“Christmas was coming… Brenda Lee had been rockin’ round the Chritmas tree so long store cashiers were on suicide watch.”
— opening to Midnight Lullaby by James D.F. Hannah
“Ah, sweet Christmas!”
— Luke Cage
- “A Hard-Boiled Christmas” | Read it now!
By Stephen Reid
(December 23, 1989, The Globe and Mail)
A feel-good story about a down-on-his-luck PI, a has-been thespian, a mobster, a mayor, a Christmas party at a Children’s Shelter, and a gal called Gallagher.
- “The Three Wise Guys”
by Howard Engel
(1989, Mistletoe Mysteries)
Benny Cooperman, Jewish private eye deep in the waspland of southern Ontario, deals with Christmas and the mob.
- “And All Through the House”
by Ed McBain
Not a P.I. story, but you gotta give it up for this 87th Precinct tale that celebrates Christmas Eve with the usual unusual suspects, including a pregnant woman named Maria.
- “File 6: Beyond the Shadow”
by Joe Gores
(January 1972, EQMM)
A DKA tale, wherein Dan Kearney himself encounters the Ghost of Ops Past in the form of the Continental Opin this Christmas/ghost story. What the Dickens?
- “Mr. Big”
by Woody Allen
(1971, Getting Even; also 1982, Murder for Christmas, Volume II)
I‘m not sure if this really qualifies as a Christmas story, although the editors of Murder for Christmas, Volume II certainly felt it did, due to the name of the winner of the fifth race at Aqueduct. Anyway, in this existentialist little romp, New Yawk private eye Kaiser Lupowitz is hired to track down God who, you may have heard, has connections with this Christmas thing. A hoot.
- “Christmas Party”
by Rex Stout
(1956, And Four To Go; also 1982, Murder for Christmas, Volume II)
This Yuletide tale finds Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, nobody idea of a jolly old elf, trying to solve a murder “at that most vicious of all holiday institutions, the office Christmas party.”
- “Silent Night”
by Baynard Kendrick
(December 1958, Sleuth Mystery Magazine; also 1982, Murder For Christmas, Volume II)
Blind private eye Captain Duncan Maclain rushes to wrap up a kidnapping, while Bing Crosby plays and plays and plays….
- “By the Chimney With Care”
by Nick O’Donohoe
(1978, MSMM; also 1981, The Twelve Crimes of Christmas)
Private eyes Nathan Phillips and Roy Cartley have a problem. Seems someone’s left a dead safecracker in Roy’s living room, “by the chimney with care.” And the house is filled with Christmas-happy kids.
- “Here Comes Santa Claus”
by Bill Pronzini
(1989, Mistletoe Mysteries)
Bill Pronzini’s occasionally-grumpy Nameless finally gets a name — Santa Claus. Kerry, the love of his life, cons him into donning the uniform of the jolly old elf in the name of charity and “for the kids.”
- “Silent Night”
by Marcia Muller
(1989, Mistletoe Mysteries)
Sharon McCone has to deal with an unwanted Christmas gift and a runaway nephew on Christmas Eve.
- “Christmas Ice”
by Kenneth Gavrell
(January 1995, AHMM)
San Juan PI Carlos Bannon tries to track down a missing executive in the midst of a Puerto Rican Christmas.
- “As Dark As Christmas Gets”
by Lawrence Block
(1997, Mysterious Press Christmas Card; also December 1998, EQMM)
Featuring Chip Harrison and Leo Haig. Leo leaves his home to investigate the theft of a handwritten manuscript from Otto Penzler’s takes place at the Mysterious Bookstore in New York Great fun.
- “Christmas Rain”
by Donna Huston Murray
(1998, Lethal Ladies II)
Rainy McGuinn, the P.I. with the rain phobia, is hired to do some department store security during the Christmas rush.
- “A Wreath for Marley”
by Max Allan Collins
(1996, Dante’s Disciples)
A novella that’s a gene-splice of The Maltese Falcon and A Christmas Carol, combining fantasy elements with the P.I. story, featuring Chicago eye Richard Stone.
- “Whacking Scrooge”
by Hugh Lessig
(2003, Thrilling Detective Web Site)
A seasonal little tale by our ol’ pal Hugh Lessig, featuring his intrepid newshawk Picasso Smith, Jr., that we think will really get your chestnuts roasting.
- “The Santa Claus Murders”
by Ed Gorman
(2003, Crooks, Crimes, and Christmas) | Buy this book
Santa is murdered at a Christmas party and small town Iowa lawyer/private eye Sam McCain investigates.
- “Sanity Clause”
by Steve Brewer
(2004, The Last Noel)
Brewer’s hapless, bumbling Albuquerque gumshoe Bubba Mabry looks into the murder of a department store Santa…
- “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth”
by Lori Avocato
(2006, Sugarplums and Scandal) | Buy this book
Medical fraud investigator Pauline Sokol checks out some shaky dealings in a dentist’s office. The tooth will out.
