It’s a well-known fact that ministers or priests love crime novels and detective stories. Don’t ask me why, but as the daughter of a minister, I, Thura, grew up in a house filled with crime novels and the standard Saturday-evening viewing of a Miss Marple film. This also means that I associate Christmas with a good murder. All three of us think there’s something incredibly cosy and relaxing about reading detective novels over the holidays, pondering on who could have committed a fictional horrific crime this time, while enjoying some Christmas punch. And we’re not the only one: there are many, many books with titles like ‘murder at Christmas’. So we decided to do not only a Christmas book recommendation, but a Christmas and Death-themed recommendation. All three of our chosen books are very different, but all have the elements of Christmas, the coming together of people, death and a lesson learned.
Bella’s Christmas Recommendation: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
This story, about Scrooge who is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to teach him about the meaning of Christmas, is one of the most famous Christmas stories. It made the phrase ‘humbug’ popular, because that’s what Scrooge keeps saying, thinking about Christmas and all the festivities. However, the fact that it is such a well-known story doesn’t mean you should not read it again this Christmas. It is a thrilling ghost story that stays interesting with every re-read and the message of redemption and discovering the true meaning of Christmas remains relevant.
One reason this book fits the theme is that it starts with the death of Marley, the companion of Scrooge only in the business sense. There was never a real attachment between the two. Scrooge has no attachment to anyone or anything and is an old man without any kindness or friendliness inside him – you could say he is dead inside. He is even annoyed to grant his clerk, Bob Cratchit, a paid day off for Christmas. At the eve of Christmas, the ghosts show him why Christmas is an important day for his clerk and other people, including Scrooge himself. Also, the ghosts show him what will happen if he keeps thinking Christmas is humbug by showing his own lonely death and the death of a much loved small boy.
The reason you should read this book, though, is that it is not only about death. It is much more about being reborn by accepting God’s grace and human kindness. Scrooge learns that Christmas is a time of warmth, friendship and family through the visions of the ghosts. He learns that loving people will enrich his life and make him a better person. That makes this book about redemption and second chances a perfect read during Christmas, when it’s all about being together with the people you love. It is the perfect book for people like me, who have trouble getting themselves into the happy, festive spirit. Reading this book will remind you what Christmas is all about.
Jo’s Christmas Recommendation: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
You cannot write a blog post about Christmas murder without mentioning the Queen of Crime, Dame Agatha Christie. Her novel Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is just short enough to read over the holidays, in between church visits and family gatherings. Just as in the other books on this list, the peaceful and hopeful spirit of Christmas is offset by death. In this case, death arrives in the form of a brutal murder. What should be a season of reconciliation becomes a time of suspicion and uncertainty. The added element of Christmas makes the murder all the more incomprehensible for the story’s characters, and all the more seasonable for us.
The Lee family has come together for Christmas for the first time in more than twenty years, but their celebration is disturbed by a bloodcurdling scream. As they break through the locked door of their elderly patriarch’s room, they arrive upon a scene that seems both unreal and impossible: the old man lies in a pool of his own blood, his throat slit, all the furniture in the room overturned and the windows closed. There seems to be no way in which the murderer could have escaped. Luckily, our favourite Belgian detective is called upon to help the police solve the crime. In the story, the violence and suspicion that come with murder are constantly contrasted with what Christmas should be: a time of ‘peace and goodwill’. One member of the Lee family, a young woman who grew up in Spain, longs to celebrate an English Christmas like the ones she read about in books, but the crackers and decorations stay in the cupboard.
This story has all the classic ingredients of an Agatha Christie murder: a limited pool of subjects who all seem to have a motive for killing the victim, a few strange elements in the murder scene, a large house, complex family dynamics and a plot twist. The joy of Agatha Christie’s novels are her attention to detail and human nature, a talent which she uses superbly in this story. To the reader, of course, this murder means an attractive mystery to put your teeth in. I imagine, if you have that kind of family, this would be an excellent book to read out loud so you can try to solve it together. I’ll reveal that the ending is bittersweet and that the Lee family might have a better Christmas next year. In which case, we’ll move on to another fictional family that is struck by death at Christmas time.
Thura’s Christmas Reccomendation: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce #4) by Alan Bradley
As mentioned before, I find detective stories to be incredibly cosy. This of course has a lot to do with the fact that they’re fictional and the fact that we get to solve this murder from a calming and safe place, preferably with a Christmas tree nearby! So my Christmas recommendation is indeed murder, investigated by my favourite eleven-year-old know-it-all chemist and sleuth Flavia de Luce. I’ve written a review on the first book in the series before and you can find it here if you would like to know more about young Flavia. But just to give you a short overview: Flavia is eleven years old, a bit of a genius, and she lives on a large estate during the 1950s in England. Her hobbies include all things chemistry, poison in particular, and butting in whenever someone in the village gets done in.
In I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Flavia spends her Christmas at their family manor called Buckshaw with a film crew shooting at their estate. When half the village gathers at their manor for an evening performance by one of the stars of the film, they get snowed in. And of course, how could it not, past midnight Flavia discovers the body of the movie star, who was strangled with a piece of film. Immediately she gets to work, with both her brilliant mind and her chemistry gifts, in trying to find the murderer among the kind villagers all trapped at their house for the night. And one of these trapped villagers is actually a woman who is about to have a real life Christmas baby at any moment. Eventually, Flavia manages to capture the killer at her own peril and with the help of some homemade dodgy fireworks. This is not a brilliant or complicated crime novel, but it will give you that excitement of a detective and the warm fuzzy feeling that Christmas often brings.
Flavia is incredibly precocious for her age, but she is also just a child. Because she is the narrator of this story, this book is the perfect Christmas read for me: it’s a classic who-dun-it, but from the point of view of an eleven year old who still gets incredibly excited about Christmas and refuses to believe that Santa Claus isn’t real. The little village of Bishop’s Lacey offers the perfect background for a cosy and very British Christmas, where people will celebrate Christmas no matter what gets thrown at them (a body in this case). And of course, I particularly loved the added heavily pregnant woman and the awe and peace this suddenly brings to the story. Flavia may believe she knows everything there is to know about the world, but the beauty of a new-born child puts all of her science and logical conclusions into perspective. And isn’t that really what Christmas is all about?
We might enjoy murder over Christmas, but not everyone does, so let us know below what you would like to read or are reading over Christmas! If you love a good ghostly tale like we do, definitely give these books a try.
Either way, we would like to wish all of you a blessed and bookish Christmas!