You’re not alone in thinking murderous thoughts while listening—often against your will—to Christmas carols in the increasingly long lead up to the holiday season. Christmas really can be murder, as evidenced by the myriad holiday-themed mysteries, both old favorites and new reads, which flood the shelves every winter. Whether you like your crime on the light side with plenty of crafting thrown in, or you’re looking for a slightly darker tale to read instead of another rendition of The Polar Express, here are five holiday mysteries to get you through to the New Year. Some of them might even be the perfect stocking stuffer for the crime fans in your life.
The 16th installment in Andrews’s long-running series featuring Meg Langslow, Duck the Halls finds the decorative blacksmith stepping in to help her small Virginia town pull off Christmas after pranksters rig a series of not-so-merry tricks. This is the perfect light read after you’ve been out in the snow all day. Publishers Weekly says that “Andrews leavens the action with her trademark humor, including dueling Christmas dinners and an extravagant—and extravagantly funny—live nativity scene.”
Featuring a younger protagonist than the previous cozy, this is Dunnett’s 8th installment in her series starring 20-something former dancer Liss MacCrimmon, who lives in the fictional Maine town of Moosetookalook where she works in her aunt’s Scottish-themed store. While visiting a friend’s new Christmas tree farm, Liss stumbles upon a murder on the grounds and, as the strange occurrences increase, she starts to wonder if there’s something even more sinister at work. Pick up this quick read on your way back from chopping down your own Douglas fir or Noble pine—but be sure to be on the lookout for corpses.
This is the last book Parker wrote before his death in 2010—it was completed by his long-time agent, Brann—and it features his enigmatic Boston ex-boxer-ex-cop-turned-PI Spenser, who first appeared in 1973’s The Godwulf Manuscript. Fellow crime writer Ace Atkins took over the reins of the Spenser series, beginning with 2012’s Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby, while Reed Farrel Coleman continued Parker’s Jesse Stone series with 2014’s Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot. In Silent Night, Spenser prepares for Christmas but his plans are interrupted by a homeless teenager named Slide, who pulls Spenser into a dangerous investigation involving a youth mentor and a local drug kingpin. This is definitely harder hitting stuff than the previous cozy titles—think of it like a shot of Scotch versus a glass of mulled wine—but Parker is one of the grandfathers of crime fiction so this one shouldn’t be missed.
Edited by Otto Penzler
Penzler, an Edgar Award-winning editor, as well as a renowned publisher and owner of New York City’s The Mysterious Bookshop, collects his favorite holiday-themed crime stories, many of them previously unavailable. If Victorian whodunits are on your holiday wish list, look no further than this collection, which includes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Thomas Hardy. Contemporary genre heavyweights like Ed McBain and Sara Paretsky also appear, along with entries by Max Allan Collins and Peter Lovesey that are in the tradition of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. At nearly 700 pages, this anthology is sure to last you through at least one blizzard and will keep you reading long after the snow melts.
Since 2003, Perry—whose long-running characters include the amnesiac Victorian-era detective William Monk, along with more than 20 installments of another Victorian-set series featuring police inspector Thomas Pitt and his wife, Charlotte—has published a holiday-themed book in time for Christmas. Starring a variety of characters, both main and secondary, from her other works, the Christmas Mysteries are the perfect historical treat. The 2014 installment, A New York Christmas, finds 23-year-old Jemima Pitt (the daughter of Thomas and Charlotte) traveling from London to New York in 1904 as the head of Britain’s Special Branch. She accompanies wealthy heiress Delphinia Cardew to her wedding but realizes that there’s more than marriage on the menu when Delphinia’s past rears its ugly head. While it’s not required that you read Perry’s holiday-themed series in order, you’ll be in for a treat if you sit down with the whole stack this December.