Nigel Bird has a new novel coming out called Let it Snow, published by Down and Out Books. As you might imagine, the storyline has a seasonal theme. So I invited him to write a guest post, musing on the appeal of Christmas mysteries. Over to you, Nigel:
"Why are so many crime novels set over Christmas?
I began by wearing my cynical hat. Everyone’s out there buying presents at this time of year and people love receiving books as gifts. Pair the two and perhaps it’s the kerching of the cash tills that tempts publishers and authors to set work over the festive period. But that seems harsh. I’d prefer to think that their motivation is less the cold drive of economic reality than that they want plenty of angels to get their wings as registers ring.
And if you think about it, writing a story set at such a specific time of year might actually be detrimental to a book’s success. Sure, crime fans will want to read murder mysteries set over Christmas as they build up to the holiday and while they wind down afterwards, but do they really want to be doing that very same thing in the height of summer? Or during the rebirth of spring? Or on a crisp autumnal evening? I’m not convinced.
If the financial reason is eliminated then what else does Christmas offer to the crime novel?
For starters, Christmas can be murder.
And what else comes to mind?
Time pressures for one. The need to buy gifts before the 25th, to ensure the drinks cabinet is full and to get the food cooked and plated while it’s all still piping hot. They’re mirrored by the pressing need to solve a case before the serial killer takes out another victim or the kidnapper who has set a deadline that has police racing the clock. Between the crimes and the domestic pressure there’s plenty of conflict to drive a story forward and maintain levels of tension.
And then there’s the natural environment. It’s the bleak mid-winter. There can be snow, hail, rain, ice or fog. The days are short and the nights long. The criminal has plenty of natural cover to work with.
Add to that the boozy chaos of revellers that December brings. Wild office parties that so easily descend into chaos, tempting folk let their hair down until they’re doing impressions of Rapunzel without caring too much who is climbing their way to the top. Anything can happen and, in the hands of the right imagination, probably will.
Into the mix, we can throw in the element of disguise. What better way to blend in with the background than to wear a red suit and black gloves with a beard of cotton wool? Not to mention the empty sack to gather all the swag the average thief can carry. I suspect that the nature of Santa Claus was less defined by Coca Cola than by some criminal mastermind with a wonderfully twisted sense of humour.
To help the writer further, the Christmas period spans three days, each with their own identity and traditions. That’s plenty of time to settle many a mystery and if that’s not enough, things can be easily stretched into the New Year and all the madness that brings.
I can imagine you’re coming up with lots of reasons of your own. How December becomes an easy backdrop: Christmas trees, gardens lit up like Vegas, crowds with plenty of pockets to be picked and bags to be snatched. We have carol singers, shoplifting, fraud, holiday traffic, empty houses, piles of presents in full view to passers-by, stray kisses under the mistletoe, over-indulgence, hangovers and the ghosts of Christmas past. There might even be something deadly baked into that pudding, so let’s be careful out there..."