Murder on Christmas Eve edited by Cecily Gayford

murder on xmas eve

Title: Murder on Christmas Eve

Author: Various Authors, Edited by Cecily Gayford

Genre: Crime, short stories

Publisher: Profile Books

Published: 22nd November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The follow up to the bestselling crime collection Murder under the Christmas Tree

Christmas Eve. While the world sleeps, snow falls gently from the sky, presents await under the tree … and murder is afoot. In this collection of ten classic murder mysteries from the best crime writers in history, death and mayhem takes many festive forms, from the inventive to the unexpected.

From a Santa Claus with a grudge to missing diamonds spirited away by a mysterious visitor, these are stories to enjoy – and be mystified by – in front of a roaring fire, mince pie to hand – or at the beach!

 

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In Murder on Christmas Eve, some of the best crime authors have had stories with a Christmas theme collected into one volume. From Ellis Peters and the Trinity Cat, whose inexplicable appearance at the scene of a murder on Christmas Eve has the police and witnesses scratching their heads, wondering what the cat could know – and what exactly happened, to the clever stories by authors such as Ian Rankin, who invite well-known characters such as John Rebus into the fold of Christmas, where what appears to be an innocent Christmas party soon becomes a little more sinister. Some authors are British, such as Ian Rankin, some American, such as John Dickson Carr, mixed in with well-known authors – Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and G.K. Chesterton and some that I had not been aware of, and that perhaps are not as well-known as some of the others.

 

Nevertheless, they are all collected together, with a common thread of crime and Christmas linking them. They are stories that make you think and more often than not, leave you scratching your head at what had driven someone to commit the crimes depicted in the story, that have flawed characters of all kinds that make you question the human condition.  Though each story is set at Christmas, it is not always immediately obvious – sometimes it is mentioned, sometimes there are subtle clues about the setting, and all are blanketed in snow and the feel of winter that sends chills throughout the story.

 

Each story is unique, and the intrigue in each ensures that the reader will be kept guessing, and the assumed outcome will not necessarily be what happens – in clever twists, the authors hint at what could have happened, what some characters might have been driven to or were driven to – not redeeming the criminals but showing the complexity of right and wrong and how, as humans, we navigate these two factors in the world around us.

 

This was an intriguing collection of short stories, a tiny taste of each of these authors and their characters to please current fans and introduce new fans to the authors and their detectives. It showed that crime doesn’t stop just because of the season or holidays, and through these crimes, sometimes the true nature of people is revealed, and that there are times, that even the people we think we know can understand what has driven another to crime and murder. All in all, a very interesting set of stories that even though the show a darker side to humanity, make for great holiday reading alongside Charles Dickens.

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Sleep No More by P.D. James

sleep no more.jpgTitle: Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales
Author: P.D. James
Genre: Crime Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Faber Fiction
Published: 25th October 2017
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 176
Price: $24.99
Synopsis: A second collection of short stories from P.D. James. Six further stories are published together for the first time in a beautiful hardback edition.
As a companion volume to The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, a further six of P. D. James’s ingenious short stories are published here together for the first time.

As the six murderous tales unfold, the dark motive of revenge is revealed at the heart of each. Bullying schoolmasters receive their comeuppance, unhappy marriages and childhoods are avenged, a murder in the small hours of Christmas Day puts an end to the vicious new lord of the manor, and, from the safety of his nursing home, an octogenarian exerts exquisite retribution.

The punishments inflicted on the guilty are fittingly severe, but here they are meted out by the unseen forces of natural justice rather than the institutions of the law. Once again, P. D. James shows her expert control of the short-story form, conjuring motives and scenarios with complete conviction, and each with a satisfying twist in the tail.

Author bio:
P. D. James (1920-2014) was born in Oxford and educated at Cambridge High School for Girls. From 1949 to 1968 she worked in the National Health Service and subsequently in the Home Office, first in the Police Department and later in the Criminal Policy Department. All that experience was used in her novels. She was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Society of Arts and served as a Governor of the BBC, a member of the Arts Council, where she was Chairman of the Literary Advisory Panel, on the Board of the British Council and as a magistrate in Middlesex and London. She was an Honorary Bencher of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. She won awards for crime writing in Britain, America, Italy and Scandinavia, including the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award and The National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature (US). She received honorary degrees from seven British universities, was awarded an OBE in 1983 and was created a life peer in 1991. In 1997 she was elected President of the Society of Authors, stepping down from the post in August 2013.
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Sleep No More is a post-humus collection of short fiction by P.D. James. These six short stories hold dark motives within the characters, with revenge at the heart of the cries. A bullying schoolmaster gets comeuppance years in the making, and unhappy childhoods and marriages are avenged, whilst a Christmas murder ends the life of the new lord of the manor, and an elderly man in a nursing home reveals deep, dark secrets that lead to blackmail and retribution. In each of these stories, the psychology of the murder is explored, and each person linked to the dead becomes a suspect. In a series of stories where the narrator, suspect or blackmailer appears to know more than they let on, these stories are chilling and make you think, and question what you know from the information presented to you in the story. Each story is chilling and surprising, and keeps the reader guessing.

