There are lots of lovely, warm, fuzzy books out there to give people the feel-good Christmas factor…but what if you fancy something a little darker for your festive season? Here’s my round up of the best seasonal crime and psychological thrillers!
THE DEATHS OF DECEMBER, Susi Holliday
It looks like a regular advent calendar.
Until DC Becky Greene starts opening doors…and discovers a crime scene behind almost every one.
The police hope it’s a prank. Because if it isn’t, a murderer has just surfaced – someone who’s been killing for twenty years.
But why now? And why has he sent it to this police station?
As the country relaxes into festive cheer, Greene and DS Eddie Carmine must race against time to catch the killer. Because there are four doors left, and four murders will fill them…
It’s shaping up to be a deadly little Christmas.
An advent calendar filled with crime scene photographs rather than festive images – what a great hook. For over 20 years a serial killer, known as The Photographer, has been collecting these snaps. Now it seems they are ready to warn the police they are about to strike again. There are only ‘nine sleeps’ left until Christmas, so time is running out to catch the killer.
The book is written from different perspectives, including first-person from The Photographer, so that the reader understands why they are doing what they’re doing. The rest of the book is told in third person, and there is a lovely, easy rapport between Detectives Greene and Carmine as they race against time.
Although the book started quite slowly, it picked up pace and when it hit the middle…things took an interesting turn. This is a really easy read that will definitely entertain crime lovers.
THE FIRE CHILD, S.K. Tremayne
When Rachel marries dark, handsome David, everything seems to fall into place. Swept from single life in London to the beautiful Carnhallow House in Cornwall, she gains wealth, love, and an affectionate stepson, Jamie.
But then Jamie’s behaviour changes, and Rachel’s perfect life begins to unravel. He makes disturbing predictions, claiming to be haunted by the spectre of his late mother – David’s previous wife. Is this Jamie’s way of punishing Rachel, or is he far more traumatized than she thought?
As Rachel starts digging into the past, she begins to grow suspicious of her husband. Why is he so reluctant to discuss Jamie’s outbursts? And what exactly happened to cause his ex-wife’s untimely death, less than two years ago? As summer slips away and December looms, Rachel begins to fear there might be truth in Jamie’s words:
‘You will be dead by Christmas.’
This is a stylish psychological thriller, with a gothic and ghostly feel to it. The set up for it is obviously a tribute to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, but I liked that, and it moved away from that to become very much its own story.
Even from the idyllic start, there is a clever sense of tension, as the chapter headings are on a countdown to Christmas. Immediately, the reader knows something is coming, drawing ever closer…
The talent of S.K. Tremayne’s writing is obvious. If you liked the Ice Twins, you’ll know that with S.K. Tremayne what you get more than anything is a creepy feeling of suspense, the wonder of ‘is it all in the character’s head, or is this real’, and some truly fabulous, atmospheric descriptions of the setting. The author is brilliant at using landscape as another ‘character’, such is its strength and the addition it makes to the overall story. That is what you got with The Ice Twins, and you get it again with The Fire Child.
I love slow, brooding stories that build like a wave far out at sea, gathering pace and height as it sweeps you along, until it crashes over you in a conclusion that leaves you gasping. But although I was swept along, I feel as if I was carefully placed onto dry land at the end of this story. Why was that? Quite simply, the storyline isn’t the strongest, and I do think more could have been done with it. The sense of place was magnificent, and the atmosphere was taut, but seemed to come at the expense of characterization and plot. Nevertheless, it is a good story to read in the countdown to Christmas.
AN ENGLISH MURDER, Cyril Hare
The snow is thick, the phone line is down, and no one is getting in or out of Warbeck Hall. With friends and family gathered round the fire, all should be set for a perfect Christmas, but as the bells chime midnight, a mysterious murder takes place.
Who can be responsible? The scorned young lover? The lord’s passed-over cousin? The social climbing politician’s wife? The Czech history professor? The obsequious butler? And perhaps the real question is: can any of them survive long enough to tell the tale?
