|Charles Dickens in our miniature Christmas village in 2012|
I love Christmas books, from classics like Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to more obscure fare like Miss Read's Christmas at Fairacre. These stories are heartwarming and cheerful reads for the holiday season, but sometimes in December I'm craving a book with more excitement that still has a festive element.That's where my other favorite Christmas books come in--my paperback copies of mystery stories and suspenseful thrillers that have a holiday theme. While not quite as Christmas-y as the holiday books I mention above, these books have become every bit as traditional for me as the classic Christmas stories I save for later in the season.
A Rumpole Christmas, by John Mortimer
This book was my first introduction to Horace Rumpole, the beloved barrister who often finds himself at the center of mischief and mystery. I read all five stories over the course of a snowy Boxing Day, and loved each and every one of them. The stories are full of classic British wit and humor, and are just the right cozy mysteries to snuggle up with on a cold December night. Having read A Rumpole Christmas as a newcomer to the Rumpole series, I can say with certainty that you don't have to be a longtime fan of the books or television show to enjoy this collection--although by the time you finish it, you might just become as devoted a fan as those who have been following Rumpole's adventures for years.
Trojan Gold (Vicky Bliss #4), by Elizabeth Peters
The fourth book in one of my favorite series by one of my favorite authors, Trojan Gold follows art historian Vicky Bliss in her quest to find Priam's Treasure, a cache of gold discovered by archeologist Heinrich Schliemann at what he believed was the site of ancient Troy. A clue that arrives in a bloody envelope takes Vicky from her home of Munich, Germany to a small Bavarian village where the gold just might have been hidden after it disappeared during World War II. Vicky's not the only one looking for the gold, however--several of her colleagues are hot on its trail, as may be her on-again, off-again boyfriend, the debonair art thief John Smythe.
Trojan Gold takes place during the Christmas season, and is filled with details on German Christmas customs. From the scenes at Munich's bustling Christkindlmarkt to Vicky's experiences of the folk traditions of Bavaria, Trojan Gold has plenty of Christmas spirit to temper the excitement and danger of the main plot.
Stitches in Time, by Barbara Michaels
Rachel Grant has always been fascinated by antique textiles and the stories of the women who made them, so when she gets an offer to help out at her favorite vintage clothing store, she jumps at the chance. At the store, she learns the ropes of caring for old fabrics under the tutelage of its owners, business partners Cheryl and Kara. Rachel becomes particularly intrigued by an antique album quilt that makes its way to the store under mysterious circumstances, and attempts to restore it while watching the shop and Cheryl's attached house during the Christmas holidays.
The more Rachel comes into contact with the quilt, though, the more it becomes clear that something is very wrong with it. The patches depict scenes that aren't quite as charming as those on traditional album quilts, and Rachel begins to suspect that the person who made this quilt didn't intend goodwill for its recipient. When Rachel begins behaving oddly, she starts to wonder if she's going crazy . . . or if it's possible that the animosity of the quilt's maker has survived in its fabric for all these years.
Jerusalem Inn (Richard Jury #5), by Martha Grimes
My mother and grandmother both read Martha Grimes' series about Scotland Yard detective Richard Jury, and my mother recommended Jerusalem Inn to me last year as not just a good holiday mystery but one of her favorite Jury installments. The story follows Jury as he attempts to solve two murders in a small English village at Christmastime, and much of the action takes place at the local country estate and the pub called the Jerusalem Inn. It all makes for a classic British country house mystery with a dash of almost Wodehousian humor courtesy of Jury's aristocratic friend Melrose Plant, and it has become a new favorite Christmas mystery for me.