The Melbury family is celebrating Christmas at their country-house Flaxmere. Headed by Sir Osmond Melbury, the family includes his spinster-sister, Mildred; his son George (there with his wife Patricia and their three kids); his daughters: the widowed Hilda (along with her daughter, Carol), Edith (Dittie) with her husband Sir David Evershot, the beautiful Eleanor with her husband Gordon Strickland and their two kids, and the unmarried Jennifer. The other guests include Philip Cheriton and Oliver Witcombe (and later Kenneth Stour). Among the staff is the secretary Grace Potisham, the butler Perkins, the two chauffeurs, Henry Bingham and John Ashmore.
The family members are all troubled. Jennifer is in love with Philip but her father wants her to marry Oliver and often pitches the two young men against one another. Jennifer and Philip are thinking of getting married though they know that it’d be tough for them to survive without an allowance by Sir Osmand. Hilda, Jennifer’s sister, who had herself married a man not considered worthy by her father feels that unlike her Jennifer won’t be able to cope without money and comforts. Hilda herself needs money to educate her daughter Carol but is too proud to ask her father to give the money to her. Eleanor is worried that perhaps her husband is taking an undue interest in the new nurse of the kids. Sir David Evershot is suffering from shell-shock and Edith is finding it difficult to cope up with his mood swings. Things are not helped with the re-entry of her old lover and now successful film star Kenneth Stour. The whole family is also wary of Grace Potisham who they feel is a gold-digger, ready to entrap their father.
Everybody is on edge and hardly in the spirit of the season. Sir Oliver plans to surprise the kids by having Santa Klaus deliver presents to them. Likewise Oliver dons a Santa Clause suit and carries out the act which includes bursting crackers. Somebody makes use of this noise to not only shoot dead Sir Oliver but also to create a plot-hole. The policemen, Chief Constable Colonel Halstock and DI Rousdon have to find the killer and in this they are helped by actor turned amateur detective Kenneth Stour.
This was my first Hay and I quite enjoyed it, especially the way it is narrated through different characters. However the deluge of characters made it tough for me to keep track of and at one point I confused Edith with Eleanor. In the end, we see one character extremely happy and another one devastated and I really felt for the latter and wished that it had been the former to suffer such a set back.
First Line: I have known the Melbury family since the time when Jennifer, the youngest daughter, and I climbed trees and built wigwams together in the Flaxmere garden.
First Published: 1936
This is my second read for the #1936 Club. Last year at around the same time I had read another Christmas mystery Marie Belloc Lowndes’ From the Vast Deep for the #1920 Club. Of the two books, I found the Lowndes book to be better. Do you enjoy reading Christmas mysteries too?