- “The Nearly Nixed Noël”
by Katy Leen
Rookie Montreal P.I. (and ex-pat New Yorker) Lori Weaver spends her first Christmas en françcais in Trois Rivières. No spoilers, but the author assures me that “there’s plenty of snow & tortière.”
- Uneasy Street
by Wade Miller
San Diego’s Max Thursday spends the holidays with a fake count, a fortune hunter, a bunch of globe-trotting crooks, and a valuable music box, and wraps it up with a nice seasonal touch.
- A Corpse for Christmas
by Henry Kane
Private richard Peter Chambers celebrates Christmas the old-fashioned New York way–with murder!
- Shoot a Sitting Duck
by David Alexander
Fans of Yuletide murders that take place in flea circuses could do far worse than checking out this Bart Hardin case.
- Murder is My Dish
by Stephen Marlowe
Globe-trotting PI Chet Drum spends the Christmas holidays tracking the murderer of his partner in South America.
- Credit for a Murder
by Spencer Dean
What could be more murderous than a department store at Christmas? When the body of a employee at Amlett’s department store is fished out of the Hudson River (frozen in a block of ice, no less) during the holiday season, Amlett’s security chief, Don Cadee steps in to investigate, leaving his girfriend and underling, Sybil, to investigate a shoplifting yacht captain. But when Sybil disappears, all bets are off. Bruce Murphy praised this one for its breakneck pace and humour in his Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery.
- Merry Christmas, Murdock | Buy this book
by Robert J. Ray
Southern California eye Murdock finds murder at the mall, right in the middle of a Yuletide shopping frenzy. And you thought you hated shopping….
- “E” is for Evidence | Buy this book
by Sue Grafton
Poor Kinsey! Christmas finds her with an extra $5000 in her bank account, and no idea what it’s doing there. Amidst the backdrop of the holiday season, she races to clear her name, when rumours surface that she’s been paid off. One of the best in this popular series.
- Visions of Sugar Plums | Buy this book
by Janet Evanovich
A special holiday novella, with everyone’s favourite Joisey Goil, Stephanie Plum, getting into the “friggin’ Spirit of Christmas,” hunting down a bail jumper named Sandy Claws and the perfect tree.
- Jingle’s Christmas
by Randy Rawls
In this whimsical tale, Texas P.I. Ace Edwards is hired by Jingle, the vice-president of Toy Distribution for Santa Claus in the Southwest, to recover some stolen toys. Ace, humbug that he is, is reluctant at first to take the case.
- The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir | Buy this book | Kindle it!
by Ken Harmon
Ken Harmon’s cleverly titled comic novel, published just in time for Christmas, sports a pretty good premise: the shotgun wedding of the hard-boiled crime story and the holiday-inspired hokum that has become our Christmas culture. It relates the story of Gumdrop Coal, a disillusioned elf neither tarnished nort afraid, currently on the outs with Old Saint Nick (the “Fat Man” of the title, of course).
- One Horse Open Slay | Buy this book | Kindle it!
by James Mullaney
Stumble-bum P.I. Crag Banyon is approached by one of Santa’s elves who who suspects foul play at the North Pole, but Banyon tells him — and the stolen reindeer he came in on — to take a hike. So when the elf is found murdered the next day, it’s off to the Winter Wonderland to do what a man’s gotta do.
- Silent Night | Buy this book | Buy the audiobook | Kindle it!
by Robert B. Parker and Helen Brann
Supposedly what Parker was working on the morning he passed away, and completed by his literary executor and long-time agent. Spenser’s preparations for a Christmas feast are sidetracked when he and Hawk get involved in helping out an at-risk street kid.
- The 12 Days of Christmas: Chicago 1934 | Buy this book
Nick Verriet’s Christmas: Chicago 1935 | Buy this book
by Nicolas D. Charles
The Twelve Days of Christmas (2014) features twelve interconnected stories leading up to Christmas 1934, featuring happy-go-lucky Chicago private eye Nick Verriet. The sequel, Nick Verriet’s Christmas: Chicago 1935(2015), delivers twelve more.
- Fields Where They Lay | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
by Timothy Hallinan
(2016, Soho Crime)
Master thief and reluctant troubleshooter Junior Bender is ordered by his mobster boss to protect a dying shopping mall from — get this — thieves. At Christmastime! Plus, Junior learns what Christmas is all about.
- The Twelve Dogs of Christmas | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
by David Rosenfelt
(2016, Minotour Books)
Dog lover and defense lawyer Andy Carpenter springs into action in hopes of saving a local dog shelter from being closed down. But who would want to hurt puppies… especially at Christmastime?
