A Surprise for Christmas and Other Seasonal Mysteries by Martin Edwards

Previous collections of this sort :


I have read a few other collections of this ilk, not as many as I would have liked. Just for my own logging needs, I had decided to list individual stories with their summary, what I thought of them etc. This takes some doing because I did not jot them down when I read them the first time. I had to peruse them faster and remind myself of my reactions based on the story itself. That is why this review is making an appearance now and not earlier in the year.

The Black Bag Left on the Doorstep – Catherine Louisa Pirkis (1893)

This was quite surprising for the year it was written in. I did not expect the kind of narrative that followed. I have not read any other books by the author and found the style quite different. 

We have a woman detective being sent out to solve the puzzle of a robbery in a country home. It involves class distinctions knowledge of things we could not have, but the ending does not make the reader feel too bad about not putting the pieces together. (3 stars)

The Hole in the wall – GK Chesterton (1921)

This was a little longer than I would have liked. There is a lot of buildup with regards to the people assembled at a masquerade party. The story seems to be heading one way but ends up finding a more sensible solution as the ultimate conclusion.

The characters were given quirks as traits to keep them straight in the narrative, and it was not a bad story, with the atmosphere of the dark and icy night as a backdrop. (3 stars)

Death on the air – Ngaio Marsh (1937)

I felt like the title was one I had read from the author. I had found a few books by this author somewhere in 2012 before my use of Goodreads, so I cannot say for sure. That said, The story was new to me, and I did not expect the ending. 

This is a closed room mystery where the tyrant of a home is found dead with strange markings on his fingers. There are many players in the narrative, family and family adjacent, who all felt the wrath of the head of the family and definitely wanted him dead. (4 stars)

Persons or Things Unknown – Carter Dickson (1938)

This was a slower story, with a cozy gathering deciding to embark on a ghost story. The story is of a maiden who is fated to have rivals for her hand, and one of them dies mysteriously. It is not as much a mystery as a closed room spooky story that has an interesting ending. I found it surprising and equally plausible! (3 stars)

Dead Man’s hand – E.R.Punshon (1953)

This was my kind of story. It begins on a snowy night, and it takes a couple of paragraphs to figure out the current state of things. Once the norm is established, the rest of the story just flies past. It is not a mystery in any sense of the word. It does fit the location and season of the story, so my rating still stands (5 stars)

The Christmas Eve Ghost – Ernest Dudley (1948)

The story has a more traditional mystery beginning, more like the first one than any of the others. We have a worried woman approach a detective for advice. The ending was pretty obvious, and the setup reminded me of a Sherlock Holmes story I will not mention by name. Despite that, I did not dislike the case. (3 stars)

Dick Whittington’s Cat – Victor Canning (1950)

In the beginning, with the ‘cat’ being a central plot point, I almost did not make any sense of the events on the page. Once that was clarified, I was a lot more interested in the story. It is not much of a mystery, but the pacing was was just right, and the reveal quite dramatic. Given how quickly things had moved, I would not have expected to be as tickled by the ending as I was. (4 stars)

A Surprise for Christmas – Cyril Hare (1959)

This was probably my favourite of the lot. Once again, not a mystery, so that may be saying something about what I like from such old narratives. It seems like an average Christmassy household until the husband and wife start to talk. Their conversation reveals something to us, and even before the ending came, I saw it coming. Despite this, I really liked the way the story unfolded. (5 stars)

On Christmas Day in the Morning – Margery Allingham (1950)

I received one of the author’s reprints as my first (one of three) physical arcs. I found those short stories decent, but this was slightly more fun. The postman has been found dead, and his whereabouts before the event is very important to determine the next course of action. The mystery is solved in bits and pieces, and there is no way the readers could guess before we are told. It is an easy read in some ways, laying out the rest of the clues in an orderly fashion. (3 stars)

Give Me a Ring – Anthony Gilbert (1955)

This is more of a misadventure than a mystery. We begin with a woman stumbling onto the wrong lane in the fog and ending up in the crosshairs of a functioning gang. What happens next takes a lot of pages to get done. The actions of everyone involved was quite interesting, but I just wish it had been slightly shorter. (3 stars)

Father Christmas Comes to Orbins – Julian Symons (1963)

Once again, not a mystery but the different parts of a heist. The planning, the execution and the fallout. I have been watching old black and white movies of such scenarios on Netflix and really enjoyed them. This is along the same vein. The ending helped decide my rating. (3 stars)

The Turn-Again Bell – Barry Perowne (1959)

This is more of a family drama, and we see a certain sequence of events happen without a logical explanation. I guess, since we aren’t made to look out for the answer, it could qualify as an actual mystery. (3 stars)

I liked this book better at second perusal and when thinking about it. Even with the individual rating, I give the whole collection a slightly better rating.

I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.

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