by Francis Duncan
If you’re going “over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house” this holiday season, tuck this book in your bag.
It’s a perfect book to read while traveling or visiting. It’s entertaining, easy to pick up and put down and won’t give you nightmares.
This is the first of a series of books by author Francis Duncan featuring retired tobacconist and amateur sleuth Mordecai Tremaine.
Mordecai has been invited to spend Christmas at the country home of Benedict Grame. The postscript by Grame’s personal secretary Nicholas Blaise particularly tweaked Mordecai’s curiosity: “I’ve a feeling that there’s something here to interest you . . . I can tell there’s something wrong, and frankly, I’m getting scared.”
Grame’s Christmas house party is an extravagant celebration of holiday traditions straight out of a Charles Dickens’ novel. The weather has cooperated with a blanket of snow, turning the centuries-old Sherbroome House into a postcard-worthy landscape. The festivities including dining, dancing, Christmas crackers, glittering decorations, and a spectacular tree. Grame himself dresses up in red robes and puts a gift for every guest on the tree before everyone wakes up.
This year, however, the excitement on Christmas morning isn’t the gifts. It’s a dead body.
Murder for Christmas is a classic country house murder where a mixed group of people are brought together. Someone is murdered; everyone is suspect; and the amateur inside is keenly putting clues together to solve the crime.
This book is as traditional as Grame’s holiday plans. Mordecai is an engaging protagonist: a fiftyish bachelor with a prince-nez who looks so unassuming most people don’t entirely take him seriously. He’s as observant as Sherlock Holmes and a keen student of human behavior.
Duncan has a light touch with his prose. There are no excesses here. He never gets sloppy and dishes up a cliche or a cartoonish character. This is a totally relaxing book to savor in this season.
The other books in the Mordecai Tremaine series are:
- Murder Has a Motive
- So Pretty a Problem
- Behold a Fair Woman
- In at the Death
The Author: Francis Duncan (1918 – 1988)
When Vintage Books reintroduced Murder for Christmas in 2015, they were unable to find any information at all about Francis Duncan and published the book without any. A month later, Duncan’s daughter saw the book in a shop and contacted the publisher.
She revealed that Francis Duncan was a pseudonym for William Underhill. He lived most of his life in Bristol. His family was too poor to allow him to go to university so he took at job with the Housing Department of the Bristol City Council.
Always a writer, he submitted and published articles in newspapers and magazines. His first detective story was published in 1936. He continued to write detective fiction while working as an educator.
During World War II, he was a conscientious objector who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was sent to France shortly after D-Day. After the war, he trained as a teacher and spent the rest of his career as first an elementary school teacher and then as a college lecturer. In the 1950s, he earned an economics degree from London University.
He died of a heart attack in 1988 shortly after celebrating the anniversary of his marriage to Sylvia Henly. They had two children.