WARNING: The cover of this book contains a possibly lethal dose of cuteness.
- A Die Hard Christmas | Buy this book
by Doogie Horner & J.J. Harrison
(2017, Insight Editions)
The Holiday Classic. Illustrated. No, really. Okay, maybe the joke has gone far enough…
- Santa Claus Private Eye | Buy the book
by Jeremy Bernstein and Michael Dorman
(2017, Darby Pop Publishing)
It had to happen. Writer Jeremy Bernstein and artist Michael Dorman have teamed up to rock your Christmas with this apparently self-published graphic novel. Apparently, Old Saint Nick doesn’t just cool his heels the other 364 days of the year, watching TV and chugging cocoa — he moonlights as Nick Santana. your typical downbeat shamus, complete with trenchcoat and fedora, mucking it up with assorted gangster, thugs and femme fatales on the mean streets of the big city. ‘Because, his publishers assure us, “No one knows better than Santa Claus that the nicer they look, the naughtier they can be.”
- A Christmas Most Shocking | Buy this book | Kindle it!
by Robert Bruce Stewart
(2017, Street Car Mysteries
It’s Christmas 1906, and insurance dick Harry Reese and his wife Emmie get mixed up in all sorts of cheeky (and slightly risqué) shenanigans on a trip to Washington, D.C.
- The Twelve Crimes of Christmas | Buy this book
Edited by Carol-Lynn Rossel Waugh, Isaac Asimov & Martin Harry Greenberg
- Murder for Christmas | Buy this book
Murder for Christmas, Volume II | Buy this book
Edited by Thomas Godfrey
A masterpiece of its kind, and one of the first serious attempts at rounding up the large numbers of crimonious Christmas stories, these two books (sometimes combined into one honking big omnibus edition) seem to have been in an almost state of print since they first appeared back in 1982 or so. Edited by Godfrey, and quite often — but not always — sporting cover illustrations by Gahan Wilson, these two volumes together offer 26 Yuletide tales from the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Ngaio Marsh, Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr, Thomas Hardy, Damon Runyon, Baroness Emmuska Orczy, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Woody Allen, Georgers Simenon, Stanley Ellin and more.
- Mistletoe Mysteries: Tales of Yuletide Murder | Buy this book
Edited by Charlotte MacLeod
- Mystery for Christmas | Buy this book
A collection of Christmas mysteries by the likes of John D. MacDonald, Rex Stout, Margery Allingham, Anthony Boucher and Patricia Moyers, pulled from the pages of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
- Christmas Crimes | Buy this book
Another collection of twelve holiday mysteries by Georges Simenon, Peter Lovesey, Margery Allingham and others pulled from the pages of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
- Mysterious Press Christmas Card
Edited by Otto Penzler.
- Crooks, Crimes, and Christmas | Buy this book
(2003, Worldwide Library)
Includes stories by Susan Slater, Ed Gorman, Irene Marcuse and Michael Jahn
- Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop | Buy this book!
Edited by Otto Penzler
(2011, Vanguard Press)
For years, Mysterious Bookshop head honcho Penzler commissioned an original Christmas story by a leading suspense writer, which were then produced as limited pamphlet given out to customers of the bookstore as Christmas presents. This volume collected seventeen of them, so everyone could enjoy them. Contributors include Charles Ardai, George Baxt, Lawrence Block, Mary Higgins Clark, Thomas H. Cook, Ron Goulart, Jeremiah Healy, Edward D. Hoch, Rupert Holmes, Ed McBain, S. J. Rozan and Donald E. Westlake.
- The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries | Buy this book | Kindle it!
Edited by Otto Penzler
(2013, Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
There are enough Christmas stories in this gigantic volume to last you until next Christmas! Editor Penzler makes like an elf on speed, rounding up sixty of his all-time favorite holiday crime stories, from everyone from Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson to Sara Paretsky, Ed McBain, Mary Higgins Clark, Max Allan Collins; Stanley Ellin, John D. MacDonald, Damon Runyon, Donald E. Westlake and John Mortimer.
- Silent Night, Deadly Night | Buy this book
Edited by Otto Penzler.
(2016, Mysterious Bookshop)
The Mysterious Bookshop presents “Classic Christmas Carols with a Taste of Crime,” as served up by Rhys Bowen, Ken Bruen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Max Allan Collins, Thomas H. Cook, Jeffery Deaver, Harlan Ellison, Loren D. Estleman, Jane Haddam, Stuart M. Kaminsky, Andrew Klavan, Peter Lovesey, John Lutz, Katherine Hall Page, Ridley Pearson, Thomas Perry, Nancy Pickard, S.J. Rozan, Charles Todd, Joseph Wambaugh, and Donald E. Westlake, among many others.
- The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Christmas Capers | Buy this book | Kindle it!
