Look, it’s still Christmas somewhere, I think. Maybe not. Who the hell cares? My Christmas tree is still up, so by God I’m going to review a Christmas themed collection of crime stories!
It’s called The Twelve Crimes of Christmas, and it’s edited by Carol-Lynn Rössel Waugh, Martin Harry Greenberg, and the fortunately shorter named Isaac Asimov. It’s got a good selection of Christmas related stories in it, so let me point out the highlights.
The best story was probably the first one I read, although because I skipped around, it’s not the first in the book. Robert Somerlott’s “Do Your Christmas Shoplifting Early” is a fun one about a Robin Hood-like woman and her adult son who end up dishing out some delightful justice to a store manager who is overly harsh on shoplifters. There’s an interesting element to some of the early-mid 20th century mystery stories I’ve been reading recently that one might call a “social justice” streak, like in here, where the manager previous to the harsh one here would be more understanding of the socioeconomic or psychological factors leading to certain shoplifting, while the new manager has no tolerance for it. Perhaps at some point I can expand on that theme.
Another story here with that sort of theme is Alice Scanlan Reach’s “Father Crumlish Celebrates Christmas”, as Father Crumlish is called upon to prevent the suicide of one of his parishioners who’s been accused of murdering the man that owns the building where the parishioner works. Crumlish then sets out to prove his parishioner’s innocence, and in doing so highlights the socioeconomic situation of the “lower class” people he serves. He solves the crime, but no one particularly wins, and yet it’s not wholly a sad ending.
Ellery Queen’s “The Dauphin’s Doll” is a complex story of a bit of legerdemain on the part of a thief, Comus, facing off against Ellery Queen the character, involving a theft in plain sight of the title doll, on display at Christmas at a department store. Is Santa the perpetrator?
Stanley Ellin’s “Death on Christmas Eve” is a slick little tale of a house in mourning, as a brother and sister each mourn the death of the brother’s wife, but there’s a twist that gives the story a sick tone.
Rex Stout gives us a Nero Wolfe story, “Christmas Party” that starts with Archie Goodwin telling Wolfe that he’s engaged to marry a young woman. It’s not the best Wolfe story I’ve read, as the murder and the motivation for the murder are confusingly dull, somehow, and there’s also a bit of “inscrutable Oriental” stuff about one of the female characters. But on the positive side is the imagery of Nero Wolfe dressed as Santa Claus at a party!
Dorothy Sayers gives us a sort of bland Lord Peter Wimsey story, “The Necklace of Pearls”, where in a seemingly locked room a string of pearls disappears. Wimsey solves it and that’s about it.
August Derleth has a Solar Pons story, “The Adventure of the Unique Dickensians”, where a couple of guys way too into Dickensian cosplay, if you will, are schooled by Pons (apparently Sherlock Holmes in all but name). It’s an amusing little tale, if not very substantive.
The book ends with Isaac Asimov’s “The Thirteenth Day of Christmas”, and this story pissed me off. Besides it being gauche to end an anthology with a story by one of the editors (as the first and final stories are in theory the strongest pieces, not unlike a standup comedian’s set), this story hinges on stupidity of foreigners, to put it bluntly. The USSR is threatened with a bombing on Christmas, and when December 25 comes and goes with no bombing, the UN seems to relax. Thankfully, a red-blooded American boy knows more about Orthodox Christmas than Russians fucking do, and saves the damn day. Ugh, this hurt. And I usually like Asimov, but he definitely thought he was oh so clever here. Hint: he wasn’t.
So overall, The Twelve Crimes of Christmas is a pretty good book, marred only by that final annoying tale, but otherwise, the strong stories are quite good, and the middling stories aren’t awful, so it’s one to make the nice list. HAHAHA! It’s worth picking up for cheap online, and if you click up top, you can do that, and kick back some to us at the AJS!