Originally published in 1951, this is a book from a Golden Age of crime when things were a little more cosy, and a lot less graphic. A quick glance at the set-up and list of characters reveals a sense that the tongue may well have been firmly in the cheek of Cyril Hare as he wrote this. A murder at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, and everyone cut off due to heavy snow – the story even features a butler! It really is wonderful fun, so curl up in front of the fire, and enjoy a very English murder.
THE MISTLETOE MURDERS AND OTHER STORIES and SLEEP NO MORE: SIX MURDEROUS TALES, P.D. James
THE MISTLETOE MURDERS: As the acknowledged ‘Queen of Crime’ P.D. James was frequently commissioned by newspapers and magazines to write a special short story for Christmas. Four of the very best of these have been rescued from the archives and are published together for the first time. P.D. James’s sparkling prose illuminates each of these perfectly formed stories, making them ideal reading for the darkest days of the year. While she delights in the secrets that lurk beneath the surface at enforced family gatherings, her Christmas stories also provide enjoyable puzzles to keep the reader guessing.
From the title story about a strained country house gathering on Christmas Eve, another about an illicit affair that ends in murder, and two cases for James’s poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh — each treats the reader to James’s masterfully atmospheric story-telling, always with the lure of a mystery to be solved.
SLEEP NO MORE: As the six murderous tales unfold, the dark motive of revenge is revealed at the heart of each. Bullying schoolmasters receive their comeuppance, unhappy marriages and childhoods are avenged, a murder in the small hours of Christmas Day puts an end to the vicious new lord of the manor, and, from the safety of his nursing home, an octogenarian exerts exquisite retribution.
The punishments inflicted on the guilty are fittingly severe, but here they are meted out by the unseen forces of natural justice rather than the institutions of the law. Once again, P. D. James shows her expert control of the short-story form, conjuring motives and scenarios with complete conviction, and each with a satisfying twist in the tail.
Come on, these two collections of short stories are from crime-writing royalty, so there really is little to say apart from ‘I loved them’. My mum and I have a Christmas tradition: every year we read to each other. The lights are turned down low (not too low, otherwise we can’t see!) and we choose seasonal crime stories or ghost stories to share. It’s something that is so much a part of the festive season for me, that to do without it would be the same as not putting up a tree. For the last couple of years, we’ve chosen to read stories from The Mistletoe Murders collection (the stronger of the two books, in my opinion) – to my mind, that says more than any review could.
Twelve Days of Winter: Crime at Christmas (short stories), Stuart MacBride
A collection of interlinked tales of crime and retribution laced with dark humour, set around the festive season – from the No. 1 bestseller Stuart MacBride
Thieves, drug dealers, lap-dancers, gangsters and even the odd good guy populate these twelve tales exploring the seedier side of life in North East Scotland.
I like crime, I like Christmas, so this was bound to be a hit with me. Plus, I am a huge fan of MacBride’s Logan McRae series. This time the talented crime writer takes the theme of the twelve days of Christmas to create twelve short stories which not only involve the festive season but a lot of murder, gore and tension. What is clever is the way each chapter works not just as a stand-alone story, but also has implications for the tale that follows. Ingenious, imaginative, and featuring MacBride’s signature dark, gritty humour, this is a fantastic book for this time of year – and it’s only 99p, too, so is a real bargain.
HER LAST SECRET, by…ooh, me!
Some secrets you can never tell.
Everyone thinks the Thomases are the perfect family: grand London house, gorgeous kids.
They don’t know wife Dominique is a paranoid wreck.
They don’t know husband Ben is trapped in a web of deceit.
They don’t know daughter Ruby lives in fear of the next abusive text.
But someone knows all their secrets.
Can the lies that bind them tear them apart?
Okay, I’m a little biased, so won’t tell you what I think of this twisty psychological thriller, which counts down through the final eight days before Christmas. Each day that passes brings you closer to revealing just what happened that fateful festive morning. I’ll leave you to make up your own minds about this book, and hope you let me know what YOU think!
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