Top Ten Holiday Mysteries
Having to work on a holiday has been known to put me in a horrible mood, yet Poirot, Holmes, and Inspector Alleyn seem to delight in having their holidays marred by the odd murder or theft. Here’s a list of the top ten novels and stories set during the holiday season which show what great sports these detectives are—after all they have the attitude that justice should never sleep!
This wonderful book has all the elements of a great country house murder and what’s more, it’s set during Christmas. Poirot ends up having his holiday ruined when Simeon Lee is found murdered—he was a hateful old badger but the Belgian detective won’t stop until he finds whodunit. This is probably one of the greatest holiday mysteries ever penned, with all the ingredients of a great classic—rounding off the cast is the rest of the Lee family, all of whom had an interest in seeing off the old man, including a very entertaining black sheep of a son!
By Georges Simenon
Okay, this isn’t a novel but it’s a delightful collection of short stories featuring the resolute and intrepid Jules Maigret. These stories aren’t that dark, unlike Simenon’s novels (if you can call those tiny books novels), and they show a more compassionate side of the inspector who, despite dealing with the seedy underside of Paris, always manages to show his human side.
“The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Reading this short story will have one looking more closely at holiday meals! In this case, a priceless jewel is found in a goose—very unlikely, but if you read the “oddly enough” section of newspapers, you’ll read even stranger stories. In this charming little adventure, Holmes and Watson set about trying to uncover the answer to the vexing question about how the blue carbuncle was fed to a goose—I mean, at that time I doubt the board of health and sanitation existed!
Tied Up in Tinsel
By Ngaio Marsh
Sadly, this book is out of print and despite the recent decline in popularity of Marsh, she still remains one of the grand old dames of the Golden Age of Crime Fiction. In this novel, Inspector Alleyn is called to the scene of the disappearance of one of the guests—one can only hope that after having his holiday ruined, the inspector asked to be paid for overtime!
By Jo Nesbo
Here we have a contemporary novel that has all the makings of a classic. During a Salvation Army concert, one of the singers is shot and killed. The intrepid and tenacious Harry Hole finds he’s in a heck of a pickle: it’s all well and good to sleuth when you have a suspect, a motive, and some clues—but this time he has none of the above.
The Spy Who Came for Christmas
By David Morrell
Don’t expect any steaming chimneys, icicles, or snow stained with blood in this thriller by the brilliant David Morrell. This thriller is set in Santa Fe and, you have a story about a baby with some very special powers and a group of ruthless criminals out to find and kidnap this special tot.
By Mary Higgins Clark
Who says that we don’t have a Grand dame of Crime Fiction in the United States who can, with her pen or typewriter, leave readers puzzled, gripped by fear, and begging for more? In this delightful novel, which is set—yes, you guessed it—during the Christmas season, a young boy plays a game of cat-and-mouse with a pickpocket who stole his mom’s wallet. The stakes get very high in this novel by Clark who, after writing dozens of novels, is still going strong!
A Christmas Promise
By Anne Perry
Prolific and yet always delivering a great pot-boiler even if it’s set in Victorian England, Anne Perry provides this evocative and warm little novel that has two girls looking for a donkey, which has been missing since the day one of the girls’ uncle Alf was killed.
Holiday in Death
By J.D. Robb
Yes, the dating world can be frustrating but in Robb’s thriller, it is not only frustrating but deadly. That’s right. Lieutenant Eve Dallas, while searching for clues, finds that a string of homicides is traced to a dating service (so don’t listen to Mom when she tells you to sign up for one of those free online dating service accounts).
The culmination of this book is vintage Robb: surprising, chilling, and hopeful.
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
By Agatha Christie
Why not end with Dame Agatha? I know after reading the passage about “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” you’re going to see some similarities between the two stories but trust me—this one is different. Hercule Poirot is celebrating a typical English Christmas and receives a note that reads: “DON’T EAT NONE OF THE PLUM PUDDING. ONE WHO WISHES YOU WELL.”
