Review: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James

Review: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. JamesThe Mistletoe Murder: And Other Stories by P.D. James
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 152
Published by Knopf Publishing Group on October 25th 2016
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Four previously uncollected stories from one of the great mystery writers of our time--swift, cunning murder mysteries (two of which feature the young Adam Dalgliesh) that together, to borrow the author's own word, add up to a delightful "entertainment." The newly appointed Sgt. Dalgliesh is drawn into a case that is "pure Agatha Christie." . . . A "pedantic, respectable, censorious" clerk's secret taste for pornography is only the first reason he finds for not coming forward as a witness to a murder . . . A best-selling crime novelist describes the crime she herself was involved in fifty years earlier . . . Dalgliesh's godfather implores him to reinvestigate a notorious murder that might ease the godfather's mind about an inheritance, but which will reveal a truth that even the supremely upstanding Adam Dalgliesh will keep to himself. Each of these stories is as playful as it is ingeniously plotted, the author's sly humor as evident as her hallmark narrative elegance and shrewd understanding of some of the most complex--not to say the most damning--aspects of human nature. A treat for P. D. James's legions of fans and anyone who enjoys the pleasures of a masterfully wrought whodunit.

My Review:

I was in the mood for something mystery-ish, and in need of a short book, when I ran across Kristine Kathryn Rusch’ review of The Mistletoe Murder. Not only was her review very positive, but she reminded me of all the reasons that I loved the late, lamented P.D. James’ work. I got hooked on Dalgliesh after seeing it on PBS, many, many moons ago, and read the whole series. So discovering that this collection included a couple of new-to-me Dalgliesh stories sealed my fate.

This is a collection of four stories, two set in the early years of Adam Dalgliesh’ career, but the other two set longer ago and farther afield. But all of the stories take place during the Christmas season, no matter what the year.

The title story, The Mistletoe Murder, is chilling. Part of that chill is in the evolution of the amateur detective’s perspective, as she finds herself both wanting to solve the murder and deciding to act as judge and jury in rather peculiar circumstances. That the mystery is ripped from the pages of the author’s own past just adds to its appeal. What makes this story stand out is its ending. The final revelation makes both the amateur detective and the reader re-think everything that has happened.

The second story, A Very Commonplace Murder is also a fairly commonplace mystery. For this reader, it was the one disappointment in the collection. The outcome was both sad and predictable. Although the story, like its narrator, attempted to be clever about the outcome, it felt a bit hackneyed. And sad.

cover her face by pd jamesThe final two stories were the Dalgliesh stories. The last story first, because it comes first in the character’s history, even before the first published book in the series, Cover Her Face. In The Twelve Clues of Christmas the future Scotland Yard Commander is a mere Sergeant at the Met, and while early in his career, is already considered an up and coming officer with a brain in his head and a bright future ahead of him. This is a case he gets dragged into on his way to his aunt’s for Christmas, unfortunately for the perpetrators. They thought they’d be pulling a fast one on a local copper. The nice thing about this story is that not only does the young Dalgliesh figure out the deception, but so does the local inspector who has been pulled away from his Christmas dinner to wrap up the case.

And finally the remaining story in the collection, The Boxdale Inheritance. At this point, Dalgliesh is in the middle of what has already become a stellar career. Based on his rank at the Met, this story takes place around the time of Shroud for a Nightingale. But the case he is confronted with has nothing to do with anything that has crossed his desk at work. Instead, the case is brought to him by his godfather, an Anglican clergyman with a sticky sense of right and wrong. Canon Hubert Boxdale is the recipient of a large bequest from a woman he calls Great Aunt Allie. As much as the elderly Canon needs the money, he refuses to accept it if it is tainted, and it very well might be. Over 60 years ago Great Aunt Allie was acquitted of murdering her husband, even though everyone in the courtroom believed that she committed the crime that gave her all that delicious money. So Adam agrees to look into whether or not justice was done all those years ago. The truth, after all, is still out there. But the way that he works around to it shows off all of his skills at detection.

Escape Rating A-: This is a terrific collection for fans of the author and her most famous character. It reminded me just how much I miss Dalgliesh, particularly the early books. They are both missed and it was a treat to visit them again, however briefly. And The Mistletoe Murder is simply an excellent story, both as a mystery and as a character study.

If you find yourself in a mystery mood, this is a great introduction to the author and her work, or serves as a delightful visit with an old and dear friend.

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