Indefatigable author/editor Edwards (Serpents in Eden, 2016, etc.), diving once more into the past, dusts off 11 mostly forgotten seasonal reprints from the golden age of the detective story.
The good news is that none of these tales is a clunker; all are at least readable. The better news is that their value as Yuletide nostalgia is intensified by excavating them between 50 and more than 100 years after their initial publications. The best news is that by far the longest of them, Victor Gunn’s “Death in December,” is one of the most effective, packing into its 75 pages a wraithlike figure that walks in the snow without leaving footprints, a mysterious corpse dressed just like a notorious earlier family fatality, the disappearance of said corpse, and a tidy set of logical explanations. The other standouts are Ianthe Jerrold’s “Off the Tiles,” a briskly efficient inquiry into who pushed an inoffensive lady off the roof of her flat, and the best-known of these stories, Margery Allingham’s “The Man with the Sack,” an aggressively traditional tale that packs a most unwilling Albert Campion off to a Christmas party, where he’ll be needed to investigate a well-anticipated jewel theft. Felonious holiday parties are also the order of the day for Christopher Bush, Julian Symons, and Michael Gilbert. Fergus Hume supplies a shivery seasonal ghost, Edgar Wallace a free-wheeling fantasia whose two murder victims richly deserve what they get, S.C. Roberts a charming Sherlock-ian playlet with an ending right out of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” and Josephine Bell a grim tale of theft and casual murder disappointing only because the crime is so much more memorable than the detection.
Just the thing for readers who crave a retreat from their own rounds of obligatory social events and a rationale assuring them that attending Christmas parties can provide quite a shock to other people’s systems.