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Old 12-20-2015, 12:35 AM   #1
WT Sharpe
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December 2015 Discussion: The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries (spoilers)

The time has come to discuss the December 2015 MobileRead Book Club selection, The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries edited by Otto Penzler. What did you think?
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Old 12-20-2015, 01:35 AM   #2
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I have read eight so far this year, working on the back of the book. I started with the six of A Puzzling Little Christmas, and am now working my way through A Classic Little Christmas.

There have been some famous names like Julian Symons and Ngaio Marsh whom I've never read before, so this has been a good way to dip my toe into their styles.

I expect to read about one story per night for the next month; then I'll put the book away till next Christmas.
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Old 12-20-2015, 02:26 AM   #3
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You know, I was thinking it might be a good idea if we used spoiler tags this month for spoilers, as I doubt I'm the only one who hasn't finished all the stories in this one yet. In fact, knowing my schedule for the rest of the year, I know I won't be finishing it in 2015, or at least I doubt very seriously I will. So, if you will, might we all use spoiler tags this month only when discussing spoilers?
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Old 12-20-2015, 09:44 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WT Sharpe View Post
So, if you will, might we all use spoiler tags this month only when discussing spoilers?
Sure. I'll just make some general comments here, though, nothing spoilery.

I'm about three-quarters of the way through. I'm glad we chose this. It's been a fun read for December and not too challenging at a busy time; it also lends itself to being picked up and put down at odd moments. I expect to finish it by the end of the month.

I used to love mysteries but have gone off them. That said, I enjoyed meeting old friends when I cracked this and stories were a good way to get back into the groove, as none lasts long enough to stale. As you'd expect from a book of this sort, some were more to my taste than others and I some were just better than others, frankly; the Meredith Nicholson story dragged and has not stood the test of time, as Penzler said in his introduction. I didn't care for the Holmes's pastiches, but I'm not a Holmes fan. Also, I think I was looking for cozy or uplift in a Christmas story and some of the stories that were tawdry or tragic didn't sit as well, but they added to the overall appeal of the book, as too much of a kind would have staled. As you'd also expect, there were homages to a few classic Christmas tales and I thought they were a tad too predictable; but again, I think the collection would have been lacking without them.

That all sounds negative, which is not what I meant or my reaction. It's easier to discuss flaws than strengths, especially not getting into particulars. One standout for me was Peter Lovesey's Haunted Crescent;
Spoiler:
I didn't see the twist at the end coming at all.
I giggled at the Westlake story. Too many goodies to mention, really. This is a superior collection with something for almost everyone.

Last edited by issybird; 12-20-2015 at 09:47 AM.
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Old 12-20-2015, 03:02 PM   #5
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Tom, could you please give us directions regarding how to insert a spoiler in our comment?
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Old 12-20-2015, 05:11 PM   #6
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I'm not Tom, but there are two ways to spoilerize a text. Either go to advanced reply rather than quick and click on the icon of the eye with the X over it, and then type your text between the commands. Or do it manually; type spoiler in brackets, then your text, then /spoiler in brackets.

Hit quote to my comment above and you can see the formatting.
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Old 12-20-2015, 07:41 PM   #7
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Thanks issy!
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Old 12-20-2015, 08:26 PM   #8
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Manually inserted, the tags look like this when you type them in:

[spoiler]This text is enclosed within SPOILER tags.[/spoiler]

And the result it produces looks like this:

Spoiler:
This text is enclosed within SPOILER tags.


(Interestingly, this post, when viewed in Tapatalk, shows two spoilers. Tapatalk evidently ignores the NOPARSE tags I added to the second line of this post.)

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Old 12-20-2015, 08:34 PM   #9
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I haven't finished this book and it is unlikely that I will do this year. But I think it is a marvellous selection. I am skipping around through the various sub-sections and by and large the stories are very enjoyable. It is one of the best value buys I have made.
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Old 12-21-2015, 01:24 AM   #10
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My thoughts on the tales I’ve read so far from The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries by Otto Penzler:

“The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding” by Agatha Christie.

Spoiler:
Enjoyable. In the spirit of the season, no one got killed in this Poirot tale.


“Gold, Frankincense and Murder” by Catherine Aird.

Spoiler:
Pleasant enough, but absolutely predictable, although this passage brought back many fond memories:

“Edward wants a model railway engine for his set.”

“Does he indeed?”

“A Hornby LMS red engine called ‘Princess Elizabeth,’ ” said Wendy Witherington readily. “It’s a 4—6—2.”


By the way, HONK if you understand the numbers in this passage!


