A slender collection that reprints four of the 20 mystery stories James left behind at her death in 2014.
Murder comes for Christmas in two of these deceptively decorous tales. In the 1991 title story, a mystery author recalls the murder of an obnoxious guest during an anxious Christmas visit in 1940. The list of suspects is so short that it’s hard to imagine how James will pull off any surprises, but many readers will gasp at the very last sentence. “The Twelve Clues of Christmas” shows newly minted Sgt. Adam Dalgliesh assisting and ultimately impressing his superior officer by producing no less than a dozen clues that lead to the murderer of the eminently dispensable paterfamilias whose suicide note is just another red herring. In “The Boxdale Inheritance,” originally published as “Great Aunt Allie’s Flypapers” in 1979, Chief Superintendent Dalgliesh’s godfather asks him to assuage reservations about an inheritance he’s due by assuring him that his great aunt Allie didn’t take possession of the estate by feeding her much older husband arsenic 67 years ago. All three of these stories are as accomplished and literate as you’d expect, but the real prize is James’ very first short story, “Moment of Power,” originally published in 1968 and here retitled “A Very Commonplace Murder”: not a detective story but a memorably creepy tale about a voyeur whose spying puts him in a position to exonerate a man accused of murder but who wonders whether he’ll do anything of the sort. Unfortunately, Val McDermid’s brief introduction includes no information about the stories’ original publication and no hint of how these four stories came to be selected from among the author’s 20.
Still, no one would take exception to the concluding sentiment in McDermid's introduction: “These stories are a delicious gift to us at a time when we thought we would read no more of P.D. James’s work.” James’ fans can only hope for several more such gifts.