It is always a challenge reviewing a short story collection – often because knowing whether to comment on each story individually, or the collection as a whole and whether or not each story is related or interconnected are things to be considered in the review. With Sleep No More, each story is its own creepy, spine tingling, and sleep stealing entity, where killers hide in plain sight, and where justice it seems, might not be doled out, and the abundance of suspects, or lack or witnesses, ensures a disturbing mystery for all involved. In these stories, the idea that justice is meted out by those wronged by those they murder rather than the justice system of police officers, who play a rather peripheral role, is dealt with in an interesting way. This kind of justice, whilst might be seen as justified, questions the ethics and morality of the characters and the reader, whom, as with some of Roald Dahl’s stories, sympathises and empathises with the characters wronged and who gained revenge, and at the same time, celebrates these acts as justified based on what the reader has been told.

They pose the question – what is justice and who deserves to mete it out, and how? In these stories, it is not the justice system people put their trust in to do so, but take their own actions to achieve justice.

Over the years that P.D. James wrote these stories, they appeared in different publications, sometimes under different titles, but now, they are collected together, linked by murder and nefarious secrets that the narrators have, that are hinted at, with great skill at creating a mystery where the true killer may not be revealed, and at presenting two different perspectives in first person, as in the Christmas themed story.

Fans of PD.D James and crime will enjoy these short stories, for their unique way of looking at how one can get away with a crime, and what that person or people might do to ensure they’re never caught.

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Singing My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan

singing my sister downTitle: Singing My Sister Down and Other Short Stories

Author: Margo Lanagan

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th January. 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: An outstanding collection of thirteen short stories from the internationally acclaimed, multi-award winning author of Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels.

‘We all went down to the tar-pit, with mats to spread our weight.’ So begins ‘Singing My Sister Down’, Margo Lanagan’s internationally acclaimed, award-winning short story.

Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories brings together ten celebrated short stories, along with three new ones, from the extraordinarily talented author of Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts.

A bride accepts her devastating punishment. A piece of the moon is buried. A ferryman falls into the Styx. Wee Willie Winkie brings a waking nightmare. A new father dresses a fallen warrior princess. A sniper picks off clowns one by one. Margo Lanagan’s stories will stay with you, haunting you with their quiet beauty and fine balance.

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aww2017-badgeSinging My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan brings together a collection of surreal, fantastical and timeless short stories. They are not interconnected, but each reflect on the human condition, and aspects of the fantastical. In the title story, Singing My Sister Down, a bride is forced to accept a devastating punishment while her family watches and assists – it is heartbreaking and yet, has a feeling of fairy tale or the distant past, where punishments were harsh. One story, Ferryman, draws on Greek Mythology and the underworld, with the ferryman of the River Styx falling into the river he crosses every day, ferrying the recently departed to the Underworld to live with Hades and Persephone. Not All Ogre is an unusual retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a not so happy ending for the sleeping princess. These are just three of the thirteen stories that are included in this anthology, and that evoke a sense of timelessness mixed with a fairy tale or mythical feel. Another story shows a more sinister side to the Wee Willie Winkie nursery rhyme.

Each story is written in first person, and set in undetermined times and places, and at times, drawing on myth and fairy tale to create the story. This gives each story an eerie feel, but at the same time, it works really well, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the stories that Lanagan has written. In some tales, the sinister side of tradition and fairy tales or nursery rhymes emerge –Wee Willie Winkie is shown as a living nightmare, a world where the worst dreams come true and haunt people for a long time. Yet others are more surreal, where I was unsure about the setting and plot and characters – yet at the same time, show a world that is not quite perfect at times, but idealised through the eyes of some of the narrators. The characters are all flawed, but driven by their own natures and desires towards the final outcomes of each story.

Within each story, Margo Lanagan has created a world we can recognise – the world of human nature and human flaws, not a physical world. It is lyrical and full of rich language and imagery that makes each read compelling, something that I didn’t want to set aside. It is another book that can be devoured or savoured, and I tried to do both, wanting to know how each story ended, yet not wanting to finish it too quickly.

In most anthologies, the stories can be linked by a theme, or even a series of characters or other plot devices. Yet in Singing My Sister Down, each story is its own entity, and yet, this works. I liked the different stories and characters within each tale, alternating between timeless worlds or worlds of magic and wonder, or unknown worlds hinting at a non-human existence. She does all of this in a wonderful way that captures the imagination and brings together ideas of what makes us human – and how an individual might deal with certain circumstances. If I had to pick a favourite, or at least one that sticks with me, it is probably Not All Ogre – I recognised the fairy tale motifs and this was exquisitely done, even though the conclusion and events that led to the conclusion were unexpected. I think this worked well for this tale in particular, leading the reader to believe one thing and then allowing another to happen – this made it intriguing and memorable.

A good read for young adult and adult readers. It can be read in a few days, and I hope to revisit it.

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