Susanna Gregory: A Killer in Winter

24 Festive Tasks: Door 3 – Saturnalia, Book:

The god Saturn has a planet named after him: Read any work of science fiction that takes place in space, or a nonfiction science / popular science book.  Or read a book revolving around a large party, ball, or festival, or a story where roles are reversed, or a book celebrating free speech, or a book featuring a utopian society.


I’d been thinking about using either Christopher Bush’s Dancing Death or the new BLCC Christmas anthology, A Surprise for Christmas and Other Stories as my book for this square — they both feature large, elaborate Christmas fancy dress parties / balls of some form or other: In the anthology, it’s the setting for the murders in the two first stories; in Bush’s book, the deaths occur during the night after the party, but the fancy dress selected by several of the characters is one of the elements central to the mystery’s solution.

But in Susanna Gregory’s A Killer in Winter I’ve now come across an honest-to-God Lord of Misrule Twelve Days of Christmas tradition, complete with role reversals (male / female; teachers / students, etc.), elaborate medieval Christmas feast, pranks, and the whole shebang. So A Killer in Winter it was!

And initially I was extremely happy with this book; it includes a wonderfully atmospheric rendition of a 14th century Cambridge at Christmas time (it’s no wonder that this, too, is the primary focus of the historical note at the end of the book — and it incidentally also underscores my reasons for choosing this as my “Saturnalia” Festive Tasks book).  Unfortunately, Gregory has a tendency to render her plots more and more unnecessarily complex the longer her books last, and that tendency is on display here, too — complete with dragging out the plot / investigation by way of a number of easily avoidable blunders committed by our main characters, the two detectives.  (At the very end alone, she takes another 80+ pages [= 3+ listening hours in the audio version] to present the final details of the resolution after that resolution’s main elements have already been presented … excuse me?!)  So unfortunately, like in the other full-length novels that I have read by her, here, too, the second half of the book dragged a bit, and the book would probably have been a bit better if it had been about 100 pages shorter and a few unnecessary investigative loops and detours had been left off — there is a reason why, all told, I prefer Gregory’s somewhat more concise novella-length contributions to the Medieval Murderers round robins.  But for their atmosphere, main characters, and impeccable historical research alone, the Matthew Bartholomew mysteries will definitely continue to feature in my reading catalogue in the future.


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