Review : The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay ( British Library Crime Classics #1 )

Sir Osmond Melbury is having a family gathering for Christmas at his country mansion Flaxmere but his sister is of the view that nothing good could ever come of the Melbury family gatherings . For a change , Sir Osmond has planned to liven up the Christmas festivities by having one of the guests dress up as Santa Claus and distribute the presents to his grand – children and the servants . Sir Osmond is found dead in his study with a bullet to his head by Oliver Wittcombe who is playing the Santa . While Oliver seems to have every opportunity to have fired the shot that killed Sir Osmund , he does not have an obvious motive . But almost every other member of the house party seems to have had their own motives but no easy opportunity as Oliver and also private suspicions about the identity of the killer . When the Chief Constable of Haulmshire thinks that he knows the family too well which could pose some difficulties for him but eventually realizes that there are too many things he does not know about the family . As the investigation proceeds , a startling discovery comes up : There were two Santas and not one . . .

The Santa Klaus murder is a classic country manor mystery . Sir Osmund ‘ s Santa plans need not fool you into thinking that he is the benevolent and affectionate man . He has always enjoyed a charged atmosphere and having people tip – toe around him . The patriarch demanded abject submission to his wishes from those around him and threatened them with reducing their inheritances if they chose to do otherwise . The family knows this to be no idle threat – his eldest daughter Hilda Wynford who was widowed at a young age with a child has not received any kind of support from her father because she married against his wishes except to be allowed at her father ‘ s house . ( Doesn ‘ t Sir Osmund bring to mind  wealthy entrepreneur Aristide Leonides from Agatha Christie ‘ s The Crooked House ? ) The narrative is structured as written accounts of the days prior to the tragic Christmas Day starting from the day when the members of the house party began to trickle at Flaxmere by some members of the house party . We also have a detailed chronicling of the investigation by Col . Halstock , the Chief Constable of Haulmshire and one chapter narrated by the amateur detective of this book , Kenneth Stour who also happens to be the ex – lover of Sir Osmond ‘ s daughter Lady Edith Evershot . . .

Col . Halstock is more like Watson and Kenneth , Holmes . While we have seen detectives who deduce a man ‘ s physical profile from his stride or read into something as random as a splash of candle grease or ponder about the most trivial observations of one ‘ s day , Col . Halstock sees a dislodged cover of a typewriter in the study where Sir Osmund had been murdered and does not think for a moment about getting it checked for fingerprints . Let the above statement not put you off . I think hardcore crime fiction fans would love being one – up over the investigating officer and the amateur sleuth for a change . However , all these gaffes during the investigation could not be held against Col . Halstock simply because he does not have the facts at all or is often mislead by the accounts of the inmates of the house who are keen on safe – guarding their loved ones whom they think have a decent motive for murdering Sir Osmund . Some humor , a good pace and the discovery of a new clue or perspective with each chapter , Col . Halstock is definitely not a detective bad enough to put you off this case . With the timely inputs from Kenneth Stour and his own decent deductions , the narrative keeps the reader engaged and is very enjoyable . And no , I did not guess the identity of the murderer correctly despite flattering myself that I spotted a few key clues even before the misinformed detective on the case spotted it . . .

Despite the good pace of the multiple narratives keeping the readers hooked , I felt that the writing of certain scenarios could have been better – while certain family members attribute ” solid ” motives to few others , there is not a single private conversation or confrontation to add weight to their arguments that X / Y have a good motive to bump off the old man . All those suspects did not utter a single menacing word against Sir Osmund . While I never guessed the culprit , I would have liked a narrative from him about how he almost pulled off a perfect murder . . . Certain characters do not get a mention in the POSTSCRIPT chapter – after all the concern I had invested on the suicidal ex – chauffeur I would definitely like to know if his fortunes took a turn for the better or if Sir Osmund ‘ s Miss Lemon got her next job . . .

Rating : 3 . 75 / 5

Despite some flaws , you definitely would not regret getting a taste of Golden Age Crime Fiction writing from Mavis Doriel Hay , whom I think definitely needs wider recognition . Highly recommended from me . If you have already read the book , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book and also which cover do you prefer . Until the next review then . .

The Mother – in – Law – Book review

download (1)  I chanced upon The Mother-in-law by Sally Hepworth as one of the must-read beach reads of  2019 . The title flipped some switch inside my head and I remembered that I had it on my Kindle . I had got it from Net Galley . But after reading books with hackneyed plots ( like about an impostor nanny with Munchhausen syndrome who is also a writer ) , I was wary about  trying out any Net-galley offering . But , thankfully , it turned out to be a pretty  satisfying read .

Plot summary :

A staunch advocate for women refugees , a prominent member of the community hailing from one of the wealthiest families & not to forget the lady’s elegance , Lucy had been properly intimidated by Diana Goodwin – her prospective mother-in-law during their first meeting . When Lucy did get married to Diana’s son eventually , she looked forward to gelling with her better and reverse Diana’s opinion of her being only a fine girl . She wanted to impress Diana properly like Diana had impressed her .

Lucy tried , very hard , during the early days of her marriage , to win over Diana but eventually gave up . But , then , she didn’t know Diana back then . Diana had an innate reserve that nobody had quite managed to navigate past  – even her children . Diana would offer sympathy , solid advice or would simply listen but she would never extend financial support . It seems that things haven’t changed much in the Goodwin household even after all these years . . .

And now , Diana is dead . While her suicide note suggests that she had taken this step because of her cancer , the autopsy does not find any cancer . . . But it does find traces of poison in her system and signs of suffocation .

Now that the police are looking for motivations for Diana’s homicide , there seem to be several reasonable ones . And there are several questions too -Why was Diana’s will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her children, and their spouses? And what does it mean that Lucy isn’t exactly sad Diana’s gone ? Why would Diana lie about the cancer ?

Of course , there are interesting secrets and it seems everybody knows something about Diana’s death which they are not letting out . . .

My thoughts on the book :

The premise of ” after x’s death ” is not a new one but the choice of the MIL – DIL relationship as the focal point for the narrative of the family’s dynamics is new . Both are very engaging  & often witty and their voices are done well .  Through Diana’s and Lucy’s narratives , we come to understand their relationship in a way which they never would , because we get an uncensored view into their mind workings . The host of secondary characters have also come out well .

I have a few things which did not sit well with me though . . .

For one thing , there were too many sub-texts / afterthoughts within the parentheses ,  which I felt , cramped the free flow of the narrative . Another thing which I thought was very unnecessary is the time-stamping throughout the book . . The voices of both Diana and Lucy are very distinct and the reader can easily get to know who is speaking and of which time-frame the narrator is speaking about . I think the readers today have been exposed quite well to alternating time-frame narrations and multiple POVs that they don’t require much help from the author by way of PAST and PRESENT time stamps along with the narrator’s name at the start of every chapter .

I want to ask the writer just one thing – Why don’t you trust the readers to work out these little things by themselves ? If the voices of your characters are distinct , then you don’t have anything to worry about ( Sally H can be happy as her characters ‘ voices  are really done well . She just needs to have some faith in her readers and herself ) .

The big reveal , though , was underwhelming . Perhaps , not putting up his / her name as the narrator at the top of the page would have been better . It was not difficult to put together the circumstances and the name at the top of the page but the ” twist ” was not very convincing .

On the whole , Sally H. kept me turning the pages until the not-so-twisted end ( and for few above-mentioned hiccups ) and for that , I have to thank her .  It would not do to forget the publisher , St . Martin’s press  here – A big thank you to whoever approved the e – ARC on time .

Rating : 3 . 5 / 5

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