Now that we’ve wrapped up Nonfiction November, thoughts turn to firesides and cosy mysteries. Perhaps something less challenging for the run up to the festive season? Or at least that’s what I told myself. So far, my plan has not worked terribly well. Or maybe I’m not a cosy mystery type.
Tarissa @In the Bookcase used to host #ALiteraryChristmas but she no longer appears to be an active blogger. I am sharing this seasonal reading hashtag with Brona at This Reading Life. This is not a hosted event.
Murder in Midwinter, Profile Books (2020)
The title of this post is in no way a criticism of the author of The Famous Five whose work I greatly enjoyed when I was 8 years old. In fact it has nothing to do with Blyton at all. Rather it was the note I made to myself when reading through this collection of short stories.
Murder in Midwinter is described as a collection of ‘classic’ crime stories for Christmas. There is no shortage of stellar names such as Conan Doyle, Ruth Rendell, Dorothy Sayers and others within its pages.
I am not a crime reader at all but even I recognised all these names! Even so I felt it was quite a cutting edge thing for me to buy these crime stories. I am someone who only recently got to her first Sherlock Holmes ‘The Sign of the Four’ and have never read Agatha Christie.
But Murder in Midwinter has a lovely snowy cover – a traditional ‘Marple-esque’ village with a figure walking down a road bordered by lighted cottages; it looked perfect for curling up in front of a fire now that the weather is cold and/or for popping into a Christmas stocking.
Trust me, don’t.
I never ‘got’ Dorothy Sayers and was not a great fan of Lord Peter Wimsey – even the televised version a thousand years ago with Ian Carmichael – so I didn’t finish that one. That character really does not translate well into this century.
When I got to the Conan Doyle story entitled ‘The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet’, I thought I would be much better off; this was after all a Sherlock Holmes mystery. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, the premise of this story was laughable. The King or someone of that ilk goes to a banker for a loan and leaves this priceless artefact (the coronet of the title) as collateral, which said banker then sticks in his briefcase and takes home – evincing surprise when it later disappears. As you do. The resolution was just as unimpressive and copied ideas from Conan Doyle’s book The Sign of Four (ie man with wooden leg leaving ‘footprints’ in the snow). How many men with wooden legs were involved in the criminal fraternity in Holmes’s day?
In particular I was a bit aghast at the contribution to the collection by Ellis Peters called ‘A Present for Ivo’. It was this story that I was referring to when I wrote my disparaging comment about children’s books which I used in the title above.
Don’t get me wrong. I liked Ellis Peters’ creation, Brother Cadfael. He was a good character brought to life by Sir Derek Jacobi on screen – and my mother adored those books. But in this trite little story, a schoolteacher and one of her schoolboy charges, foil a dangerous gang of gun-toting kidnappers and robbers by climbing through a window and sliding down a sheet tied to a curtain rail! It’s pure Blyton.
Why were these recognised and even revered authors happy to have their names attached to this unimpressive work? Maybe these stories are juvenilia, very early works before the writers became famous?
Then I stopped to think about publishing rights and where these stories might have first appeared. The answer came to me in a blinding flash – that these stories came about because they were requested by mid-twentieth century women’s magazines. Probably Woman or Woman’s Own. I have not a shred of evidence for this so please don’t write in. But it is the only explanation that I can think of for these rather patronising, patriarchal, trite little tales.