Christmas seems like such a perfect time for a murder, doesn’t it? All the suspects, uh, I mean relatives, are gathered together in what is supposed to be, but seldom is, a joyous occasion. Perhaps that’s why there are so many whodunits centered around a Christmas theme. Including this little gem by little-known author Rupert Latimer first published in 1944.
Set during the Second World War, with blackouts and rationing featuring prominently in the plot, Murder After Christmas revolves around the very British family of Frank and Rhoda Redpath as they prepare for the yuletide festivities and their annual Christmas Tree party, which they hold on Boxing Day (for non-Brits, that’s the day after Christmas). They discuss whether or not to invite “Uncle Willie” for Christmas, that being Rhoda’s rich-as-Croesus step-father Sir Willoughby Keene-Cotton. And when they do invite him, that seemingly brings everyone out of the woodwork, including neighbors who had previously had nothing to do with them and the guest list (and suspect list) for their Christmas Tree swells out of control.
And seemingly everybody has a motive, mainly monetary, for wanting to do away with “Uncle Willie”.
This being a whodunit, there is, in fact, a suspicious death, and then there’s another one. Things get rather complicated very quickly and there are clues aplenty including some very suspicious mince pies. Keep your eyes on those mince pies, I tell you. Nearly every chapter has a new revelation that upends everybody’s motives or uncovers new ones, until finally there is a surprise, that quite frankly I can say, “I did not see that coming!”
Rupert Latimer was the pen name of Algernon Vernon Mills (1905 – 1953). Although he was born with that proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, he had a rather tragic life. As a toddler, he ate some wild strawberries and contracted typhoid fever along with his sister and nurse; they died, but he survived though he was lame and suffered from epilepsy for the rest of his life.
Murder After Christmas was his second detective novel, and sadly his health declined rapidly after it was published. He died of a brain tumor in 1953.
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