While the wildfires raged north of Los Angeles and Sacramento, the state capital, and tens of thousands were required to evacuate their threatened homes with little assurance as to when they could return, I longed to be home for Christmas. By home, I mean Cornwall, specifically St. Ives where my dance teacher mother presented pantomimes and my father dispensed medications for the local chemist and played the lead in The Emperor’s New Clothes. The holiday was usually subdued compared to the frantic, joyful goings-on across the pond, with only a few presents, and nothing like the Christmas gift of a handgun a Wisconsin glassware company is giving each employee.
Here, the telly has turned into a Christmas monster, hawking gifts, edibles, and anything else to which the word Christmas can be attached. The commercials are relentless and have been so since August. One TV channel has been broadcasting movies for the past three months with the yuletide holiday theme overshadowing Thanksgiving, which I grudgingly celebrate because I love turkey stuffing and gravy.
Some Christmas cards one can buy in Southern California are localized with illustrations of Santa Claus sunbathing on the beach attended by bikini-clad maidens wearing little else but white fur-trimmed Santa hats. The idea is to mail such cards to friends and relatives suffering from the cold. I once received a rather rude thank-you note in response that sympathized with my having to celebrate in such an un-Christmas-like climate as Orange County, and asking me not to remind them of my sun and sand in the future.
For my December 25th Grand Meal dessert I buy Christmas pudding and brandy-soaked fruit cake at the Indian grocery shop down the road. They sell clotted cream, scones, Marmite, Bisto, and many other British products. I tried what they call a Cornish pasty. Nothing like mother made. But the cream is imported in small glass jars from Devon and is delicious.
There’s a big sales push on by a Nebraska company that ships a very large white foam polystyrene box filled with prime steaks, hamburgers, chops, and roasts packed in dry ice. What does all this have to do with my current job of finishing up my next mystery? Well, these gifts save a lot of time in the kitchen, and the box I received from a friend who decided I was a starving writer is large enough when empty, I realized once I’d transferred the food to the freezer, to hold a small body or bits of one. The top fits tightly and is leak-resistant, leading to the assumption that any blood will remain inside. The U.S. post office is used to accepting and mailing all sorts of odd-shaped packages and this one passes muster whatever it may contain except for petrol, pot, explosives, and ammunition.
Dozens of authors have been writing Christmas mysteries since last spring and one can see the results of their intellectual labors at online bookshops as well as in brick-and-mortar buildings that devote several shelves to the kind of killings the holy holiday can inspire. Aside from the bakery, and dog and cat Noel cozies, some titles are clever, such as How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews, and Christmas Stalkings, several stories collected by Charlotte MacLeod. In fact I counted ten other Christmas Stalkings titles before giving up on Amazon’s lengthy list on its site. Other holiday titles include Every Vampire’s Christmas Wish by M.L. Guida, and a collection of yuletide thrillers by Edgar Wallace and Arthur Conan Doyle. Lee Child’s A Christmas Scorpion continues as a best-seller. Meanwhile, mistletoe, the three wise men, the guiding star, and reindeer haven’t escaped being borrowed for the holiday and are included in several titles by authors such as P.D. James, Shelley Coriell, Anthony Litton, and Lena Bourne.
I’m a bit surprised that traditional Christmas crackers haven’t emerged as a themed title because these English table decorations offer so many possibilities for the inclusion of small body parts such as fingernails, eyelashes, or a hank of hair into the cracker’s middle section. I know one can remove the gift already included because as children my brother and I often did so when no one was looking. If we didn’t think it was worth keeping we’d slip it back in and try another cracker.
I wish everyone a Happy Holiday and a wonderful New Year.