It is the time of the year for wintery,Christmas stories and short stories are well adapted to represent the different aspects of the Christmas spirit. There are ten stories in this edition and I found perhaps two of them less attractive. Not too bad for an anthology. They are or charming and very Christmas minded or dark and very wintery. There is a lovely story by Ellis Peters(The Trinity Cat),a rather sad one by Margery Allingham(On Christmas Day in the Morning),a closed room mystery by Julian Symons (the Santa Claus Club),a classic golden age one by John Dickson Carr (The Footprints in the Sky) and some stories by ” newer” authors (Ian Ranking,Val Mcdermid…). All in all a very good compilation of Christmas mysteries.
London is groaning under a severe snowstorm and Siberian temperatures when the body of an elderly woman is found in an isolated ward of an abandoned and derelict asylum. As soon as Detective Lew Kirby and his partner Pete Anderson start their investigation a second body is found in the River Thames. It soon becomes clear that the past of Blackwater Asylum ,with its tragedies,rumours and whispers,is to play a major part towards the solving of these crimes. It is a good story and the setting,an abandoned asylum during wintertime,is fabulously atmospheric. The writing is sound and the two detectives are likeable and believable. But,there is always a but,there are so many storylines who are, some closely and some marginally, interweaved that it becomes a tad confusing and it does not always lead to a better story. And then some secondary storylines are left unsolved ,probably for a second episode, but ,barring a fantasy trilogy, I don’t really like that kind of open ending.
The story is set in the beautiful city of Delft during the Golden Age of the Netherlands . Three eight year old girls are missing. One of them is found buried in a field just outside the city. The city council of Delft asks Master Mercurius of the University of Leiden to assist them in recovering the girls and solving this crime. Mercurius is a far from perfect character. For one thing ,he is a protestant minister and an ordained catholic priest which is not always an easy marriage in the 17th century low countries. But he is very likeable, intelligent and disarmingly naive. He also meets some very interesting people among which Johannes Vermeer,the painter,and Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek,the founder of modern microbiology. And there is the city of Delft in the background of course. You know with some books that as soon as you start reading them that they are going to be alright (or more than alright). Historical mystery fiction is not always a perfect blend between the different parts. Sometimes there is not enough historical data,sometimes there is just too much and the mystery story just disappears in a swamp (or in this case perhaps a canal) of titbits and not relevant facts. But here it really ticked off and all the boxes. The setting,in the dead of winter,was both enchanting and a bit eerie. Sometimes it felt as if I was walking through one of Vermeer’s paintings. The slippery cobblestones,the dykes,the wind mills and the endless sky hovering over the frost covered fields. Perhaps one little remark,nothing to do with the quality of the story,but the frozen fields,icy sleet and biting wind makes this a perfect read for the winter.
David Henchman,a young undergraduate,several other young cubs and their tutor are participating in a reading party. In the morning they pore over texts and in the afternoon they climb hills and discover Dartmoor ‘s treasures. One morning David visits Knack Tor with its magnificent views. When he finally, after a stiff climb,arrives at the top he is not alone. A corpse awaits him there. He then calls for help and manages to attract the attention of a casual passerby. But this hiker seems to have an altogether different agenda. What follows is a wilde chase through heather ,moors,meadows and country lanes. When David finally finds himself in a more safe environment, Inspector Appleby enters the story… I’ve read novels by Michael Innes before and it always amounts to the same thing,sometimes the storyline is definitely worthwhile and sometimes it is all over the place. More than one third of the book consists of young David’s adventures while being chased by the assailants. It feels as if it never going to end and when it finally does, we are confronted by spies and not very intelligent or successful ones. There is definitely a boy scout feeling about. Fine if you like it but it didn’t really work for me.