If P. G. Wodehouse had written murder mysteries, they may have read like The Santa Klaus Murder), except without the ongoing humor and deft dialogue we hear from Jeeves and Bertie. The The Santa Klaus Murder is set in an English country home during the annual and dreaded Christmas family visit of the Melbury clan to Flaxmere.
The Melbury family includes four grownup children, three daughters and one son, the unmarried older aunt, two invited guests (one the fiance of the only unmarried daughter), the secretary and assorted servants and the patriarch, Sir Osmond. Sir Osmond is rich and capricious, wanting his children and grandchildren to do as he wants. He is considering changes to his will to leave more to his secretary and one granddaughter but has consistently refused to discuss his intentions with anyone in the family so none of the children knows who is in line to get what.
The older children are afraid the secretary, Miss Portisham, may have undue influence over Sir Osmond, perhaps beguiling him into marriage or at least a substantial bequest. The youngest daughter, Jennifer, wants to marry Philip Cheriton but her father insists she remain at home, unwed, to care for him and of course her siblings all favor this too, thinking she would be a counterweight to Miss Portisham.
Someone shoots Sir Osmond while the grandchildren are playing with their gifts and enjoying the crackers (small firecrackers). Colonel Halstock, head of the local police, then arrives to solve the mystery.
This novel is from the Poisoned Pen Press, released as part of their British Library Crime Classics, and is a fun, enjoyable diversion. (The Santa Klaus Murder was originally published in 1936.)
Author Mavis Doriel Hay does a nice job weaving in the family skeletons and dissensions by having Colonel Halstock interview each of the family and the lead servants. She shows us the motive each of the family may have had without simply telling us, and she also lays several false trails and red herrings. (Personally I suspected the actual culprit from the beginning because of the way he was introduced.)
I’m not crazy about murder mysteries but do enjoy the odd British country house weekend novel and this was a fine example, but with the twist of a dead body in the study with a gun!
The publisher provided a copy in exchange for a review.