The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries: The Most Complete Collection of Yuletide Whodunits Ever Assembled

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries:The Most Complete Collection of Yuletide Whodunits Ever Assembled edited by Otto Penzler is just the book to read at this time of year if, like me, you enjoy mystery fiction with a Christmas theme. It is a big book of 647 pages – so I have an e-book version and dip into into it each Christmas.

It contains stories by a variety of authors including Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, Ellis Peters, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ellery Queen, Edgar Wallace, Peter Lovesey, Peter Robinson, Ed McBain, Sarah Paretsky, Mary Higgins Clark, Ngaio Marsh, Isaac Asimov, G K Chesterton, H R F Keating, Robert Louis Stevenson and more.

Rumpole and the Spirit of Christmas by  John Mortimer is one of the stories in the section ‘A Funny Little Christmas’. In it Rumpole is at the Old Bailey defending Edward Timson, the youngest member of the huge south London family of criminals, charged with wilful murder. It’s Christmas and Eddie tells Rumpole his mum wants him hone for Christmas – but Rumpole wonders ‘which Christmas?

Will he make it? The evidence against him is strong. It all began when a war broke out between the Timsons and the O’Dowds when Bridget O’Dowd was chosen to play the role of Mary in the school nativity play and Eddie said she was ‘a spotty little tart unsuited to play any role of which the most notable characteristic was virginity‘. The resulting battle ended with the death of Kevin O’Dowd.

Rumpole is his usual grumpy self, getting drunk on wine in Pommeroy’s Wine Bar with the prosecuting barrister, Wrigglesworth, instead of hurrying home to his wife, Hilda (She Who Must be Obeyed) who has made him rissoles and frozen peas for his dinner. As I read it I could easily imagine the scenes, with Leo McKern playing the role of Rumpole.

Agatha Christie has two stories in the collection – the first is The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding in which Hercule Poirot investigates the theft of a priceless ruby stolen from a Far Eastern prince. The Christmas Pudding in question is a ‘large football of a pudding, a piece of holly stuck in it and glorious flames of blue and red rising round it’  and the second A Christmas Tragedy, a little puzzle of a mystery. Miss Marple tells the story of the death of Mrs Sanders and how it it had been made to look an accident when it was really a cold-blooded murder. I can’t see any connection in this story to Christmas, but it is definitely a tragedy and for a short story it is very complicated.

There are no stories by Charles Dickens in this collection but Morse’s Greatest Mystery by Colin Dexter begins with a quotation from A Christmas Carol, when Lewis knocks on the door of Morse’s North Oxford flat and Morse greets him whilst shouting down the phone to his bank manager. Like Scrooge Morse doesn’t like Christmas! This story is about the theft of a donation of £400 pounds to a charity for Mentally Handicapped Children the patrons of the George pub. Morse has to follow a series of clues to solve the mystery – and by the end he becomes more like the Christmas Scrooge …

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As this is my last post before Christmas I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Reading! 

First Chapter First Paragraph: Rumpole by John Mortimer

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week I’m featuring Rumpole by John Mortimer, one of the recent additions to my TBRs. There are many collections of John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey stories. My copy was published in 1994 by the Folio Society and has ten of the Rumpole stories – they are longish short stories, thirty to fortyish pages long.

Rumpole

I must thank Margot (Confessions of a Mystery Writer)  for reminding me about both the books and the TV series in her In the Spotlight post on Rumpole. The same day I read her post I went to Barter Books in Alnwick and found three books by John Mortimer, including this one, a great find! The collection Margot wrote about includes the first story in my collection, but the rest are different.

Mortimer has chosen ten of his favourite Rumpole stories, saying that they are

the stories I enjoyed writing most, those which made me laugh a little when I was writing them (the only reliable test of a successful piece of work), and which drew some laughter from the actors when they read through the television versions.

It begins with an Introduction:

About eighteen years ago I thought I needed a character, like Maigret or Sherlock Holmes, to keep me alive in my old age. I wanted a sort of detective, who could be the hero of a number of stories but whose personality and approach to life were more important than the crimes with which he was concerned. He would have to be a comic character, as well as being courageous and more than usually astute, because I believe life to be best portrayed as comedy.

and the first story is Rumpole and the Younger Generation, which begins:

I, Horace Rumpole, barrister at law, sixty-eight next birthday. Old Bailey hack, husband to Mrs Hilda Rumpole (known to me only as She Who Must Be Obeyed) and father to Nicholas Rumpole (lecturer in social studies at the University of Baltimore, (I have always been extremely proud of Nick); I who have a mind full of old murders, legal anecdotes and memorable fragments of the Oxford Book of English Verse ( Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s edition) together with a dependable knowledge of bloodstains, blood groups, fingerprints, and forgery by typewriter; I, who am now the oldest member of my Chambers, take up my pen at this advanced age during a lull in business (there’s not much crime about – all the best villains seem to be off on holiday in the Costa Brava) in order to write my reconstructions of some of my recent triumphs (including a number of recent disasters) in the Courts of Law, hoping thereby to turn a bob or two which won’t be immediately grabbed by the taxman, or my clerk Henry or by She Who Must Be Obeyed, and perhaps give some sort of entertainment to those, who like myself, have found in British justice a life-long subject of harmless fun.

Phew! that is just one sentence! The rest of the story is not like that and the narrative moves along briskly and as Margot says in her post there’s a great deal of wit in the stories and courtroom repartee.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?