How to Write a Christmas Mystery

For some reason, Christmas and mysteries go together like silver and gold on a Christmas tree. Christmas mysteries are a very old tradition in the genre. One of the first, and best, is “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”, a Sherlock Holmes story. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple had Christmas cases. So did Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen, V.I. Warshawski, Brother Cadfael, and Father Brown. Maybe the mystery of God coming to earth, fully God and and fully human, gives the whole season an air of the unexplainable. If you’d like to try your hand at this very specific sub-genre, here are a two tips on how to write a Christmas mystery.

The Story Can’t Take Place at Any Other Time

The best Christmas mysteries take advantage of what the season offers. In “A Christmas Party” by Rex Stout, the boss of an interior design firm is murdered during the Christmas office party. The man who was working the bar in a Santa Claus outfit disappears during the confusion created when the boss collapses from cyanide poisoning. Santa was so heavily made-up no one at the party can describe him.

In Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie, old, mean, manipulative Simeon Lee invites his four sons, their wives, and one granddaughter—some of whom he hasn’t been on speaking terms for years—to the family home out in the English countryside for a real, old-fashioned Christmas. Or so he says.

Neither of these stories would work at another time during the year. Except at a Halloween party, you couldn’t have a waiter or other staff help disguise themselves so effectively. In America, Thanksgiving is the only other holiday which gives a character a plausible reason to gather warring family members.

One of the many fun qualities of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is how well it incorporates characteristics of Christmas that existed at the time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote it. A commissionaire who is an acquaintance of Holmes, finds a precious stone, the blue carbuncle, in the crop of the goose his wife was going to roast for Christmas dinner. Holmes and Watson follow clues through a bitterly cold London night to figure how the jewel, stolen from a luxury hotel, ended up in the goose. 

Include Themes of the Season

Another quality you can take advantage of are the meanings of the season. One aspect of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” that makes it so special is the offer Holmes extends to the culprit once he uncovers him. In “A Christmas Party,” Archie Goodwin learns just how highly his boss Nero Wolfe values him. “The Killer Christian” by Andre Klavan is about redemption. In my Christmas mystery, “A Rose from the Ashes”, I used a theme of mercy and forgiveness as my teen detective Rae Riley attempts to discover how her father is and if he tried to murder her pregnant mother.

For more recommendations of Christmas mysteries, click here.

What are some of your favorite Christmas mysteries?

Let Your Christmas Traditions Inspire Your Writing

There are probably a million published Christmas stories, both fiction and nonfiction, from short stories and novels to devotions and theological works. One way to make your story unique is to let your Christmas traditions inspire your writing. Mining your own experiences can lead to a one-of-a-kind Christmas story.

I could write an epic over my relationship with Christmas trees. As a child, we always cut a live tree. Some Christmases we hiked through a farm to find the perfect one. Other times we bought already cut trees at the Lutheran Church. One year, my sisters and I went late to the Lutheran Church and found the seller gone and a few lonely trees discarded at the edge of the parking lot. We had a free tree that year.

My husband grew up with fake trees. To him, real trees are dirty, difficult , and fire hazards. Our first Christmas in our new house saw us battling over which tradition our new family would observe. I came home from work one evening and found a tree stand in the living room. It’s one of my sweetest memories.

Now my kids and I tag a tree at a local tree farm on Thanksgiving weekend but don’t cut it until a week before Christmas, so the tree is fresh and less likely to spontaneously combust. Two years ago, I wanted a big tree for our two-story living room. The only big one without a brown needles and large gaps was a towering Scotch pine. But it had a lot of bare trunk that I thought we’d cut off. I measured it with the homemade ruler the owner provided. It seemed as tall as the one we got last year.

But I couldn’t weigh the tree. It turned out to be the heaviest tree we’d ever got. Things started to go wrong when my husband told me to grab the tree as our youngest sawed the truck, and while I put on my gloves, it fell on him. After we hauled it off him, my husband, kids, and I could barely drag it to the front of the farm. The tree was too big for the chute the owner used to tie the limbs down, so he had to tie it without mechanical help. It took my whole family and the owner to lift it into the bed of our truck.

We wrestled the tree through the front door. Then I decided we should call my dad to help stand the tree up. I have a weak shoulder and didn’t want the tree to fall on husband a second time.

This story can be used in many different way. As a humorous piece. As an illustration of the state of a marriage, such as couple who are quarreling draw closer as they engage in the tradition of selecting and decorating a tree.  As a family drama, such as a visit to a tree farm reveals problems in a family. Since this is a Christmas story, I would have those problems solved, or at least addressed, by the end of the story.

How would you let your Christmas traditions inspire your writing?

This article is a repost from two years ago. For more writing tips about using Christmas, click here. Clicker here for a great article on Christmas stress and the writer.

Prompt for a Christmas Story

This month on my blog I have two themes–the first is Christmas and then, starting December 18, it will be my blog tour for my debut mystery novel, A Shadow on the Snow. But first Christmas! I chose this photo because it’s so unusual. Why is Santa talking to these two women under a pier? Is he a spy meeting his contacts? Are they cops about to go undercover? Do the two women think the Santa is a long-lost relative? Is Santa a crook who can’t escape the enthusiasm of two overly-friendly moms? Let me know how this photo works for a prompt for a Christmas story!

For more Christmas writing prompts, click here.

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