Since I don’t like romance, I wasn’t sure what story I could find to fit this month’s theme of love and friendship. But then I recalled “A Scandal in Winter” by Gillian Linscott. It’s one of my favorite Christmas mysteries. I first found it in the anthology Holmes for the Holidays. It’s also been collected in The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. Sherlock Holmes and romance seem like polar opposites, but Ms. Linscott writes a very convincing romance, fitting perfectly in the Holmes canon. Maybe that’s why I like it so well. It’s a romance that makes sense.
In 1910, tween age Jessica is spending the Christmas season at a Swiss resort with her wealthy family. Her family stayed at the resort the previous year when another guest fell to his death. Jessica was the only witness. The official verdict declared the death an accident, but both guests and staff believe the victim’s wife has gotten away with murder.
Jessica and her sister Amanda notice two elderly men they nickname “Silver Stick” and “Square Bear”. They are the only two guests who are polite to the widow when she returns to the resort. Silver Stick questions Jessica about what she saw, and Jessica, who savors the attention, plays amateur detective. Why Sherlock Holmes is one the case gradually comes clear through Jessica’s observations.
Jessica’s voice is distinct. It was the first aspect of the story to hook me. She’s a privileged child, but she’s old enough and smart enough to question the privileges and conventions she’s been raised in. Ms. Linscott also has some wonderful descriptions. I picture Jessica’s mother perfectly — “Then Mother arrived, wafting clouds of scent and drama.” And the widow — “This year she was thin, cheekbones and collarbones above the black velvet bodice sharp enough to cut paper.”
In the end, Holmes proves his devotion to the widow in his own way. And his understanding of what’s most important to Jessica.
What romances have you read that surprised you, maybe providing fresh twists to the rules of the genre?