Written by Alex Pine

Several years ago, a friend of mine was going through a tough time. There were problems in her personal life and she was feeling quite depressed. 

I remember phoning her on Christmas Eve because I feared that she’d be struggling to cope with all the festive fanfare. Much to my surprise, and relief, her mood was upbeat and she told me not to worry.

‘I’ve found something to keep me occupied,’ she said. ‘And believe it or not it involves losing myself in stories that contain gruesome murders, despicable villains and lots of blood.’

It turned out that my friend had become one of the many millions of people who love to read Christmas-themed crime novels. She had bought herself no less than five of them to see her through to the New Year. And she made a point of telling me that they included classics such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, in which a very rich man ends up with his throat cut on Christmas Eve. And The Santa Claus Murderby Mavis Doriel Hay, in which a party guest is found with a bullet in his head.

Christmas crime books were all the rage back in the 1920s and 30s, the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction. But in recent years they’ve made a comeback and their popularity has soared. Many well-known contemporary crime writers have sought to cash in on this by penning one-off Christmas murder mysteries and even short stories that are sold online. These include James Patterson, Faith Martin and P.D James. 

I’ve always enjoyed a good dose of death and destruction alongside the tinsel and turkey, be it through the pages of a book or on the television. And I’m surprised it took me so long to get around to writing my own seasonal shocker, The Christmas Killer, which is set in a small Cumbrian village that’s cut off by heavy snow.But when I did start, I had an abundance of research material to draw on.

So why is it that reading about people killing each other is such a popular activity during what’s supposed to be the period of joy and goodwill to all? Shouldn’t we all be binging on heart-warming and romantic stories set in homes and communities that embrace the spirit of Christmas?

Well not according to my friend. She said that what she needed was something to distract her from the problems in her life which were heightened by all the Yuletide merriment that was going on around her. And she found it by delving into the violent, fictional worlds created by the likes of Agatha Christie.

Of course, other people have their own reasons for devouring crime fiction at Christmas. It appeals to some because it just feels right at a time of year when the nights are long and there’s a strong sense of the supernatural.

Back in 1918 I listened to an interesting interview on the Sheddunit internet podcast about this very subject. And it was a real eye-opener. 

Taking part was Cecily Gayford, a senior commissioning editor at Profile Books and the editor of several anthologies of Yuletide crime stories, includingA Very Murderous Christmas

In the podcast interview, she said, ‘There’s something about the mood of Christmas which means we crave a kind of counterpoint to all the comfort and joy. It can feel a bit cloying and actually we fancy some murder and mayhem to offset it. And I think the second reason is partly to do with why we like detective fiction in general. As well as being a good story, it’s a way of working through anxieties that we have about the world and how safe it is for us.’

Caroline Compton, host of the Sheddunit podcast, explained it this way: ‘As ever, murder mysteries take our anxieties and reflect them back at us. At Christmas, a time that is meant to be all about plenty and goodwill, but which is often cold and difficult for many, they help us remember that not everything is comfort and joy. They give us a way to process our feelings about safety and violence. The firelight might be bright, but the shadows in the corners are darker than ever.’

Publishers have responded to the popularity of Christmas crime books by churning them out during the run-up to the big day. And for the most part the authors pull no punches when it comes to providing readers with gritty and terrifying storylines that can be savoured along with the mince pies.

The friend I mentioned earlier has now got her life back together and is in a much happier place. And she’s looking forward to celebrating Christmas this year with her family – and a signed copy of my new book, The Christmas Killer!



The most chilling read of Christmas 2020.

As the snow begins to fall, the body count begins to climb…
     Avon Publishers, pbk 29 October 2020, £7.99 



Alex Pine

Book Reviews
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor