CHRISTMAS IS MURDER by Val McDermid (Sphere, 2020)
This Christmas-themed short story collection by Val McDermid makes for enjoyable light reading in the lead up to the holiday season.
Selected from across the breadth of her over thirty year career, the stories deal with murder, revenge, poisoning and a kidnapped Santa Claus. The collection opens strongly with a well plotted story featuring her popular pairing of Dr Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan, who after a killer who strikes on festive holidays. It is a good start and from there we are treated to another eleven stories, mainly set against a chilly winter’s backdrop.
Cheating spouses and betrayal feature frequently in the stories, and McDermid is good at portraying the tensions and subtleties of modern relationships. This is most effective in the poignant ‘A Wife in a Million’, which neatly juxtaposes marital tensions with a credible ongoing police investigation. Also very good is ‘Ghost Writer’, which has a neat ghostly twist at the end.
My favourite was McDermid’s clever tribute to Sherlock Holmes and Watson, ‘Holmes For Christmas’, which starts off as a search for the heir to the Scottish crown, but ends up somewhere entirely different. It is a subtle story that builds to a dark and unexpected conclusion.
Most of the stories wear their Christmas garb lightly, with only ‘The Girl Who Killed Santa Claus’ coming off as a bit too twee and obvious.
Although McDermid only occasionally goes in for startling twists, all of the stories are well written, atmospheric and very enjoyable. A great book to dip into over the Christmas holiday.
Christmas Is Murder was released in Australia and the United Kingdom on 5 November 2020. Thanks to Hachette and the Canberra Weekly for a copy of the book.