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Well, we have now arrived at #Booktrailadvent Day 12  curated by the lovely Susan at the globally appealing The Book Trail , and the Raven is in festive mood, bringing you a rediscovered classic in the shape of Francis Duncan’s 1949 classic Murder For Christmas. So pop on those driving gloves, insert a plum in your mouth, and  jump in the Bentley for a jolly Christmas jaunt to the West Country…

51hkOIVokkL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Billed as a classic Christmas mystery with mulled wine, mince pies and murder, I have taken a small step out of my comfort zone, as traditional country house murders are not usually my thing. However, it is with some delight that I can report that I really rather enjoyed this Christie-esque mystery with its oddball cast of characters, and a rather intriguing amateur detective, Mordecai Tremaine…

Mordecai Tremaine, former tobacconist and perennial lover of romance novels,  has been invited to spend Christmas in the sleepy village of Sherbroome at the country retreat of one Benedict Grame. Arriving on Christmas Eve, he finds the revelries in full flow, but tensions run high between an assortment of guests. Midnight strikes and the guests discover it’s not just presents nestling under the tree…there’s a dead body too. A body that bears a strong resemblance to Santa Claus. As the snow intensifies and everyone a possible suspect, it’s up to amateur sleuth Tremaine to sniff out the culprit, and an intriguing investigation ensues.

With typical Golden Age panache, Duncan immerses us in a mystery of everyday grasping rich folk, with a finite group of suspects in an atmosphere of entitlement. Throw into the mix the seemingly unassuming character of Tremiane and a taciturn police detective, Superintendent Cannock, and the resemblance to some of Agatha Christie’s finest works is undeniable. Tremaine is a wonderfully affable and good-humoured man, which belies his sharp wits and natural observation of his fellow guests. Having sharpened his powers of detection in a previous case, but now striving to duck under the radar of the attendant publicity,  he cannot resist the temptation of this invite to the home of a man that he has only met briefly, but soon his sleuthing nose is set a-twitching. With all of his fellow guests in the frame for the murder of the be-suited Santa Claus, he finds himself encountering blackmail, embezzlement, greed and thwarted love. Although some of the guests are aware of his sleuthing credentials, there are some token moments of loose lips sinking ships, as Tremaine undertakes his own investigation. Duncan’s characterisation of the guests is also well-drawn throughout from the touching relationship of young lovers Denys and Roger, the grumpy scientist Lorring, the natural ebullience of the lord of the manor Benedict Grame, and the contrasting characters of the mousey Charlotte (Benedict’s sister), the temptress Lucia Tristam, along with others. In the rarefied air of this country house, you get a real sense of a country Christmas, with the popping of the fire, the luxurious surroundings, and the gentle falling of snow outside. It’s all very festive indeed. Apart from the surprise gift of a cold-blooded murder.

To his credit, Duncan keeps the reader in suspense until the final few pages as to the guilty party, and it was refreshing to read a book of this ilk where the culprit remains so well hidden, but with a believable conclusion. As I alluded to, apart from a dipping into Poirot on the small screen, Golden Age mysteries hold little appeal for me as a rule, but this was a welcome surprise. And I didn’t guess the killer. Will you?

Check out the map below from The Book Trail to reveal some more advent surprises. Who knows what you will uncover this Christmas…

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(With thanks to Vintage Books for the ARC of Murder For Christmas)

 

 

 

 

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