevating mere mystery to Literature.  While this implied criticism of their genre annoyed mystery readers, it gave others a good excuse to dip into the adventures of Inspector Adam Dalgliesh or Cordelia Gray.

Besides her novels, she wrote non-fiction, including an excellent book Talking About Detective Fiction in which she discusses classic authors and books, and short stories. Four of the latter comprise this collection; two feature Dalgliesh.  The description says these are “uncollected stories” which is not the same as “unpublished.”  I recall reading at least one of the Dalgliesh stories before, probably in some anthology.

The title story is set at Christmas, 1940, when a young widow is invited to her estranged grandmother’s estate for the holiday.  Told in hindsight, the bleakness of wartime Britain comes through strongly in the dark, forbidding house where a select group has gathered. Of course, ere long one of the company will end up dead in a traditional country house murder setting.

“A Commonplace Murder” involves a clerk who slips back into his place of employment after hours and ends up becoming a voyeur.  This reader found echoes of both Hitchcock and Christie in this tale.

“The Boxdale Inheritance” is one of the Adam Dalgliesh stories, set early in his career.  Adam’s gentle godfather is due to inherit a considerable sum of money, but the elderly gentleman has concerns about how the wealth was acquired.

In the final story, Dalgliesh is on his way to visit his aunt only to be waylaid by a reported suicide.

James fans should take great satisfaction in these fine stories, and those unfamiliar with the author may find their appetites whetted for her novels.  All are excellently done with strong plotting, well-defined characters, and vivid settings.

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