(2017, Soho Crime)
A feisty little collection of stories by feisty little, globespinning Soho Crime, featuring holiday tales from all over the world that range from laugh-out-loud, spit out-your-turkey hilarious to heart-breaking, cry-until-New-Years misery and woe, from such stalwart contributors as Cara Black (in a little ditty featuring Irene Adler’s daughter. I wonder who dad is?), Timothy Hallinan (Christmas in Bangkok!), Helene Tursten, Tod Goldberg, Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis, Henry Chang, Stephanie Barron, Stuart Neville, James R. Benn, Sujata Massey, Mick Herron, Colin Cotterill, and Peter Lovesy.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, I know. Hardly a comprehensive list of Christmas anthologies.But these are the best ones I know of. If you know of one thart should be here, please let me know…
- The Thin Man
Not really a Christmas movie, although the Christmas scenes in Nick and Nora Charles’ first film are true classics. Asta gets a fire hydrant, and Nick, full of Yuletide cheer, uses his brand-new pop gun to pick ornaments off the tree. A perfect Christmas afternoon flick.
- The Lady in the Lake
Chandler’s Philip (here for some reason spelled “Phillip”) Marlowe is hired to track down the missing wife of a pulp magazine publisher. The entire film is seen through the eyes of Marlowe, (literally! The technique utilizes a “subjective camera.”) so we rarely catch a glimpse of Robert Montgomery, who also directed. Probably just as well. This is the lamest Marlowe film of them all, even less entertaining than Mitchum’s road trip to London in 1978’s drowsy The Big Sleep remake. Kiss my lens, baby!
- Cover Up
(1948, United Artists)
Sam Donovan is an insurance investigator sent to some hick town to sign off on a suicide, and instead discovers murder. And romance. A genuinely sweet little film. Imagine A Christmas Story, but with a dash of homicide.
- I, The Jury
(1953, Parklane Productions)
The first Mike Hammer movie (shot in 3-D, no less!) takes place at Christmas and has an ironic use of Christmas music and Christmas cards throughout. Biff Elliott is a wooden soldier as Hammer, but who could resist Elisha Cook Jr., that noir icon, in a Santa suit? Each major sequence begins with a Christmas card filling the screen as Hammer does his voiceover. The question is “How could they?” The answer, of course: “It was easy.”
- The Last Boy Scout
(1991, Geffen Pictures)
Starting with Lethal Weapon back in 1987, screenwriter Shane Black has carved a niche for himself as the “King of the Christmas Action Movie,” as Dave Richards puts it. They’re not really Christmas-Christmas movies, of course, but a good chunk of the action (gunplay, lots of explosions, cursing and laugh-your-ass-off wisecracks) takes place during the holidays. And isn’t a gunfight at a crowded football stadium a bit more entertaining than watching Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Friggin’ Wonderful Life again, really? Hell, you could argue that the growing friendship between loser private eye Joe Hallenbeck and disgraced football star James Alexander Dix as they slowly put aside their prejudices is really what Christmas is all about.
- The Long Kiss Goodnight
(1996, Forge/New Line)
More Christmas magic from Shane “Mr. Christmas” Black. Once again, he manages to unleash all sorts of mayhem for the holidays, as sweetie pie schoolteacher and mom Geena Davis slowly starts to recover from amnesia, and realizes she’s some sort of assassin. Only cut-rate gumshoe Mitch Hennesey (Samuel Jackson) stands between Davis and possibly the worst Christmas ever. This one even has snow in it, during a crazed showdown at the U.S./Canada border.
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
(2005, Warner Bros)
Okay, once again it’s not really a Christmas flick Christmas flick, but at least part of the action plays out during the Holidays. Plus, you’ve got at least two wise men (P.I. Gay Perry and writer/director Shane “Ho Ho Ho” Black), an ass (Harry Lockhart as played by Robert Downey Jr.) and Michelle Monaghan in her little Santa suit. In other words, it’s a pure blast of fun, shoot-em-ups and wisecracks. Pass the eggnog.
- “Door to “Death” and “Christmas Party”
Back to back Christmas-related episodes starring Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin are sure to put even the most glum mystery fan into a better frame of mind for the season. Plus, nobody puts on a holiday spread like Fritz.
- “God and Sinners”
By Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark
(1999, Vertigo Winter Annual 2)
Released just a few months before the acclaimed A Little Piece of Midnight mini-series as a sort of teaser, this was one bittersweet, heartbreaking Yuletide tale. San Francisco P.I. Jack Herriman, working a skip-trace in a murder trial, has to break it to his aunt and uncle that he’ll probably be in Chicago for the holidays. Except his aunt suddenly remembers her cousin Beth in Chicago, and insists on joining Jack. “Joy to the fucking world,” as Jack mutters to himself.
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MGM publicity still for the release of Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)