When I saw that The Santa Klaus Murder was available for loan from the Kindle Lending Library I wondered if it was worth looking at. I’d never heard of Mavis Doriel Hay before, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, one of the British Library Crime Classics.
Mavis Doriel Hay (1894-1979) was a novelist of the golden age of British crime fiction. Her three detective novels were published in the 1930s and are now rare and highly collectable books. She was an expert on rural handicraft and wrote several books on the subject.
Summary from the British Library:
A classic country-house murder mystery, The Santa Klaus Murder begins with Aunt Mildred declaring that no good could come of the Melbury family Christmas gathering 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, but in the midst of mistrust, suspicion, and hatred, it emerges that there was not one Santa Klaus but two.
This was first published in 1936 and it is a classic locked room murder mystery. There are lots of suspects, especially as there were rumours that Sir Osmond was about to re-write his will. The story has several narrators, including – Sir Osmond’s daughter, Jennifer and her fiancÃ©, Philip (Sir Osmond has withheld his blessing to their engagement), his daughter Hilda, a widow, Mildred, his sister, Grace, his young and vivacious secretary, and Colonel Halstock, the Chief Constable, investigating the crime. The suspects all seem to have alibis, but are they all telling the truth?
In short, it seems impossible to be sure of anyone’s exact movements during that half-hour.
No one admits seeing anyone enter the study after Oliver Witcombe left Sir Osmond there, until Witcombe returned and found him dead. (page 81)
It is a complicated plot and I enjoyed all the twists and turns. The opening chapters are rather detailed setting out the family background, but the characters all came to life as they arrived at Flaxmere.
There is a map showing the layout of the ground floor of Flaxmere, to help the reader and I kept referring to it as I read, together with the list of characters and their relationships.
To help you even more, if you haven’t worked out who did it there is a Postscript by Colonel Haverstock listing the questions and clues to identify the murderer. So don’t look at the end if you don’t want to know how and why Sir Osmond was murdered.
Hay’s other two murder mysteries Murder Underground and Death on the Cherwell are due to be published in June 2014 – I’ll be looking out for them.