EDITED by OTTO PENZLER

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Never was there a more apt title for a book than this.  It is huge.

Penzler, pulp and crime editor extraordinaire, has complied dozens of Yuletide stories into 650 pages of deliciously dastardly holiday cheer.  He has categorized them into bunches like Traditional, Funny, Sherlockian, Pulpy, Uncanny, Modern, Scary and Puzzling. And it’s amazing how many of these tales involve a Christmas pudding that is up to no good.

From Penzler’s introduction:

Christmas has, for good reasons, been a season for a greater amount of reading than most other times of the year.  In times long past, when families and friends gathered, entertainment was more limited than it is nowadays.  Wealthier families had musical instruments, and it was common of accomplishments by playing pianoforte, harpsichord, or other music-making device.  But a group-friendly entertainment that cut across most socioeconomic strata was reading aloud from a book, and there was no better time than when the seemingly endless workday was shuttled aside for awhile. …

And, if anyone fails to be fully appreciate the joys of this gentle, old-fashioned activity, why, then, you can just beat them to death. ~ Pg. xxi

Many stories are from familiar authors like Mary Roberts Rinehart, Donald Westlake, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, and Colin Dexter, who are known for their atmospheric mysteries.  Others are writers you know but perhaps didn’t realize they wrote a Christmas story — like Thomas Hardy, Ethel Lina White, John Mortimer, and Issac Asimov.  It’s great fun to see favorite characters dealing with their own holiday stress.  Poirot doesn’t want to travel for Christmas, Sherlock just wants a goose and Rumpole, is well, Rumpole. Then there are the discoveries of little-known (at least to me) authors, like Meredith Nicholson’s A Reversible Santa Claus.  And there is a piece by Jonathan Santlofer which was given to customers of The Mysterious Bookshop in 2008 in the form of a chapbook.

One of my favorites is called The Burglar and the Whatsit.  It’s simple and funny and it opens like this:

“Hey, Sanity Clause,” shouted the drunk from up the hall. “Wait up. C’mere.”

The man in the red Santa Claus suit, with the big white beard on this face and the big heavy red sack on his shoulder, did not wait up, and did not come here, but instead continued to plod on down the hall in this high floor of a Manhattan apartment building in the middle of a cold evening in the middle of December.

“Hey, Sanity! Wait up, will ya?”

The man in the Santa Claus suit did not at all want to wait up, but on the other hand he also did not at all want a lot of shouting in his hall here, because in fact he was not your normal Santa Claus but was something else entirely, which was a burglar, named Jack.  ~Pg. 104

I had a fabulous time going through these stories — sharing them, re-reading favorites.  It is sure to have a special place on my shelf and will be brought out to enjoy again during December.

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