It’s Christmastime. The Melbury family has gathered in the country home where Sir Osmond Melbury has retired. The grown children, the grandchildren, the secretary, and various servants are celebrating the holiday.
And then someone spoils the festivities by shooting Sir Osmond in his study.
And the murderer looks to have dressed in a Santa Klaus costume (we would spell it Claus; the author spelled it Klaus).
Enter Colonel Halstock, chief constable of the local village and a friend of the family. But not so much a friend as to overlook a plethora of suspects, motives, and opportunities.
The surprise is that Sir Osmond lasted as long as he did. His family wasn’t particularly fond of him.
And then there’s this business of wills, and which one was operational at the time of his death. Did Sir Osmond change his will shortly before he we was killed? And who made the mysterious phone call the day before the death?
The colonel is on the case.
Mavis Doriel Hay published three murder mysteries in the 1930s, part of what’s called the Golden Age of Mystery. Her contemporaries were Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers and other writers who perfected the classic British mystery – a wealthy family, a country home, lots of motives, and a body very much dead (the victims were usually dispatched discreetly off-stage; graphic violence was simply not done).
The Santa Klaus Murder (1936) joined Murder Underground and Death on the Cherwell as hay’s contributions to the genre. It’s an intelligently written story; Hay wrote for an audience who appreciated a good mystery and one not easily puzzled out. She also liked to include something of a love story, and The Santa Klaus Murder has one. In fact, it furnished a possible motive for murder, as Colonel Halstock soon finds out.
Halstock does it by the book, and he does it tenaciously. The solution is neither obvious nor simple, but our detective keeps at it relentlessly.
The Santa Klaus Murder is not great literature, but then it’s not meant to be. Hay wrote a mystery story, a good mystery story, and kudos to the British Library for republishing all three of them.
Photograph: The layout of the ground floor of Flaxmere, the Melbury’s country home, where the murder is committed. Many mystery writers routinely included floor plans of the scene of the crime in the 1920s and 1930s; for example, every Philo Vance story by the American mystery writer S.S. Van Dine included such a floor plan.