Penzler, editor of "The Big Book of Christmas
Mysteries," has a theory why so many crime fiction
writers "have turned their pens and wicked thoughts
to this time of year."
believes itís for the shock value.
seems so out of character, so inappropriate, for this
time of year that it takes on extra weight," he
notes in his "Big Book," which turns Christmas
Eve into Christmas Evil. "Think of how often
terrible events have been recounted with the sad or
angry exclamation, ĎAnd at Christmastime!í"
is surely onto something, but his explanation doesnít
account for why readers are so enamored with
holiday-themed mysteries. Or why a large percentage of
the stories are warm, cozy, comical and relatively
consider this additional theory.
you remember shaking wrapped presents underneath the
tree and trying to figure out whatís inside? Remember
trying to crack the puzzler of where your parents
stashed the gifts that come from Santa?
this is why weíre predisposed to enjoying ítis-the-season
mysteries and thrillers. Because some of our earliest
childhood memories connect Christmas with our own
amateur detective work.
with that thought, we direct your attention to several
of this yearís new Christmas mysteries.
of Steamboat" by Craig Johnson; Viking ($20)
novella, from the author of the Walt Longmire mystery
novels, isnít actually a mystery so much as an
involves a ghost from Longmireís Christmas past and a
tale from Christmas Eve 1988, during his first year as a
Wyoming sheriff. Seems there was a terrible car crash
with only one survivor, a child with burns so extensive
that she must be rushed from Billings, Mont., to a
pediatric intensive care unit in Denver.
problem: A record-breaking blizzard has made the roads
impassable and the Flight for Life helicopter that
completed the first leg of the trip no longer flyable.
So Longmire must find another way to continue this
rescue mission before the girl dies.
solution: Walt recruits a drunken ex-WWII pilot to fly a
rattletrap B-25 bomber known as Steamboat the rest of
wonít be easy. The crew must overcome not only bad
weather conditions, but also a host of mechanical
problems. (The scene in which Walt dangles precariously
from the plane while trying to manually close the bomb
bay doors is particularly thrilling.)
never any real doubt that Longmire and the gang will
survive the ordeal. But itís a white-knuckle journey
just the same.
Big Book of Christmas Mysteries," edited by Otto
Penzler; Vintage/Black Lizard ($25)
hefty anthology, released in trade paperback, contains
60 classic holiday-themed whodunits covering virtually
all subgenres of mystery, from amateur detective to
private eye to police procedural.
include many of the all-time greats: Agatha Christie
(who has two tales in these pages, one featuring Hercule
Poirot, the other offering Miss Marple), Ellery Queen,
Arthur Conan Doyle (presenting the great Sherlock
Holmes), Rex Stout (with Nero Wolfe) and John D.
particular highlights are tales from the 1940s and í50s
that have O. Henry-style twists: "Death on
Christmas Eve" by Stanley Ellin and "The
Chinese Apple" by Joseph Shearing. That said, thereís
also an early-1900s crime yarn written by O. Henry
himself, "A Chaparral Christmas Gift."
owner of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City and
editor of more than 50 anthologies, has a passion for
this particular genre.
year since 1993, he has commissioned a Christmas-themed
short story from a top crime writer and printed 1,000
copies to give away to his bookshop customers. In short,
he knows this turf.
Night" by Robert B. Parker with Helen Brann; Putnam
short novel, featuring Parkerís best-known character,
Boston P.I. Spenser, was unfinished at the time of the
authorís death in January 2010. The book was
subsequently completed by Brann, Parkerís longtime
agent and friend.
story involves a young homeless client who brings a case
to Spenser as Christmas draws near. It seems the ladís
mentor, who operates an unlicensed shelter for at-risk
kids, is under pressure to shut down, which would put
scores of young people back on the street.
Spenser and his buddy, Hawk, investigate, the trail
leads to a dangerous drug kingpin.
book doesnít rank among Parkerís best work, but it
has its moments.
the Halls" by Donna Andrews; Minotaur ($24.99)
authorís series of comedic mysteries, dating back to
1999ís "Murder With Peacocks," features
amateur sleuth Meg Langslow and a recurring theme of
birds, birds, birds.
one has Meg searching for holiday pranksters who leave
skunks in the choir loft of one church and hundreds of
ducks in another place of worship. Megís investigation
takes a more serious turn, however, when an elderly
vestryman turns up dead after a church fire.