Friday, 4 December 2015

Crime at Christmas

Ho ho ho! Don't let your relatives drive you to murder this holiday season; read this instead.

CHB Kitchin was an unfamiliar name to me, but I very much enjoyed this mid-1930s Christmas crime novel, which for once is not from the British Library series. Like the two I reviewed last year (The Santa Klaus Murder and Mystery in White) it's a story of people compelled by politeness and seasonal circumstance to spend Christmas together, which I suppose is most people's Christmas, with or without corpses. In this case, stockbroker Malcolm Warren goes to stay with his biggest client, the unidentifiably foreign Mr Quisberg, his motherly Irish wife and her three grown-up children by earlier marriages. The peroxide blonde elder daughter has a beefy idiot of a tea planter for a boyfriend visiting, the little male secretary has his mother staying, and Mr Quisberg's friend Doctor Green is the final guest. You don't see a fourth child, who is a child recovering from appendicitis, but there is an astonishingly pretty nurse. Astonishingly pretty nurses never bode well. And, indeed, before the turkey is served there's a death in the house.

On the whole this is a conventional novel, though there is a bit of a twist at the end where Warren has a question and answer session with 'the reader', wrapping up what happened after the tale's denouement. We don't often get to hear what happened next in the lives of characters in murder mysteries, so this was an interesting, if bizarre, touch that tells you how people's lives panned out in the following months. The characters are more interesting than in many crime novels. Warren, in particular, with his intuition and bouts of nerves, is an unusual narrator.

The thing that most interested me was its depiction of hospitality among the wealthy. It's something I've often thought about, because the way it's presented in Edwardian to 1930s novels is so very different to what I, a modern, working class woman, am used to. There's something beguiling about the notion of inviting people to stay but being under no obligation to entertain them, or of being a guest but essentially treating your friend's house like a superior hotel, where you are obliged to show up for meals and be sociable after dinner but otherwise can walk, read, and do what you like during the day. The closest people I know come to that sort of thing is hiring a large house for group holidays. (If I ever win the lottery, I'll rent the whole of Burgh Island - you'll come and join me, won't you?) However, I suppose if you've got a large house you might as well get some use out of it, and back in the 1930s when travelling around the UK might have been more difficult and communication between friends was more likely to be via letter than the telephone, it made sense to give people who liked one another a chance to spend time in each other's company without pressure to do anything in particular.

Another little detail I found entertaining was Warren's distaste for Mrs Quisberg's Edwardian furniture – I suppose by the mid-1930s such things would have been as passé as an overtly 1990s room would be now. Different enough to look dated, but not old enough to look classic.

Anyway, this is a decent read, and one that would make a fun addition to anyone's pile of presents. On which note, I really can't decide whether to put my tree up this weekend. I usually do it a fortnight before Christmas, but I feel as though an injection of festive spirit is needed, but can I really put up with the kittens pulling it over for the next three weeks? Decisions, decisions...

19 comments :

  1. That sounds like a good read, like you I'm always fascinated by a group of posh people holed up together with all the bitchy retorts and snobbery.
    When I was younger my Grandparents used to bring a few people they knew from church to our parents' house for Xmas dinner. Many of them were from another era. My favourite was Mlle. Joan, she was Pierre Balmain's personal secretary and had fallen on hard times (how she ended up in Walsall I'll never know!)
    Count me in for Burgh Island although I'm quite fancying the Orient Express after watching that documentary on Channel 4.
    Trees, shiny things and kittens? That sounds like a challenge! xxx

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    1. Wow, Mlle Joan must have had some stories to tell - and presumably one hell of a wardrobe.

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  2. Our trees are already up, we have Elderly Tree and Elvis tree :) there is a third, but that's my birthday tree but alas, there's no room, booo! Thankfully the buns aren't interested, though if they were on the floor it'd be another story! Last year I had to fight to keep Bob out of the Quality Street!

    My mothers two cats once brought the tree down, smashing oodles of glass baubles. They were not popular! xxx

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    1. Are rabbits allowed chocolate? Our kittens don't eat chocolate, but they will fight wrapped ones round the floor given half the chance.

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    2. They can't, no. Doesn't stop theft attempts though! They have special bunny 'chocolate' in their advent calendar.

      My cat used to love batting wrapped sweets around too :)

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  3. Brilliant 'if I win the lottery' idea - I'm going to go a step further, and say that if I win the lottery I'll rent Burgh Island for a weekend and invite all of my favourite vintage bloggers for one long party (you're top of the guest list, it was your idea after all!).

    Thank you for another festive crime novel suggestion, I will look out for this one! x

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    1. I would so be there. We're thinking of going back at some point in 2016, it's such a nice place to stay.

      I think there are quite a few festive vintage crime novels out this Christmas - they must be popular gifts.

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  4. Now you know I'll be at Burgh Island like a shot!

    This sounds like another book to add to my list........

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    1. You are deffo on my guest list!

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  5. It sounds like my husband's family (I can say that, they're all gone...mostly) but no one ever wound up dead. My one and only visit to them we were invited to stay in their gigantic home, drive their car, and do pretty much as we pleased so long as we didn't expect to spend much time with them. That was how they did, "Time together."

    Kittens and trees can be amusing if you're resigned to plenty of cleaning up. I'm sure it will be exciting for them.

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    1. Everything is exciting for kittens. The little sods got in my bag of dance clothing; I found one of my pasties half-stripped of diamante on the living room floor!

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  6. So very true regarding how most Christmas get-togethers come to be. That line made me smile and reflect back on some very "mixed bag" sort of groups I've shared the holidays with over the years. ;)

    Thank you for another smashing book review, dear Mim. I hope that your December is off to a terrific start!

    Big hugs,
    ♥ Jessica

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    1. December is going well! I've one more print deadline and then I'm freeeeeee for Christmas. And all my shopping is done, which is great.

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  7. Sounds like a perfect Christmas read. I do love a good book over the hols and am suggestions for this year. Probably that one that is doing the rounds about clutter would be more appropriate for me though. It is strange the thought of going to stay with people then doing your own thing. Must have been a lot harder in earlier times too. Xx

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    1. I guess the rich really are different! It must have been a dreadful faff for the servants, having all these people descend on them needing breakfasts and lunches and baths running and so on, and rambling around the countryside and getting underfoot in the library...

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  8. Now, now..
    This is my kind of Christmas title :)
    On the matter of staying over. Back when we were kids, there was a fashion of girls staying over at their friend's house - just "because". However, the fact was that back then, there was six of us (3 generations) living in one home, so I could not have a friend over. It would be unfair to be one of those girls who just go to other people's houses, and never nave guest over night.. so, I chose not to accept that practice.

    It's foggy and cold over here.
    ...and, say: what would you like for Christmas?
    M.

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    1. I made Mr Robot a wishlist and then he told me he wasn't going to get me anything off it because that would spoil the surprise! Honestly, I don't know what the point in making him a list was...

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  9. That sounds like the only really civilised way to have and be a house guest. Alas, in a three bed it's quite a different story! I'm rather intrigued by this novel. Hoping for some over xmas to actually stop and read something. Burgh island sounds super. Count me in!! Xxx

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    1. Cool.

      To misquote Jaws, I think we're going to need a bigger island ;-)

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