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If you are so well-organised that you buy presents now for next Christmas, and there’s an aficionado of whodunits in your family, then how about Murder for Christmas, by Francis Duncan?

Murder for Christmas

My daughter bought this for me this year and I’m very glad she did.   A snowbound country mansion; a mixed assortment of guests (with dark secrets) invited to spend Christmas in traditional manner by the genial owner of the house; mysterious footprints in the snow; a malevolent stranger standing outside the gate; and yes, the house has a secret passage! Then, Father Christmas is found murdered at the foot of the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. What could be better?

Written in 1949, it features the amateur sleuth Mordecai Tremaine, a retired tobacconist who likes romance novels. (Why not? Why should a love of opera or of playing the violin be superior?)  Just like Poirot in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, he has been invited to join the Christmas house party (by the host’s secretary) because it is feared that something nasty is afoot. The guests include star-crossed lovers, a self-important politician, an irascible alcoholic, an angry scientist who dislikes Christmas, two femmes fatales, an alarmed niece, and an apparently nondescript married couple.

The clues are there, and theoretically the reader could work out the solution before Mordecai explains it. That clever reader would have to exert some powers of imagination, but I think it could be done. I didn’t manage it.

Francis Duncan wrote over 20 crime novels between 1937 and 1959.  This is the first one I’ve read.

It’s published in the Vintage Murder Mysteries series. ISBN 978-1-784-70345-5 RRP £8-99