The special CiB meme ‘Xmas scenes from books, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures’ is back!
Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page. You’d think I’d be running out of Xmas books and scenes by now, but far from it – I have to begin this feature earlier in December each year. More ideas still welcome in the comments. (If it’s a particularly good choice I will ditch one of the ones I have ready and give you credit…)
Murder Goes Mumming by Charlotte MacLeod or Alisa Craig
The men on the rope were pulling a great log across the floor. It lay on a well-waxed skid and must not be all that difficult to move, though everybody except Madoc was putting on a great show of slaving at the task. Rhys was only looking gently amused and quite remarkably handsome, Janet thought, among this lot of blond beeves. Suddenly Janet wasn’t tired any more. She was laughing and clapping while Squire and his crew with great fanfare rolled the Yule log into the fireplace and set it alight.
The oil lamps that Graylings depended on mostly for light didn’t make much impression on these vast rooms. They were the perfect illumination for a masquerade, though. Costumes that might have looked tacky in daylight now took on an air of glamor and fantasy. Val in her pink brocade and Roy in a white satin coat and knee breeches he’d no doubt rented from some theatrical costumer did make a striking couple. Donald was wearing knee breeches and cutaway coat like Roy’s, though in a deep green well suited to his years and dignity. Babs had on a dress cut much like her daughter’s, in emerald green with rose-colored ribbons. They made a most effective tableau grouped with their daughter and her escort.
Clara was a flapper, complete with cloche hat and rolled stockings with Christmas seals stuck on her knees. Lawrence had blossomed forth in a raccoon coat, a porkpie hat, and a fake red poinsettia as a boutonnière. Aunt Addie looked vaguely Elizabethan in a black velvet gown with so much fullness in the skirt it must date from the age of hoops and petticoats.
commentary: This book – which I came across as one of Tracy K’s seasonal efforts at Bitter Tea and Mystery last year – certainly is stuffed full of Christmas events and customs. It is one of a series of Madoc and Janet Rhys mysteries set in Canada: here the couple has just got engaged, and for not-very-convincing reasons they are spending the Christmas season with a family they scarcely know, in a big country house in the middle of nowhere. Their hosts are a strange family of hard-drinking, over-excitable, physical oafs. The guests are prissy and prim – a Mountie, and a farmer’s daughter who can’t wait to give up work and become a housewife (I had to check the date at this point: yes, 1981). The family has various tensions and someone ends up dead. Madoc now has to reveal that he is a Mountie, and investigate.
In one respect (and, believe me, in one respect only) the book reminded me of, of all things, Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. In that book, Fanny and Edmund are dreary high-minded dullards, quietly bitching about everyone else as a way of virtue-signalling: but in order to tilt the scales, Austen makes the rest of the family coarse and vulgar, so it is hard to choose between two equally unattractive teams. This book is the same.
And the crime – well it would be just about impossible to solve, as great swathes of info and clues are withheld from the reader till the finale, and it is in any case hard to distinguish among all the various members of the family, or to care.
All that said, the book is still an excellent Christmas read. I don’t know when I’ve ever read a book that had Yule Logs, AND Christmas tree decoration, AND wassailing, AND mumming, AND mistletoe AND a kissing ball. You name it, it’s there. In addition, MacLeod describes everyone’s clothes: the sweater-and-long-skirt look for cold evening dinner parties, the thermal underwear, the beaver cape and muff, the orange stretchknit trousers.
Mumming, by the way, is a folk activity which came to Canada from the UK with emigrants – dressing up, making a nuisance of yourself, you know the kind of thing. It means slightly different things in different locations: sometimes they travel round from house to house, but in this case it is just the residents dressing up for each other (before killing each other).
So I’m not really recommending the book (certainly not as a crime story) but it might put you in a seasonal mood, and would certainly make you glad you were not spending Christmas with any of the awful people within.
The Yule Log picture, from Flickr, surprisingly linked in with my preoccupations at the beginning of the year, TB and sanatoria – see a sample post, and a French TB stamp here, and many others all over. As a result of that fevered excitement (accompanied by a hectic flush) there will be several sanatorium posts describing Xmas in hospital.
The picture of a fancy-dress ball is from Sam Hood’s collection at the State Library of New South Wales. The second one is of a fancy dress party, and comes from the State Library of Queensland. I love all pictures of fancy dress parties: if you share my partiality, click on the 'fancy dress' label to be directed to thumbnails of the many fine pictures I have found in the past.