With that, I’d like to conclude by wishing you all a happy holiday and warning you to look closely in your holiday meals and make sure you crush your plum pudding with a fork before ingesting it—after all, you may find a fortune in your plate!
Top Ten Films Set During the Holidays… with a dose of Mayhem!
- Die Hard
I know the film had a share of those wonderful ‘80s hairstyles and those prominent shoulders pads. This 1988 classic also had holiday party to die for (pun intended) which was crashed by a motley group of German villains led by Alan Rickman.
- Three Days of The Condor
When I think of Christmas films, I think of the colors of the holidays—red and green and this film has Robert Redford showcasing his mop of red hair while fighting a government conspiracy. And the movie is set at the backdrop of the holidays in the Big Apple. And the guy pooping the party is the masterful Max Von Sydow—an urbane yet lethal assassin.
- Trading Places
Okay, okay, this one doesn’t have a villain who has sympathy for his victims before sending them off this mortal coil or a fancy haircut and controlled German accent and the biggest crime in this film is fraud! But, having said that there is some mayhem and two old villains making sure that Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy have a holiday never to be forgotten!
- LA Confidential
All blood and gore set in the 50s against the backdrop of those huge Christmas tree lights while the three protagonists were probably hearing the tune of “I’m dreading a dry Christmas in the background.” A fine film, adapted from James Elroy’s tour de force with some huge performances by Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, and James Cromwell.
- Murder by Death
Now we have a theme here, another film with James Cromwell, this time he has a minor role as the assistant to a poor portrayal of Hercule Poirot played by James Coco. I don’t know why, but this film due to the wonderful cast from Alec Guinness, David Niven, Maggie Smith, Peter Falk, is always turned on in the background in my majestic estate during Christmas! Maybe it’s the setting, maybe it was because my parents had it on TV when I was a kid, or maybe it’s because I like Truman Capote!
- The Ref
Denis Leary is a cat burglar with a problem, instead of hijacking Mr. Ward and June Cleaver, he happens to find himself in the middle of a bickering couple played by Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey. And the poor guy while refereeing their fights and dodging the law starts questioning the enterprise of crime.
- The Thin Man
The classic and most over-watched film in history (I exaggerate) has a wonderful Christmas party, the charm of William Powell, the grace and turns of phrase of Myrna Loy, and a cute little pooch names Asta, and some black and white Christmas trees. Contrary to popular belief people in the 30s didn’t live a black and white life, so you’ll just have to use your imagination to fill in the colors while watching this classic which was based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett.
- Lady in the Lake
No offense to anyone, but this was a bad film, but a bad film worth seeing. You have Robert Montgomery acting like Philip Marlowe while narrating a case of a missing person, murder, conspiracy, it has it all, only we hardly get to see Marlowe because the story is told through his eyes. We even get to see how it’s like to get a big smooch (from the visual perspective of Montgomery of course). He must have felt that directing the film exonerated him from having to show that handsome face—I disagree! I mean who would want to see Hitchcock as a leading man…Montgomery on the other hand…
- Batman Returns
Kids out there don’t think it was Christian Bale who restarted the Batman enterprise, it was Michael Keaton. And in this film, we have a political campaign in Gotham led by the menacing Penguin played by Danny DeVito who is backed by a the corrupt, criminal, creepy business mogul Max Shreck
(Christopher Walken). And the question is, can Batman save Gotham and everyone’s holiday from the corrupt group? Big spoiler: he saves the day!
- Home Alone
I know, it was more funny than creepy, but this charming film is a classic and will always be a classic. I mean what kid growing up didn’t wish that they were forgotten by their folks and had a chance to grocery shop, lock horns with a criminal, raid the fridge at all hours, have a whole pizza for dinner while scaring the daylights out of the pizza delivery guy.
And since I added Murder by Death and it isn’t a Christmas film, I am giving you a bonus, “Back For Christmas” with Richard Johnson. This appeared in the English half hour drama series Tales of the Unexpected and has a pretty horrible guy committing a pretty nasty crime during the holidays. If you can track it down, please do.
Happy Holidays to all and maybe you’d like to see one of the films after putting getting tired of all the heartwarming films!