The Mistletoe Murder
by P.D. James
Faber and Faber

In P.D. James’ “The Twelve Clues of Christmas”, a youthful Adam Dalgliesh doesn’t just star in a yuletide short story; he worries that he’s trapped in one. When a figure waves down his car “in the darkness of a winter afternoon”, the newly promoted sergeant’s “first thought was that he had somehow become involved in one of those Christmas stories” written to provide a “seasonal frisson”. James toys effortlessly with genre conventions of this sort, climaxing with a nod to Agatha Christie: a suspicious suicide at a manor house filled with a family of possible suspects. The other stories, largely written early in James’ career, are similarly excellent, and also wear their influences on their sleeves. A crime of Conan Doyle dimen­sions haunts “The Boxdale Inheritance”, in which Dalgliesh clears up a possible murder in the history of his own family. “A Very Commonplace Murder” echoes Hitchcock and pre-empts The Girl on the Train. Having witnessed a homicide, an elderly voyeur falls onto the horns of a dilemma. He knows the accused killer is innocent, but will he come forward? The title story is more obviously festive, and features an actual mystery writer answering the age-old question: have you been involved in a real-life murder? The final twist is worth the price of this collection alone.