“Boxing Unclever” by Robert Barnard

Spoiler:
This was a rather unusual mystery told from the point of view of the murderer. It was not so much a whodunnit but a whogottiduntoem. My favorite line was the response to the elderly actor’s retelling of an old fling:

“Certainly we had—what is this new film called?—a brief encounter. I have told you the morality of the theatre is not the morality of Leamington Spa or Catford. We happened to meet on Crewe Station one Saturday night, after theatre engagements elsewhere. I confess—sordid though it may sound—that for me it was no more than a means of passing the time, stranded as we were by the vagaries of the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway. But the thought did occur to me that I would be teaching this gauche young thing more gracious ways—introducing her to the lovemaking of an earlier generation, when romance still reigned, and a lady was treated with chivalry and respect.”

“I believe she told the News of the World it was like [expletive deleted] Old Father Time,” said Carbury to Martin Lovejoy, but so sotto was his voce that Sir Adrian was able to roll on regardless.


“The Proof of the Pudding” By Peter Lovesey.

Spoiler:
This is a pleasant tale that brings a fuller understanding of what it means to “drop a dime” on someone


“The Adventure of the Dauphin’s Doll” by Ellery Queen.

Spoiler:
Nicely done. Comus was a cool character. Loved Miss Porter’s description of lady-minute Christmas shopping frenzies: “A cat fight in a bird cage would be more Christian.”


“More Than Flesh and Blood” by Susan Moody.

Spoiler:
This one was a real chiller, and perhaps my favorite so far. A story of a man whose long search for his biological mother is finally rewarded. A truly heartwarming story of family, if your last name is Addams.

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Old 12-21-2015, 06:22 PM   #11
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I've read the first two of the stories in this so far (and am continuing to sample as the month goes on). The first one, a Hercule Poirot, was typical of Agatha Christie's Poirot stories--I'm not sure I would enjoy it nearly as much if I hadn't already seen David Suchet playing the part. But with that background, I _did_ enjoy it.

The second story left me completely unmoved and unimpressed.

More to come.
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Old 12-22-2015, 12:23 AM   #12
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I was struck by the ending of Pat Frank's The Christmas Bogey - specifically the comment of the liaison officer.

I think the comment was correct, and explains the controversies we have had for the past twenty years; controversies started by people who perhaps don't understand what they are asking for.
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Old 12-22-2015, 07:23 PM   #13
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December 2015 Discussion: The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries (spoilers)

The Butler’s Christmas Eve” by Mary Roberts Rinehart didn’t seem like much of a mystery to me, as the ending was much too tidy, but it was a great and very enjoyable Christmas story. I really liked the headstrong characters, William the butler, the stubborn “old man” and the equally stubborn Sally. As a whodunit, it fails in my opinion, but the characters are so likable they more than atone for the lack.



The intro to “The Trinity Cat” by Ellis Peters led me to believe this was going to be a Brother Cadfael story (although I was wondering why it was written in first person). It wasn’t until one of the parishioners mentioned “a gramophone record for my little errand-boy” that I realized I wasn’t back in the Middle Ages.

The solution to the puzzle:

Spoiler:
I knew Connie was the culprit as soon as the cat jumped in her lap, but I didn't realize it was because the old lady kept catnip in her purse. I had assumed that's how she transported the liver she gave him, and that the liver smell lingered on the purse.


Favorite lines from this story:

• “And one mustn’t forget our dumb friends, either, must one?” said Miss Patience cheerfully. [Yes, I know she was speaking of animals, but I got a kick out of taking it the other way.]

• Unusual for [the cat] to be effusive, but when he did decide on it, it was always with someone who couldn’t stand cats. You’ll have noticed it’s a way they have. [True.]

• A kid’s crime, a teenager’s crime. Or the crime of a permanent teenager. They start at twelve years old now, but there are also the shiftless louts who never get beyond twelve years old, even in their forties.

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Old 12-24-2015, 05:45 AM   #14
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It took me nine days to read all the stories. Unsurprising for a book four time bigger than most novels. A truly "Big Book".

And I liked them all. The stories varied in tone and style, and represented most of the well-known authors and detectives.

With the Ellery Queen took a while to get used to the writing style, and I still found it a little contrived.

A most enjoyable Christmas read.

What I didn't really notice when reading what that the stories are supposedly grouped by theme.

I also didn't notice that he's topped and tailed the book with Agatha Christie! Hercule Poirot to start, and Miss Marple to finish.

A very good choice for the December book, and I greatly enjoyed reading it.

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Old 12-27-2015, 03:37 AM   #15
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OK, I'm well aware that many of you are more sophisticated than both Jean the Shrimp Shrimpton and me, but could someone please explain to me the meaning of the last line of A Christmas Tragedy? I don't get it.
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