Personally, I’m most impressed with how several selections have made me set aside pre-judgements and view authors in an admirably new light. For example, the second tale presented is “The Chopham Affair” by one-man writing machine Edgar Wallace, best known for his formidable output of crime thrillers.
Another sublime benefit to a themed anthology such as this one lies in observing how each author uses the trappings of the season to enhance the plot. (Some are clearly more active to seize this possibility than others.) While Symons’ group of philanthropists doesn’t technically need to dress as a gaggle of St. Nicks, the visual image in his story carries some charm. Margery Allingham’s revealingly titled “The Man with the Sack” connects the holiday costume with criminal intent, while Christopher Bush’s slight entry “Murder for Christmas” provides his sleuth Ludovic Travers with a clue hinging on some absent seasonal décor. And both Michael Gilbert and Josephine Bell use Christmas carollers as potential witnesses to crime or, in Bell’s poignant character study-turned-police-procedural, as a cover for more sinister intentions.
There are a few stories that I felt were less successful than their brethren, including a brief Holmes and Watson stage play script by S.C. Roberts entitled, rather generically, “Christmas Eve.” In it, Holmes must unravel a young woman’s story about missing jewels at a manor house, and this he does immediately, leaving scant room for characterization or plot development. And while I’m grateful to be introduced to Victor Gunn’s gruff but perceptive Chief Inspector Bill “Ironsides” Cromwell – who is a bit of a prototype for Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel – Gunn’s 1943 tale “Death in December” doesn’t need its novella length to relate the story of a man scared half to death by the appearance of a ghostly (or was it real?) corpse. It also suffers when compared to the anthology’s first story, “The Ghost’s Touch” by Fergus Hume, which covers similar ground to better effect in half the time.
For me, the highlight of Crimson Snow is its other lengthy entry, and one shaped by Macdonald Hastings for Liliput magazine as a challenge-to-the-reader contest. “Mr. Cork’s Secret” finds bloodhound-like insurance investigator Montague Cork looking into the brutal death of a jeweler and the disappearance of Alouette’s Worms, a set of gemstones that was to be the wedding present for a celebrity couple. Hastings – another author I had known about but never read – uses his novella’s pages to propel a detailed story with some compelling twists and turns, and, delightfully, the two reader-submitted solutions provided are even more cleverly constructed in style (one takes the form of a telegram to a reporter character, the other a memorandum for Cork’s insurance company colleagues) than that which the author delivers!
Congratulations to Martin Edwards and the British Library Crime Classics imprint for putting together, snowman-like, another winning anthology. Crimson Snow is available now in the UK, and will be available in print and e-book editions within the U.S. on January 3, 2017. It’s a delightful way for mystery fans to celebrate the New Year. I received an advance e-copy through Poisoned Pen Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.