This time of year, screens across the globe are filled with Hallmark Christmas movies, modern classics like Elf and old gems like It’s a Wonderful Life.
But readers need classics too, and there’s no shortage of great holiday-themed books that warm the hearth while getting your blood racing. Here are three that are just about guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
As I do every year, I will be spending several hours with the legendary sleuth Hercule Poiroit.
Sometimes, you just want a classic.
Originally known as A Holiday For Murder, the book is a “locked room mystery.”
Multi-millionaire Simeon Lee unexpectedly invites his family to gather at his home for Christmas. His family is immediately suspicious of his intentions. And When after dinner on Christmas Eve, the sounds of crashing of furniture and a hideous scream are heard by several guests, who rush to Simeon’s room.
When they get to his door, they find it locked and have to break it down. The crime scene is a complete mess, with heavy furniture overturned, crockery smashed, and Simeon dead, his throat slit, in a great pool of blood.
Agatha Christie, the acknowledged mistress of suspense—creator of indomitable sleuth Miss Marple, meticulous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and so many other unforgettable characters—brings her entire oeuvre of ingenious whodunits, locked room mysteries, and perplexing puzzles to Harper Paperbacks.
The notoriously fastidious investigator Poirot is quickly on the case.
Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Blue Carbuncle by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
As London prepares for Christmas, newspapers report the theft of a near-priceless gem, “The Blue Carbuncle”, from the hotel suite of the Countess of Morcar.
The police arrest John Horner, a plumber with a criminal record who was in Countess’s room repairing a fireplace grate.
Meanwhile, Dr. John Watson visits his friend Sherlock Holmes at Christmas time and finds the sleuth contemplating a battered old hat.
The hat and a Christmas goose had been dropped by a man in a scuffle with some street ruffians.
Peterson takes the goose home to eat, but later returns to Holmes with a striking gemstone his wife had found in the bird’s crop (throat).
Holmes makes some amazing deductions concerning the owner of the hat from simple observations of its condition, conclusions amply confirmed when an advertisement for the owner produces the man himself: Henry Baker.
Later, Holmes and Watson visit a pub where the proprietor informs them that the bird was purchased from dealer. The dealer refuses to help, complaining of the pestering he has endured recently about geese purchased by the Alpha Inn. Holmes then tricks the irate man into revealing that the bird was supplied to him by its breeder.
All in all, a delightful holiday read.
Secrets of the Chimes by John Vance
Pour yourself a brandy, slide into a pair of velvet loafers and cozy up by the fire to savor this perfectly timed murder mystery that centers around one of Charles Dickens’ little-known Christmas novellas (fact: The Chimes is actually one of five Christmas novellas written by the beloved author).
Professor and Dickens researcher Jeremy Nichols takes a new job at a prestigious New England college where Jackson Lawrence, one of foremost Dickensian scholars, was mysteriously murdered six months earlier in the tower of the library.
But it’s not long before making tenure soon becomes the last thing on Nichols’ mind. The professor soon gets pulled into the unexplained events surrounding Lawrence’s untimely demise and sets out to discover what lurks in the upper reaches of the tower in the Hendley library.
What was Lawrence doing alone among the dusty tomes of the Hendley Library on the night of his death? Did the blood-stained pages of The Chimes, the Dickens novel Lawrence was clutching when he died, provide any clues?
Author John Vance, who also gave us the excellent In the Mind of the Vampire, Touched Back and other novels, has gifted Dickens fans with a treasure trove of easter eggs throughout. But never fear: You don’t have to be a die-hard Dickensian to get sucked into this compelling mystery. There is plenty of chilling lore, backstabbing, and good-old fashioned murder to scare even the ghost of Jacob Marley.