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?

The Sherlock Holmes Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Later this month, I have guest bloggers discussing how they write romance novels. Since they are covering the love aspect of this month’s theme, I thought I’d handle the friendship part of it. And what better way than to highlight the greatest friendship in English literature, the bond between the Great Detective and the Good Doctor in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In high school, I watched the TV series with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. His portrayal mesmerized me and sent me to the original stories. Between the four novels and the fifty-six short stories that Sir Arthur wrote about his most famous character, I think the short stories are far better. Except for The Hound of the Baskervilles, the novels suffer from a boring second half. The first half involves Holmes solving the mystery. But when the perpetrator of the crime is revealed, he drags down the second half by delivering his backstory.

Some of my favorite short stories are:

  • “A Scandal in Bohemia”–I have to love the only story that features the intriguing Irene Adler, the woman who outwitted Holmes
  • “The Red-Headed League”–Who created the Red-Headed League to benefit red-headed men? Why is Jabez Wilson told the League will pay him if he sits in an office for four hours a day and copies the Encyclopedia Britannica? And then why does it suddenly disband? The solution is one of Sir Arthur’s most ingenious.
  • “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”–One of the best Christmas mysteries ever written. Holmes and Watson must figure out how a stolen jewel ended up in the crop of a Christmas goose.
  • “The Adventure of Silver Blaze”–The killer of a horse trainer turns out to be the least likely but most logical suspect.
  • “The Empty House”–After he lets Watson believe he died three years ago at the hands of Professor Moriarty, Holmes makes a dramatic return. He enlists Watson’s help in an attempt to capture Moriarty’s right hand man, Colonel Sebastian Moran.
  • “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”–Holmes and Watson decide they are justified in committing burglary to save a woman from a professional blackmailer. I love this story because we get to see how much Watson enjoys his adventures with Holmes. He’s thrilled to the core to be sneaking through the night to commit a noble crime.
  • “The Illustrious Client”-– I tend to like the stories where the superhuman reasoning machines are shown to be human after all. While trying to prevent a woman from marrying a sexual predator, Holmes is beat up. Watson is outraged, and once again, Holmes believes he needs to break the law to achieve justice.
  • “The Three Garridebs”–While trying to help a client who will receive a large bequest if three people with a rare last name are located, Holmes finally reveals the depth of his feelings for Watson. Watson’s description of seeing this side to his best friend’s nature is both touching and funny.

I think the key to the longevity of these stories is the friendship between Holmes and Watson. Holmes would come across as an inhuman deducing machine if Sir Arthur hadn’t created Watson to be the detective’s friend and biographer. Watson would be just an ordinary Victorian gentleman, no one worth reading about, if he wasn’t the best pal of the world’s greatest detective.

I learned so much about character development from them. To read about how to create interesting friendships for your characters based on Holmes and Watson, click here for an earlier blog post.

What are your favorite literary friendships?

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