The Melbury family has gathered at Flaxmere for the Christmas holiday. The family patriarch, Sir Osmond, has planned an elaborate celebration, complete with an appearance by Santa Klaus to present gifts to all. Things become not so jolly when in the midst of the Christmas Day celebrations Sir Osmond is found in his locked study, with a bullet in his head.
The house is filled with family, prospective fiancés, a secretary, and servants. But while only the person who discovered the body appears to have had the opportunity, it seems that they are also the only one without a motive.
So there we all were; and, as we were so unpleasantly forced to realize later in, nearly all of us with good cause for wishing Sir Osmond dead and few with any cause to wish him a long life”
The first few chapters take the form of a narrative of events, each written from the point of view of a different character. These changing perspectives provides a rich background regarding the murder victim, family, and other individuals concerned. The majority of the story is told principally by Chief Constable Colonel Halstock. Halstock knows the family well, but over time discovers that while some may misremember events, others are simply lying in order to cover some secret, or possibly the murder itself.
I was shocked at the way these young people lied or prevaricated on the slightest excuse and then came out with another tale and confidently expected to be believed.”
Hay has written a well constructed story and mystery. I thought the added aspect of unreliable narrators, with their changing perspectives in the opening chapters was quite good. She also plays fair by providing all of the clues necessary for the reader to uncover the murderer themselves. But, the also provides an abundance of subplots as red-herrings. Yes, there are quite a number of characters, but you can always refer to the “People in the Story” list at the beginning. And there’s a map…I do love a good map in a classic mystery.
The first time I read The Santa Klaus Murder was when it was reprinted by the British Library in 2013, and enjoyed it a lot. This time around I found that I had issues with the some of the finer points. Nothing huge, it’s just that the story became jumbled up by one of the red-herrings and started to drag. Also, the postscript never goes into how the murder is committed. It’s there, in the story, but only if you follow along very closely will you see it. Minor quibbles, but enough to knock it down just a tad.
Quibbles aside, this is still a very entertaining mystery, one which will remain on my Christmas reading list, and one that I would recommend to anyone.
My Judgment – 3.75/5
Murder Mystery Bingo – Clues and Clichés: Reading the will, In disguise, Anonymous message
Feature image from Scientific American, Dec 11, 1920. Artist Unknown. Obtained from https://archive.org/details/MuradCigarettes1920B