Written by Val McDermid — The old adage that good things come in small packages could have been coined for Christmas Is Murder – it’s a little gem of a publication, available on download only. It includes the short stories A Traditional Christmas and A Wife in a Million, the first short story Val McDermid ever.
McDermid is well known for her intricately-plotted, finely-characterised crime novels which have been snapped up and devoured by fans used to being in it for the long haul. It takes a very different skill, however, to write a credible short story – and crime-based short form fiction must surely be among the most tricky to achieve.
A Traditional Christmas may be brief but it packs a great deal into its pages, tipping its hat to some great British writers on the way to its impossible-to-predict conclusion. The opening line rang a bell with me, and upon reflection I realised it was similar to that of the classic Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Then there’s the setting, which is pure Agatha Christie – rambling country house plunged into darkness before a mysterious death occurs during a thunderstorm – and there’s even a quotation from Shakespeare thrown into the mix.
In her introduction to the story, McDermid explains that the plot was inspired by a Native American proverb, and for me to add any more would certainly give the game away. Suffice to say that you’ll be enthralled from start to finish.
A Traditional Christmas marks the second outing for Detective Inspector Maggie Staniforth, who made her debut in A Wife In A Million, which first appeared in an anthology of women’s crime writing called Reader, I Murdered Him back in 1989. That tale was set in the dark days of Thatcher’s Britain, taking its inspiration from the despair of those times, something that resonates clearly in recession-hit 2012. It sees DI Staniford investigating as a town’s Christmas festivities are disrupted by a poisoning.
A perfect little bauble of joy for the festive season – who needs all the overblown Christmas excess when something so small can give such reading pleasure?
CFL Rating: 5 Stars