With thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy.
These British Library crime classics are ever so slightly addictive, The Santa Klaus Murder; a cosy 1930’s mystery is of course perfect for the season, I do love a Christmas book or two at this time of year.
Although I really enjoyed the escapist aspect to this novel, I don’t really think it’s a particularly good example of the type. Certainly it is engaging and very readable, but there is a lot to the mystery that I found predictable, although I was happy enough to keep going to find out if I had guessed correctly.
The first few chapters are told by members of the household, accounts they are (later in the novel) asked to write about the events leading up to the crime. These first few chapters are a little slow, and for me the novel only really got going when Col. Halstock, the chief constable takes over the narration.
“Certainly the most difficult and painful situation I have ever found myself involved in! My old friend, Sir Osmond Melbury, found shot in his study on Christmas Day.”
The action takes place at Flaxmere a country house where the extended family of Sir Osmond Melbury his secretary, servants and a couple of other guests gather for Christmas. Sir Osmond controls his family with steely determination. Already he has had a say in who his elder daughters married– and intends to control the prospects of his youngest daughter Jennifer. Jennifer’s suitors are both invited for the season – Sir Osmond hoping to cruelly play one off against the other – so that his choice will be victorious.
Hilda Wynford, Sir Osbert’s eldest, widowed daughter and her daughter Carol are picked up at the station by old Ashmore a former chauffer of the family, and an old favourite with many members of the family. It seems poor Ashmore has not been particularly well treated by his old employer – although the old man’s fond loyalty is ever constant. This is the first indication the reader gets of Sir Osmond’s character, so of course – the justice that is meted out to such people in old fashioned mysteries being what it is – we know immediately who the victim will be. It is quickly very clear that practically every one at Flaxmere would benefit in one way or another by sir Osmond not being around any longer.
As Sir Osmond’s daughters, their husbands’, children, Aunt Mildred and Jennifer’s potential suitors; Philip Cheriton and Oliver Witcombe arrive, Sir Osmond is working himself up over his Christmas plans. With the help of his faithful secretary Grace Portisham, Sir Osmond has been planning a Santa Klaus treat for his family on Christmas day – and is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the costume he has ordered.
When Christmas day arrives, everyone is a little anxious about how the day will turn out, and whether Sir Osmond’s plans will work out satisfactorily. After dinner, everything seems to be going extremely well indeed, Bingham, the current chauffer has put up the Christmas tree, Oliver Witcombe who has been deputised to play the Santa Klaus has carried out his duties if not with enthusiasm at least without a hitch. As the children play in the hall, and Christmas crackers start to be pulled, Sir Osmond having returned to his study is discovered shot dead, a revolver lying on the desk in front of him.
So on Christmas day afternoon Colonel Halstock Chief Constable of Haulmshire is called to Flaxmere to begin the investigation into the murder. Over the next few days suspicion is to fall on several of the members of the household. Aiding Col. Halstock is Inspector Rousdon and Kenneth Stour, an actor who Sir Osmond’s daughter Edith had once been in love with. Now Edith is married to Sir David Evershot whose unpredictable behaviour has led to rumours of insanity. Kenneth; in offering his help to the Col immediately puts himself under some suspicion.
“I didn’t feel inclined for a friendly chat with anyone. I’d just been making mental notes of half a dozen points I wanted to inquite into. I suppose I growled at him. I told him I was up to my eyes in a difficult business.
‘I rather thought it might be difficult,’ he remarked. ‘Look here, Sir, I really want to speak to you. I might possibly be able to help.”
The police are quick to consult Mr Crewkerne Sir Osmond’s solicitor – and discover that Sir Osmond had been planning on changing his will. Col Halstock must then consider – who might have known about the plans and wanted to stop them being put into action or who may have misunderstood and believed Sir Osmond’s plans to already have been written into the will? In true country house murder fashion, the timeline of events is eventually sketched out almost to the minute, and so naturally who was where and doing what when is crucial.
All in all The Santa Klaus Murder is good escapist, cosy reading for the season, but for me doesn’t rank alongside the golden age greats of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers who for me remain hard to beat.