Bibliophile reviews The Twelve Deaths of Christmas by Marian Babson

Year of publication:1979
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: London, England; contemporary

Over the space of 12 days leading up to Christmas a murderer is on the loose in London, killing at random with whatever weapon is at hand. We know from the beginning that this is someone who suffers from pathological headaches that bring out a switch in personality from a respectable citizen into someone whose grip on sanity has been loosened to the extent that they act on the little annoyances that occasionally drive all of us to commit murder in our imagination, while still being able to look and act normal. When they recover from the headache, they don’t remember what they did, so there is no suspicious behaviour to give them away. The second thing we are allowed to know is that this person lives in a boarding house in London, but which one of the inhabitants is it?

This is not what I would call a cosy mystery. Its tone is too nasty for that, with innocent (if rude) shopkeepers, children and Christmas shoppers being gruesomely killed for minor or even imagined slights. This is definitely not a book to read for Christmas cheer or a happy ending, so if that’s what you want out of a Christmas themed book, don’t read this. Instead I recommend Rest You Merry by Charlotte MacLeod, which at least is funny, or the Mary and Carol Higgins Clark books I reviewed on Monday, both of which are capable of getting you into the Christmas mood.

This is one of those interesting whodunnits where, although we get to see the police hard at work on the case, it ends up solving itself. The reader is merely along for a nasty roller-coaster ride and gets to play the guessing game based on little clues, both narrative and textual, that the author sprinkles here and there.

This is a short book, only 170 pages, and the characterisations are drawn in sparse and bold strokes, in favour of giving frequent stream-of-consciousness looks into the killer’s mind, showing how they get increasingly more psychotic as each day passes.

Rating: A nasty little Christmas mystery that is quite capable of killing the holiday mood, but will deliver plenty of suspense and room for speculation. 3 stars.


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