Yes, it’s the 8th and as of yesterday I finished my first book of the year. Not exactly a record, especially as I started it the day after Christmas. I wanted a Christmas read so I bought Mavis Doriel Hay’s The Santa Klaus Murder from 1936. In many ways a traditional Golden Age Mystery – rich family that doesn’t get along very well comes together to the family manse for Christmas festivities during which the dictatorial patriarch is shot dead. Fine set up if a bit cliché. Not very interesting characters. Rather dry set up. I knew one part of the method before the murder even took place because several members of the family each write up a day of the visit before the big day. As dictatorial fathers go he seemed not all that bad. Christie’s rich families that don’t get along seem more seething with turmoil under the surface. Yet someone did and how they did was one one of the least satisfying mysteries I’ve read. I will write up a spoil-filled paragraph below for anyone who wants to know why, but if you might read it I don’t want to be like the reviewer on Amazon who basically gave the game away, though I’m pretty sure I would have guessed anyway. Even having a floorplan couldn’ save it. Spoilers after the picture. You’ve been warned!
Spoileriffic part: So the whole thing hinges on there being two Santa Klaus outfits. One, worn by Oliver Witcombe is all according to plan and a second one which you learn reading the first few chapters, long before Witcombe says he didn’t come back into the hall with crackers for the children. The crackers, of course, are to cover the gunshot. Witcombe, the first Santa, gets his instructions in the study from Sir Osmond. He then crosses the hall and goes into the back area where he’s supposed to give out presents to the servants. Cue second Santa, who comes out with the crackers and no one notices it’s a different person. Children set off crackers, Santa disappears, shoots Sir Osmond, then manages to get out of the Santa suit and rejoin the party with no one being the wiser. Although I think this is ludicrous, I’ll accept that no one notices second Santa. What I find difficult to believe is that he has time to do all this: get into his outfit, dispense crackers, shoot Sir Osmond, open the window, leave and get back in his regular clothes, rejoining the party and no one noticing. But what’s worse is the various red herrings. He opens the window for no good reason. Pointing to someone outside, but then other false clues point to Witcombe who really couldn’t have done it. He is aided by everyone else in the house behaving like idiots, lying about everything, destroying clues. It also seemed like a number of people did things just so the plot could work properly, in particular, Witcombe having a rather long talk with Carol in Jennifer’s room in between giving presents to the kids and giving presents to the servants while in his Santa costume. If he hadn’t there’s no way the murderer could have done all he did. It would have been much easier to sneak around without the costume and figure out some other way to cover up the gun shot. Should’ve just stabbed the guy.