Three British Mysteries for Christmas

Dec 21, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sharon Tucker

by Sharon Tucker

I’m a little envious of a couple of my friends who will be in London this Christmas season. I have been there during early spring and again in summer, but have always dreamed of having a British Christmas on the Isle itself. I consider making a plum pudding every year in December, but just don’t want to face boiling anything in cheesecloth. I’d love to have roast Christmas goose, Christmas punch, and play the Minister’s Cat with a witty group of Brits, but my dream has not materialized thus far.

So, this year instead of traveling abroad, I’m enjoying a British Christmas vicariously with three quite good British mysteries set at Christmastime. I’m beguiling the days with Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, C.C. Benison’s Death at Sandringham House: Her Majesty Investigates, and Rhys Bowen’s The Twelve Clues of Christmas. Spending the holidays with Hercule Poirot, Jane Bee, Her Majesty Elizabeth II, and Lady Georgiana Rannoch will not only do, but will also be a treat.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, originally titled Murder for Christmas, takes place over a week’s time as Simeon Lee’s family gathers for a Yule that is anything but jolly. Much unpleasantness ensues because Lee is a dreadful person, all of his gathered family loathes him, and because he has an announcement to make that his family members both dread and anticipate. Simeon Lee has always been rapacious, bullying, and a cad, but one of the most surprising twists of Christie’s plot is that Lee has arranged for Police Inspector Sudgeon to visit the house at Christmas Eve on a specious errand, and to later come back for the big reveal as to who has robbed his safe. As usual, Christie’s characters are well drawn enough to inspire a reader’s instant dislike or just as instant an affinity. Red herrings abound once the deed is done, and Christie’s plot works a treat.

I have just recently discovered Canadian mystery author C. C. Benison, and luckily he has two enjoyable series to choose from for readers’ delectation. Most recently I’ve enjoyed reading Murder at Sandringham: Her Majesty Investigates, the second in his Jane Bee series. Benison’s previous novel Death at Buckingham Palace: Her Majesty Investigates, finds Jane out of funds on her grand tour of Europe, and registering with a domestic service for a job that will keep her in England for a bit and will replenish her sadly depleted bank account as well.

Here Canadian Jane Bee perseveres as a housemaid for the British Royal Family, but in this, our second outing Jane is spending Christmas with their majesties at Sandringham House in Norfolk. Jane is still finding the work demanding, but of great interest, especially considering that she is privy to the daily doings of such an intriguing and provocative family. The agency chooses well in hiring Jane. She is loyal, respectful, and quite clever. She is also no stranger to investigative techniques, since her father is a retired RCMP officer who just happens to be visiting her there in the environs of Sandringham as the action of the novel takes place. It’s Christmas at Sandringham, and a panto is among the festivities taking place, but all is called to a halt when the body of a woman who looks like the Queen is found on the deserted stage—-the body even sports a fur coat and valuable, lost tiara. HRM calls on Jane again to discover what’s afoot and the two of them finally piece together a challenging mystery of origins, accountability, and an historic theft.

It’s Christmas between the wars in England, and Lady Georgiana Rannoch finds herself at loose ends once more. In Rhys Bowen’s The Twelve Clues of Christmas Georgie once again tries to capitalize on the unique skills she possesses. This time, she answers an ad searching for a society hostess, rather than trying to start her own escort service—remember that ill-fated venture? The lovely village of Tiddleton-Under-Lovey in Devonshire is home to the Hawse-Gorzleies who are entertaining a variety of guests for the holidays and needing someone with just Georgie’s CV to see that all goes smoothly. As the twelve days of Christmas progress, oddly enough, the bodies of village residents keep popping up. Something ties these murders all together, but the police are at a loss to discover what. Luckily Georgie, her inamorato Darcy O’Mara, along with Georgie’s grandfather (a former policeman) are on hand to help sift through the seemingly unrelated co-incidences and clues. To add to the mix, Georgie’s mother is rehearsing a new play nearby with Noel Coward who lends his sparkling wit upon occasion. What began as a traditional Christmas party evolves into an adventure readers will enjoy.

Reviewers have a tendency to take Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series as light, frothy fun, and so have I, but I think we are missing a major point that comes home here as it does in every novel. Yes, her heroine, Georgie, has a noble pedigree but she is, like so many Britons after WWI, at a loss when incomes dwindle, class structure frays, and the world is forever changed. Georgie’s ancestors are illustrious, but she has been groomed for a world that no longer exists. What makes Georgie endearing is that she struggles so to adjust and to embrace reality. The plots of Bowen’s Spyness books are good mysteries and fun to read, but they have a depth too many of us fail to recognize. Georgie is a fine example of why the British way of life seldom fails to capture our hearts and our imaginations.

So give yourself a treat as temperatures plummet and icy weather threatens. Indulge the armchair traveler in you this Christmas and spend the holiday in Britain with Hercule Poirot, Jane Bee, and Lady Georgiana Rannoch. You will be intrigued, entertained, and learn much as an added bonus.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.

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Sharon Tucker is former faculty at the University of Memphis in Memphis TN, and now enjoys evening supervising in that campus library. Having forsworn TV except for online viewing and her own movies, she reads an average of 3 to 4 books per week and has her first novel—a mystery, of course—well underway.


  1. What great reviews. I have only read the Christie book. I know that the Rhys Bowen book must be terrific because the others in this series have been lovely. I am going to look for C C Benison.

    • Thank you, Annette. These books were fun to read and write about. Too few of us know Benison—he’s a recent discovery for me as well. Bowen, you know you’ll get a good mystery, but a Christmas mystery from her is a special treat.
      Happy holidays!

  2. Thanks for these, Sharon. I remember one and must read the other two. I’m a sucker for Brit mystery fiction since it’s often so convoluted.

    • My pleasure, Vonnie—these will get your little gray cells going.
      Happy Holidays,

  3. Thanks for all the info on these!

    • Enjoy!
      Happy Holidays!

  4. I’d read anything Rhys Bowen wrote (and I have read a few in each series). I had the opportunity to meet her at a book signing fairly recently. I do have a soft spot in my heart for British authors. I have not searched out Benison before, but would love to be introduced. Sign me up, please.

    • Lucky you to have met Rhys Bown (I hear she is a gracious lady.) and to have Bennison’s Jane Bee and Father Tom Christmas mysteries to look forward to.
      Lucky me—I haven’t read any of Bowen’s Evans or Molly books, but will rectify that over the holidays.
      Speaking of holidays—I hope yours are happy.


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