Murder Under the Christmas Tree is a compilation of short stories by well known authors, all set around about Christmas – as you would expect.
The first story is The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m quite a fan of Sayers but I have to admit that I was a wee bit disappointed with this one as I guessed the solution fairly quickly.
The other contributers are Ian Rankin, Margery Allingham, Arthur Conan Doyle, Val McDermid, Ellis Peters, Edmund Crispin, G.K. Chesterton, Carter Dickson and Ngaio Marsh. The sleuths include Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, Cadfael, Father Brown, Rebus and others you will recognise.
It’s quite a collection of authors and I’m sure there’s something for everyone here, well everyone who enjoys a good murder around the festive season – as I do!
Death in a White Tie by the New Zealand author Ngaio Marsh was first published in 1938 but my copy is a 1949 reprint. It’s a Chief Detective-Inspector Alleyn mystery and the setting is London high society where Lady Alleyn, the detective’s mother is going to be attending debutante balls, chaperoning the daughter of friends who are living abroad. It’s not something she’s looking forward to, the whole process is exhausting and she is a lot older than she was when she did it for her own daughter. It throws her into the society of old friends and it soon becomes apparent that not all is as it should be.
Alleyn is aware that there’s a blackmailer operating in London High Society, he has inside information and ends up attending some of the functions his mother goes to, in an attempt to unmask the blackmailer.
I enjoyed Death in a White Tie which kept me guessing and in some ways Marsh’s writing reminded me of A Game of Thrones as she had no hesitation in introducing the reader to a loveable character – only to dispatch him violently. That’s very different from Christie’s and even Sayers’s writing where you often don’t meet the victim until the body is found, or they are particularly unlikeable people.
I was interested in this passage:
How many of these women were what he still thought of as ‘virtuous’? And the debutantes? They had gone back to chaperones and were guided and guarded by women, many of whose own private lives would look ugly in this flood of hard lights that had been let in on Lord Robert’s world. The girls were sheltered by a convention for three months but at the same time they heard all sorts of things that would have horrified and bewildered his sister Mildred at their age. And he wondered if the Victorian and Edwardian eras had been no more than freakish incidents in the history of society and if their proprieties had been as artificial as the paint on a modern woman’s lips.
I think that’s a fair description of the Victorian and Edwardian era, but those years lasted so long that people forgot how bawdy and raucous society had been in earlier times. Writing like Chaucer’s would probably have shocked the Victorians rigid. Is all that Victorian prurience something we have to blame Prince Albert for? Was it the upsurge of a middle class due to industrialisation in Britain? Just wondering.
I know, I wandered again, but it’s an interesting subject. Getting back to the book, I think this is the best Ngaio Marsh book I’ve read so far.
This book is titled Killer Dolphin in the US and was first published in 1967, I bought it in a second-hand bookshop in Worcester and it cost me all of £1 – not bad when you consider that the original 1967 price was 18s. 0d. Remember, there were 20 shillings in each pound sterling.
Anyway, I haven’t read anything by Ngaio Marsh for years, so long that I couldn’t even tell you what I have read, but I seem to remember that they were just a teeny wee bit racist in language, always a bit off putting even when books were written in the 1930s. However by 1967 her language seemed to have improved and I must say that I really did enjoy this one, despite it having quite a modern setting, the 1930s are really my favourite vintage crime era.
Peregrine Jay is a young playwright living in London and having a reasonably successful career but when he sees a derelict theatre languishing unloved near his flat, he is determined to bring it back to life. The Dolphin Theatre is his dream project and with the help of Mr Conducis, a rich businessman, the theatre reopens. Then there’s a murder which is investigated by Inspector Alleyn of Scotland Yard and his sidekick ‘Bre’r’ Fox. The whole theatre company is under suspicion.
If you like reading books with a theatre company setting then you’ll probably enjoy this one. Other books with a theatrical setting which I’ve enjoyed are :