There’s nothing like a little murder to really bring people together at the holidays.
One of the all-time greatest genres of film is the spoof of the murder mystery, particularly the closed-room whodunnit-style of Clue and Murder by Death. The kind where a bunch of people are invited to a wealthy person’s mansion for what they think will be a festive dinner party but people start dying and the guests have to figure out whodunnit. It helps if the murdered person was exceptionally wealthy and any number of the guests at the dinner party would stand to inherit his fortune. But also there are jokes.
Such is the tale of Georgette Heyer’s A Christmas Party, previously published as Envious Casca. But calling it A Christmas Party gives you an excuse during the month of December to tell your loved ones you’re shutting your bedroom door to wrap Christmas presents, when really you just need a solid hour and a half of quiet, uninterrupted reading time, and what better to read than a Christmas murder mystery?
A Christmas Party is a classic closed-room murder mystery with a dash of holiday cheer and a little humorous frivolity thrown in for good measure. While the cast of characters begrudgingly assembled at miserly old Nathaniel Herriard’s Lexham Manor isn’t quite as quirky and delightful as say, Clue’s Mrs. Peacock, or Murder By Death’s Miss Withers, they do provide plenty of entertainment while trying to endure a party none of them wanted to attend. When a member of the party is found stabbed in the back, suspicion falls on each and every guest as the potential murderer and questions abound as to who will inherit the deceased’s fortune.
One highlight includes the appearance of a struggling playwright who has been working on a new play that needs financial backing. The party guests insist on hearing a dramatic reading of the work-in-progress, much to the chagrin of the party’s host, who hates literally everything. Another guest continually annoys everyone by reading aloud facts from her book about Empress Elizabeth of Austria.
A Christmas Party also has the most important ingredient in a light-hearted, somewhat farcical murder mystery set in a stately old manor house – the creepy butler. In the grand tradition of Clue’s Wadsworth and Murder By Death’s Jamessir Bensonmum, A Christmas Party has Sturry. How easily can you picture a distinguished old chap named Sturry (actually, Albert Reginald Sturry, to be precise) majestically carrying a tray of Christmas treats around a party while making snide remarks about the party’s guests? If you imagine Sturry as a an exact combination of Tim Curry and Alec Guinness, he easily becomes the star of the entire book, and a viable suspect for the murder. Doesn’t the butler always do it?
If you need an escape from holiday festivities, or you’ve found yourself the begrudging host of a Christmas party, you have my permission to lock yourself away for a few uninterrupted moments of festive reading time in the midst of the hustle and bustle. Hopefully, A Christmas Party has much more murder than your own holiday party, but it’s just the party you’ll want to crawl into when you need a break from yours.
Wishing everyday were Book Club Sunday,