Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries  – ★★★★1/2
This is a collection of short crime mysteries set around Christmas time. The fifteen stories from the Golden Age writers are cosy, atmospheric literary forays into all things unknown and mystifying that may be taking place during the holiday season. There are stories here from such authors as Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ethel Lina White, Edmund Crispin, etc., and involve such scenarios as (i) Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson chasing a goose both literally and metaphorically to solve a theft of a precious stone; (ii) an investigation ongoing into a cold-blooded murder of a medical officer at a children’s party in an orphanage; and (iii) a necklace of pearls disappearing during a Christmas family gathering at a country house in Essex. Below, I am highlighting five short stories from the book that appealed to me the most.
Waxworks  by Ethel Lina White – ★★★★★
This genuinely scary short story is by the author behind The Wheel Spins  and Some Must Watch , or their better known film equivalents The Lady Vanishes  and The Spiral Staircase . The heroine of this story is Sonia Fraser, a new reporter for the popular Oldhampton Gazette who, come Christmas, decides to spend a night at the town’s wax museum. This particular wax collection has already gained a grim reputation because of a number of mysterious deaths that happened there at night and brave Sonia decides to test the unlikely hypothesis of some supernatural force operating. Well-written and suspenseful, Waxworks is definitely one of the highlights of this anthology.
The Chinese Apple  by Joseph Shearing – ★★★★★
Joseph Shearing was one of pen-names of female author Margaret Gabrielle Vere Long (1885 – 1952) who also used the name Marjorie Bowen. The Chinese Apple tells of a rich middle-aged woman Isabelle Crosland who, on Christmas Eve, arrives from Florence, Italy to London, England and settles into her old childhood home to meet her orphaned niece for the first time. An atmosphere of haunting memories and unease permeate the first encounter between the aunt and her niece. For fear of giving away any spoilers, it is just safe to say that this short story is impactful and very memorable.
Cambric Tea  by Marjorie Bowen – ★★★★1/2
Marjorie Bowen was yet another pen-name of Margaret Gabrielle Vere Long. In this story, young Dr Holroyd is called to attend a very sick patient, Sir Harry. The doctor is shocked when the patient says that his young wife is slowing poisoning him with arsenic in his cambric tea. What is the truth? Is this the question of evil or madness, or both? Soon, Dr Holroyd finds himself torn between his personal feelings and professional duties. Though the ending could have been written better, this is still a vivid mystery tale set during the snowy season.
A Happy Solution  by Raymund Allen – ★★★★
In this story, during a game of chess on Christmas Eve, a cheque for an enormous sum was replaced in the household of Lord Churt, but who is the guilty party? One chess move may point to the culprit, according to Kenneth Dale. This brainy mystery will appeal to the fans of “one-room” crime mysteries and logical reasoning.
Beef for Christmas  by Leo Bruce – ★★★★
Leo Bruce was a pen-name of Rupert Croft-Cooke (1903 – 1979). In this story, Detective Sergeant Beef and his friend “Watson” Lionel Townsend are called to attend a gathering given by one eccentric millionaire for his family on Christmas. The reason for the detective’s presence is that the rich man, Merton Watlow, was sent a number of threatening anonymous letters. Then, during one of the performances at the mansion, the duo of detective friends witness events taking a very sinister turn. The crime method here may raise some eyebrows, but the story is written with such charm and humour that it cannot but be one of the favourites.