Yes, this is a recently published book. Yes, P.D. James passed away two years ago. How wonderful is it we get another little present from one of the best British crime writers.
The stories are not new, but often forgotten, or simply not read before. They are four short stories originally published in newspapers and magazines. From the Sunday Times to the Daily Mail, a number of publications have commissioned her to write Christmas Specials – and here they are. The oldest one, from 1969, is A Very Commonplace Murder.
My favourite though, is The Mistletoe Murder itself. It is, simply put, the perfect short story. It embraces the form; the incident so small, the very few characters, and yet they tell a full story. Compared to other authors, James seems to be able to fit so much in these short stories. She includes an exposition, we get to know the characters, we seem to learn about their past, all this in just a few pages.
You probably know by now I am a fan of short stories for their quick and surprising resolution, for their hint of an explanation. One scene, one look, one moment explains it all.
We have grown to expect long endings, with a detective rehashing the crime or an irrelevant scene of someone’s personal life at the end. There is no such thing in a short story: A picture of someone holding a golf club in their youth, and everything is clear. Scene.
It doesn’t matter if you have read one or two of them before, this is about experiencing the form of short story. So in between your Christmas prep this year, why not take the time to sit down and read these little crime stories?
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, by P.D. James
First published October 2016
ISBN 0571331343, ISBN13: 9780571331345