Detective stories set at Christmas have become, if not the Holy Grail of modern publishing, something not too far from it. One consequence of this is that the search for vintage mysteries with a Yuletide setting has intensified. Books have been retitled and snow-covered artwork commissioned in order to emphasise the Christmassy credentials of a variety of novels, some of which only touch on Christmas in a rather incidental way.
To find an unfamiliar Christmas mystery from the Golden Age has therefore become something of a rarity, almost a luxury. And I must say right away that very few examples of classic crime at Christmas capture the flavour and atmosphere of the 'season to be merry' to the same extent of Rupert Latimer's Murder after Christmas, which was first published during the Second World War, and perhaps because of that unfortunate timing has seldom if ever been discussed. The storyline is also interesting for its depiction of domestic celebrations during war-time.
The story begins at the home of Frank and Rhoda Redpath, who decide to invite 'Uncle Willie', as he is known, to spend some time with them at Christmas. 'Uncle Willie' is actually Sir Willoughby Keene-Cotton, a rather disreputable character but extremely rich. So rich that jokes are cracked about killing him for his money....
What follows is a madcap series of events involving mince pies, potentially poisoned chocolates, a snowman, and much else. Time of death and alibis play an important part in a dizzying sequence of events which ultimately end in a pretty satisfactory resolution. This is a witty and entertaining story, even if at times it is a bit barmy. Rupert Latimer was a pen-name for Algernon Victor Mills (1905-1953), about whom I am trying to find more information. He published Death in Real Life before this book, but doesn't seem to have returned to the genre. A pity.