Playful and ingenious, shot through with narrative elegance and sly humor, The Mistletoe Murder is a treat for P. D. James’s legions of fans—and anyone who enjoys the pleasures of a masterfully wrought whodunit.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:August 3, 1920
Place of Birth:Oxford, England
Education:Attended the Cambridge High School for Girls from 1931 to 1937 and later took evening classes in hospital administration
Read an Excerpt
The Mistletoe Murder
One of the minor hazards of being a bestselling crime novelist is the ubiquitous question, “And have you ever been personally involved with a real-life murder investigation?”; a question occasionally asked with a look and tone which suggest that the Murder Squad of the Metropolitan Police might with advantage dig up my back garden.
I invariably reply no, partly from reticence, partly because the truth would take too long to tell and my part in it, even after fifty-two years, is difficult to justify. But now, at seventy, the last survivor of that extraordinary Christmas of 1940, the story can surely safely be told, if only for my own satisfaction. I’ll call it “The Mistletoe Murder.” Mistletoe plays only a small part in the mystery but I’ve always liked alliteration in my titles. I have changed the names. There is now no one living to be hurt in feelings or reputation, but I don’t see why the dead should be denied a similar indulgence.
I was eighteen when it happened, a young war-widow; my husband was killed two weeks after our marriage, one of the first RAF pilots to be shot down in single combat. I had joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, partly because I had convinced myself it would have pleased him, but primarily out of the need to assuage grief by a new life, new responsibilities.
It didn’t work. Bereavement is like a serious illness. One dies or one survives, and the medicine is time, not a change of scene. I went through my preliminary training in a mood of grim determination to see it through, but when my grandmother’s invitation came, just six weeks before Christmas, I accepted with relief. It solved a problem for me. I was an only child and my father, a doctor, had volunteered as a middle--aged recruit to the Royal Army Medical Corps; my mother had taken herself off to America. A number of school friends, some also in the Forces, wrote inviting me for Christmas, but I couldn’t face even the subdued festivities of wartime and feared that I should be a skeleton at their family feast.
I was curious, too, about my mother’s childhood home. She had never got on with her mother and after her marriage the rift was complete. I had met my grandmother only once in childhood and remembered her as formidable, sharp--tongued, and not particularly sympathetic to the young. But I was no longer young, except in years, and what her letter tactfully hinted at—a warm house with plenty of wood fires, home cooking and good wine, peace and quiet—was just what I craved.
There would be no other guests, but my cousin Paul hoped to be on leave for Christmas. I was curious to meet him. He was my only surviving cousin, the younger son of my mother’s brother and about six years older than I. We had never met, partly because of the family feud, partly because his mother was French and much of his youth spent in that country. His elder brother had died when I was at school. I had a vague childhood memory of some disreputable secret, whispered about but never explained.
My grandmother in her letter assured me that, apart from the three of us, there would only be the butler, Seddon, and his wife. She had taken the trouble to find out the time of a country bus which would leave Victoria at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve and take me as far as the nearest town, where Paul would meet me.
The horror of the murder, the concentration on every hour of that traumatic Boxing Day, has diminished my memory of the journey and arrival. I recall Christmas Eve in a series of images, like a gritty black--and--white film, disjointed, a little surreal.
The bus, blacked out, crawling, lights dimmed, through the unlit waste of the countryside under a reeling moon; the tall figure of my cousin coming forward out of the darkness to greet me at the terminus; sitting beside him, rug-wrapped, in his sports car as we drove through darkened villages through a sudden swirl of snow. But one image is clear and magical, my first sight of Stutleigh Manor. It loomed up out of the darkness, a stark shape against a grey sky pierced with a few high stars. And then the moon moved from behind a cloud and the house was revealed; beauty, symmetry and mystery bathed in white light.
Five minutes later I followed the small circle of light from Paul’s torch through the porch with its country paraphernalia of walking-sticks, brogues, rubber boots and umbrellas, under the blackout curtain and into the warmth and brightness of the square hall. I remember the huge log fire in the hearth, the family portraits, the air of shabby comfort, and the mixed bunches of holly and mistletoe above the pictures and doors, which were the only Christmas decoration. My grandmama came slowly down the wide wooden stairs to greet me, smaller than I had remembered, delicately boned and slightly shorter even than my five feet three inches. But her handshake was surprisingly firm and, looking into the sharp, intelligent eyes, at the set of the obstinate mouth, so like my mother’s, I knew that she was still formidable.
I was glad I had come, glad to meet for the first time my only cousin, but my grandmother had in one respect misled me. There was to be a second guest, a distant relation of the family, who had driven from London earlier and arrived before me....
Excerpted from The Mistletoe Murder by P. D. James. Copyright © 2015 by P. D. James. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Mostly light fare, but one top-notch story.
Nice nighttime reading material while on vacation. I received this as a gift while visiting relatives for the holidays. The stories are interesting and short enough that I was able to finish them during a little downtime and wasn't tempted to read rather than socialize during the day!
THE MISTLETOE MURDER AUDIO EDITION By P. D. James Read by Jenny Agutter and Daniel Weyman Random House Audio Acknowledged by all to be a first rate crime writer P. D. James was often commissioned by newspapers and magazines to write a Christmas short story. For the first time four of those stories are presented here and are read by two exemplary voice performers - Jenny Agutter and Daniel Weyman. The title story is a popular novelist’s account of a crime she was involved in some 50 years earlier. A really unpleasant person was murdered during the Christmas season in 1940. There are very few suspects so one listens, expecting an unsurprising outcome until one is a bit shocked by the ending. This tale is James at the peak of her powers! In “A Very Commonplace Murder” a clerk has several reasons for not coming forward as witness to a murder - one reason is his secret taste for pornography. The clerk is a voyeur and thanks to his unpleasant hobby he is aware of a murder. A man has been accused but he is not the guilty person as the clerk well knows - will he come forward and exonerate the man? “The Boxdale Inheritance” finds poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh reinvestigating a notorious murder at the behest of his godfather. In the process a family secret is revealed that is so dark it must be hidden again. We meet a family with “an aversion to natural death” in “The Twelve Clues of Christmas.” Adam Dalgliesh is a mite younger in this tale but nonetheless perspicacious. He comes up with quite a few clues that catch the murderer of one who had supposedly left a suicide note. P. D. James is much missed but fortunately we can enjoy her works again in this highly listenable audiobook.
A very enjoyable read. The only drawback was that it was too short.
TANTALIZING AND GRATIFING.
U H Night