Michael Taube:

Christmas is a wonderful time of year. Families enjoy time together. Music and carols are heard in the background. The tree is trimmed. Presents are wrapped. The wreath is on the door. Lights flicker either inside or outside the house – or, in some cases, both.

Who knows? You may even be called upon to solve a good Christmas mystery – or two.

Hmm. That last point probably needs to be fleshed out a bit.

I, like many others, enjoy reading mystery novels and detective fiction. My favourite authors are mostly British, including G.K. Chesterton (Father Brown), Agatha Christie (Jane Marple, Hercule Poirot), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), P.D. James (Detective Adam Dalgliesh) and Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey). There are also talented North American authors like Howard Engel (Benny Cooperman), Maureen Jennings (Detective William Murdoch), Edgar Allan Poe (C. Auguste Dupin) and Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee (Ellery Queen).

Several writers have found unique ways to combine these two genres with Christmas. This may sound like an unholy trinity on the surface, but it’s not. Combining crime, murder, and mystery with uplifting Christmas traditions and celebrations isn’t an easy task. To the few who’ve tried and succeeded, the final result will be a memorably written tale that captivates audiences and leaves them wanting more.

Here’s a small sampling of my favourite Christmas-themed mystery and detective fiction stories.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) has long been a popular story during the holiday season. But the talented British author also wrote other Christmas-themed stories, including one that contained mystery and intrigue: The Haunted House, a story series of eight chapters written for the weekly periodical All the Year Round in 1859. Dickens wrote three chapters, including the opening and closing stories. He also oversaw the work of five other contributing writers: Hesba Stretton, George Augustus Sala, Adelaide Anne Procter, Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell.

Dickens’ first chapter, “The Mortals in the House,” sets the story in motion. We’re introduced to the narrator, John, whose poor health “required a temporary residence in the country” during the Christmas season. The “solitary” house he settled on was “cheaply repaired,” “heavily shadowed by trees” and stood in a “sadly neglected garden.” It was “as stiff, as cold, as formal, and in as bad taste, as could possibly be desired by the most loyal admirer of the whole quartet of Georges,” which referred to King George II.

There’s one other important detail. “The natural inference was,” according to Dickens, “that it had the reputation of being a haunted house.”

Seven friends would join John in his solitary, neglected, mysterious and undeniably haunted house. They drew lots for bedrooms, with the narrator ending up with the one that contained the skeleton of Master B. He would follow this ghostly creature on various modes of transportation, including a “broom-stick,” “rocking horse,” and “headless donkey.” John would eventually reveal that Master B. was “the ghost of my own childhood, the ghost of own innocence, the ghost of my own airy belief.” This would be a spooky Christmas that he and his house guests wouldn’t soon forget.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous duo, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, were also involved in one story that happened smack dab in the middle of Christmas. “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” was first published in The Strand Magazine in January 1892. It was also included in the short story collection, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, released that October.

Watson went over to Holmes’s apartment at 221B Baker Street two days after Christmas to wish him good tidings for the season. Instead, the great detective told him about an astonishing mystery that had occurred before Santa Claus came down the chimney. At four o’clock that Christmas morning, Peterson, a commissionaire described by Holmes as a “very honest fellow,” had returned from “some small jollification, and was making his way homeward down Tottenham Court Road” in London. He witnessed a fight break out that caused a man to smash into a shop window; all the participants dispersed when Peterson came on the scene. With a “battered hat and a most unimpeachable Christmas goose” left on the ground, the commissionaire went to Holmes to deal with the former item – while he took the latter home for a most delicious dinner.

The goose’s tag mentioned the name Henry Baker (no relation to the street that Holmes lived on), which would be impossible to trace. In short order, Peterson found a recently stolen gem, the Blue Carbuncle, in the goose’s “crop” and brought it to the detective. An advertisement in London newspapers quickly located Baker, who told Holmes the goose had been purchased at the Alpha Inn, a pub near the British Museum. Holmes and Watson worked together to solve the Christmastime mystery of how the goose ate a stolen gem.

Agatha Christie also wrote a couple of Christmas-themed mystery/detective stories that involved her two most popular characters, Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot.

Marple appeared in “A Christmas Tragedy,” which was originally written for The Story-Teller magazine in 1930 under the title “The Hat and the Alibi.” It was released as part of Christie’s short story collection, The Thirteen Problems 1932. The amateur detective recounted this old story to the random guests that made up her Tuesday Night Club that evening. During a stay at the Keston Spa Hydro before Christmas, she met a married couple, Jack and Gladys Sanders. Her immediate premonition was the husband was going to kill his wife for money. Why? They were living off her income, but couldn’t touch the significant capital in her lifetime — although she had left it in her will for her husband. A number of deaths occurred at the spa, including a hall porter (pneumonia), housemaid (blood poisoning), and, as fate would have it, Mrs. Sanders. While her husband had a seemingly solid alibi, it  was up to Miss Marple to find out if her initial hunch was right.

Poirot’s holiday mystery was depicted in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, written by Christie in 1938. He and Colonel Johnson, the chief constable, were brought in to investigate the murder of Simeon Lee, a cruel multi-millionaire who had unexpectedly invited his entire family to celebrate Christmas. Who did it? A case could easily be made for everyone at the house, including his sons Alfred and David, and their wives. His only granddaughter, Pilar Estravados, and the police officer investigating the case, Superintendent Sugden, had also captured the Belgian detective’s keen eye. The little grey cells that helped him solve cases were going to be working overtime, it seemed.

Johnson, for his part, couldn’t fathom that this murder happened at Christmas. “It is, then, your opinion that Christmas time is an unlikely season for crime,” the eccentric Belgian detective asked the chief constable. When Johnson answered in the affirmative because it’s the “season of good cheer,” Poirot quickly murmured, “The British, they are so sentimental!”

In fairness, we’re all a bit sentimental during the festive season — even when a few dashes of crime and mystery get mixed in with good food, good company and good cheer.

Merry Christmas!

Michael Taube, a columnist for the National Post, Troy Media, Loonie Politics and Epoch Times, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.