England experienced a golden age in crime fiction in the 1930’s and 1940’s. That age produced novels by some of the greats, including Agatha Christie. Mavis Doriel Hay fits into that period of crime novelists. The Santa Klaus Murder was originally published in the mid-1930’s. It’s a classic English country-house crime novel with complex characters and a complicated set of clues – all set within the floorplan of a beautiful manor during the Christmas holidays. Anyone who likes this type of mystery will have a blast reading this complex puzzle. I think it will also appeal to people who like stories about complicated, dysfunctional family relationships and how they can drive some otherwise nice people right over the edge. This book might even make your family look normal. LOL If you’re looking for a cozy read to curl up with by the winter fire, you’ll want to check this one out. And one of you will win a copy in our giveaway!
Sir Osmond Melbury is the owner of Flaxmere, and he loves to gather his extended family to his side for the Christmas holidays for several reasons. He loves to play lord of the manor but, even more, he loves to play control games with them since he holds the strings to their inheritance, or lack thereof, depending on his latest whim.
Sir Osmond’s only son is George but he also has four daughters. He’s already cut his eldest daughter, Hilda Wynford, off financially because she married someone he considered beneath her station. His second daughter, Edith Evershot, married in accordance with his wishes, as did his third daughter, Eleanor Strickland; however, Eleanor’s miserable in that marriage – not that she’s going to let Sir Osmond know that.
His youngest daughter, Jennifer, has become his caretaker, because she’s too nice to escape and because the others have pressured her into the role. She wants a life of her own more than anything, but she does care about him and so she’s torn. He’s decided she should marry Oliver Witcombe, a man he has found for her instead of Philip, the man she loves. She’s finally ready to stand up to him, however, and plans to announce her engagement to the man she loves during the Christmas holidays…and let the chips fall where they may.
Also of consequence and of great concern to the siblings is a very efficient private secretary Sir Osmond has hired, a woman who runs his life with perfection. They fear she has become more than a secretary and may have designs not just on him personally but also on his fortune – a fortune they feel entitled to not share with anyone. Lovely family, wouldn’t you agree?
And so the stage is set for Christmas 1935. Sir Osmond has planned a special surprise for this Christmas. He’s ordered a Santa costume and plans to play Santa for his grandchildren and for the staff. He’s quite excited about it. There is a brief snafu with the costume not arriving on the day he planned, which causes his temper to go off the rails; however, his secretary orders a second one to be rush-shipped. And, as things like this always end up, he soon possesses two Santa costumes. Oh well, one can always be returned.
When Christmas Day arrives, all looks as if it will go according to plan. Then Sir Osmond is found in his study with a bullet hole in his head and a smoking gun lying on his desk. At first glance it appears he shot himself, even though he was not the type of person anyone would have thought would do that. It soon becomes clear that can’t be the case though for several reasons: 1), the gun is nearest the wrong hand – not the hand he would have used; and 2), the gun is placed in a way that it could not have fallen if he had shot himself in the head. So someone else killed him and whoever did it was not very smart about it.
“There seemed to be two expressions, this ghastly one looking through the Santa Klaus one.
He said very quietly to Mrs. Wynford: ‘Get the children away somewhere. There’s been an accident. Do you know where George is?’
She gave a sort of gasp and put her hand to her mouth and looked toward the study and at him again, and didn’t seem able to say a word.
He just nodded and said: ‘Yes: Sir Osmond. I think he’s shot himself.’ He held her by the arm as he said it, as if to warn her not to scream, and to hold her in case she fainted. But she seemed to get control of herself.
She said: ‘I must go to him – a doctor – Grace had better telephone.’
Mr. Witcombe said quickly, before I could run to the study, where the telephone was. ‘Hilda! I’m afraid it’s no good; you can’t do anything. Don’t go into the study; wait for George. Miss Portisham, will you see that someone looks after the children.’
I knew from his manner as well as from what he said that it was very serious and I felt dreadfully frightened, but I knew we mustn’t have a scene and get all the children screaming. But he looked so awful in his Santa Klaus dress and make up and his staring eyes that I wanted to laugh, even when I felt frightened and trembling and almost crying at the same time.” [Narrated by Grace Portisham, Sir Osmond’s secretary.]
But who killed Sir Osmond? Was it his eldest daughter, Hilda, who was in tight financial circumstances but knew she would get nothing from him until he died? Was it his third daughter, Eleanor, who hated her marriage but could not escape it until he died? Was it his youngest daughter, Jennifer, who was trapped as his caregiver and stood little chance of escaping until he died? Could it have been one of the husbands or Sir Osmond’s son, George? How about the secretary, Grace? Is she the wonderful person Sir Osmond and his youngest daughter thought or is her efficiency a mask for a less than honest employee? How about Oliver, the young man dressed as Santa who Sir Osmond wants Jennifer to marry? Oliver certainly was the person who had the best opportunity but what could his motive be, if he had one at all? Granted, Sir Osmond’s family didn’t like him very much but what motivations are we unaware of that could have driven someone to actually murder him?
The local constable in charge of the investigation thinks he knows this family very well until he begins his investigation – Wrong! Who did it?
In classic 1930’s drawing-room style, different characters narrate the chapters in The Santa Klaus Murder so we get divergent points of view as we try to ferret out the clues that will hopefully lead us to the murderer. It gave me new respect for what police detectives go through as they interview witnesses and try to sort fact from faulty memory and biased comments. This novel is like a huge jigsaw puzzle with pieces from other puzzles mixed in – they all look like they fit until you try to put them together into something that makes sense. And that is half the fun of it, along with all the quirky characters involved, some more sympathetic than others. Can you figure it out before the end? Or will you got haring off down a tunnel with no reward at the end? This is the kind of novel that appeals to the amateur detective in all of us who love mysteries, and I predict you’ll have a lot of fun wading through the divergent stories to find the murderer in The Santa Klaus Murder!
Can’t wait to read it? The Santa Klaus Murder is available from your favorite online bookseller below, so just click on the link to download it or order it for your holiday reading enjoyment!
I’d love to get your comments on The Santa Klaus Murder, Mavis Doriel Hay and/or her other work, and/or this review.
One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance readers copy) of The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay!
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