Cyril Hare, a mystery novelist and lawyer himself, contributes "Sister Bessie or Your Old Leech", a bruise-black comic story about an amoral businessman who tries to identify and dispatch at a family Christmas party whichever relative is blackmailing him. I've read two of Hare's mystery novels, Tenant for Death and Suicide Excepted, and this stinging short piece reminds me that I must return to his output and read more.
The eleven stories in the anthology are arranged chronologically, which also allows us to see how styles and storylines change through the decades. Baroness Orczy begins the collection with "A Christmas Tragedy", where Lady Molly of the Yard investigates the murder of Major Ceely on Christmas Eve. The story is told by Lady Molly's admiring maid Mary, as she watches her employer gather evidence to prove a hot-tempered suitor's innocence. The tale carries a fun mix of trailblazing and traditional gender expectations, and receives extra points for including this rather surprising sentence: "It is a far cry from a Christmas Eve party to a series of cattle-maiming outrages, yet I am forced to mention these now…"
The title story by Donald Stuart is agreeable and full of incident: there's a snowbound train from Paddington, a girl passenger in jeopardy, and a murdered man with a torn Christmas card in his hand. Dramatist Trevor Lowe investigates, and his Scotland Yard friend Inspector Shadgold serves as his Watson. The mystery is not especially complicated (and the murderer falls into the most elementary trap imaginable) but "The Christmas Card Crime" is well-paced and cinematic, if slight.
John Dickson Carr, writing as Carter Dickson, provides a successful winter ghost story and a completely superfluous locked-room mystery, but the latter is what his reputation is built upon. In "Blind Man's Hood", a woman is found alone in her house with her throat cut and her lower torso badly burned. It's an alarming image that evokes genuine bafflement, which is why the "solution" lands even less satisfactorily than it would otherwise have done. The ghost revenge thread that provides the climax, however, is both compelling and eerie.
It was nice to read a short story by John Bude, as I come fresh from my first Bude mystery novel experience with 1936's The Sussex Downs Murder. "Pattern of Revenge", collected here, actually benefits from its smaller, tighter canvas. In this brief tale, a man on his deathbed confesses to murder and to framing his rival in love. E.C.R. Lorac tips her hand with her story's title "A Bit of Wire-Pulling", which concerns how an assassin could shoot a man through a snow-frosted window and then vanish. (To be fair, as Martin Edwards informs us, the story's title when first published in The Evening Standard was the less clue-pointed "Death at the Bridge Table".)
The other stories here are uniformly good. Selwyn Jepson relates "By the Sword", exploring an ancestral curse about the way the men in a family will die; it proves true literally for the victim and more figuratively for the murderer. "Crime at Lark Cottage" by John Bingham is a moody and suspenseful story of a woman (with a young daughter) waiting for her escaped convict husband to return. And genre critic and modern crime writer Julian Symons is represented by "'Twixt the Cup and the Lip", a tale about a multi-person plan to steal loaned jewels on display at a department store. Its tone and fragmented character perspective while the robbery is occurring reminded me greatly of Donald Westlake's crime stories yet to come, and the ending moment will find its spiritual kin within the Walter Matthau movie The Taking of Pelham One Two Three released nine years later.
If you're looking for a great sampling of holiday-themed mystery stories from the start of the 20th century into the 1960s, look no further. I received an advance reading copy of the Poisoned Pen Press edition through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.