Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay

What a wonderful time of year Christmas is. Family and friends come together to celebrate the holiday. Maybe this is what Sir Osmond Melbury thought when he invited family and friends to his estate in Flaxmere. There were his four daughters. Hilda the oldest was widowed and was accompanied by her grown daughter Carol. Edith, the second daughter, had married Sir David Evershot. They had no children. Eleanor, the third daughter, was married to Gordon Strickland and had two small children. Lastly, there was the youngest daughter, Jennifer who was still single. There was one son George who was married to Patricia. They had three children.

Also invited were Oliver Witcombe and Philip Cheriton. They were potential suitors for Jennifer who wanted to marry Philip and disliked Oliver. Sir Osmond really did not want her to marry anybody, but who would settle for Oliver. Miss Mildred Melbury was invited. She was Sir Osmond's sister and had raised the children after his wife's death. She no longer lived with Sir Osmond. Lastly, there was Miss Grace Portisham, Sir Osmond's secretary. She was so competent and efficient that the family members worried that she might be after Sir Osmond with marriage in mind. She, however, seemed more interested in the chauffeur Henry Bingham

Christmas day arrived. Oliver Witcombe had agreed to dress up like Santa Klaus and distribute gifts to the young children and to the servants.  After the children received their gifts, Santa Klaus gave them crackers and there was much noise as they pulled their crackers. Santa Klaus then went to give gifts to the servants. After this, Oliver returned to the study to report to Sir Osmond that all was completed, and found Sir Oliver dead with a bullet through the brain.

Colonel Halstock was called to the house. He was the Chief Constable of the area, and a very old friend of the family. He was joined by Detective Inspector Rousdon of the police, and by Kenneth Stour, a successful actor, an amateur psychologist, and an old suitor of Edith. Kenneth felt that he had the skills to investigate the murder along with the others. Of course, Sir Osmund's will was considered as a motive for murder, and nobody knew the contents of the will, but they somehow assumed that Sir Osmund had been fair. The family spent the next few days eyeing each other suspiciously.

This is a classic country house British mystery. It is an enjoyable read and the solution is carefully worked out. The structure of the book is interesting in that the first five chapters detailing events leading up to Christmas day are narrated by five of the characters. Later chapters are written by Colonel Halstock.

Mavis Doriel Hay has been one of the overlooked writers of the Golden age. This book has been republished as one of a recent issue of books by the British Library Crime Classics. It was initially published in 1936.

I have read this book for the Vintage Golden Scavenger Hunt in the category of a book with a Christmas tree on the cover. It should be noted that the picture on the cover of the book bears no relation to what went on in the book. There was no snow that year, and the Christmas tree was in the library, not in the front yard.

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