Rather than read through whole books of short stories, I thought it might be interesting and fun to have a sort of 'short story' December, picking out random stories that are in various Christmas or winter collections I own.
So, first up, The Earlier Service by Margaret Irwin. I picked this out of a British Library wierd stories collection entitled, Haunters at the Hearth, which is edited by Tanya Kirk. I thought it sounded ecclesiastical and so it turned out to be.
This story is set in a small, rural, village church in Somerset. The vicar and his wife have a son and two teenage daughters, Jane and Alice. Jane is 16 and coming up to her confirmation. It's terrifying her and we don't know why. We see her in church on Sundays, the last to arrive, reluctant, edgy. The son, Hugh, brings a friend home from uni who has an interest in old churches and specialises in going round looking for hidden inscriptions scratched in pews or hidden corners of the church. Jane shows him the one in the rector's pew... Well, how nice to hit upon such a creepy, atmospheric story at my first try. I don't know the author, Margaret Irwin, at all, she was apparently well known for historical fiction back in the 1930s and 40s: this ghost story is from 1935. It was full of that sort of hidden menace you get sometimes in fiction, where the reader knows there's something very wrong and is on edge waiting to be told what it is. I love a rural village, churchy sort of setting too and it's very well done here. The author also depicts the angst and worries of being 16 and sensitive extremely well. I'd very much like to read more short fiction by this author.
Next I read two stories from a BLCC collection, Silent Nights, edited by Martin Edwards.
Stuffing by Edgar Wallace involves two con artists who specialise in getting themselves invited to stately home, disguising themselves as foreign princes etc. They'd then pinch money or valuables and get them out of the house at a prearranged time. But this time it all goes wrong and the Christmas turkey gets in on the act. This was well written and fun, if slightly confusing at the end.
A Problem in White is by Nicholas Blake, a pseudonym for Cecil Day Lewis who was Poet Laureate in the UK in the 1960s and father of 'Daniel' of course. This was a railway story - train stuck in the snow with spys and criminals on board sort of thing. A train robbery had apparently taken place on this route not long ago and the carriage occupants speculate upon where it took place: one of them seems to know more than he should. This too was very well written and also a bit confusing. I lost track of who was doing what to whom out there in the frozen countryside.
The next story I read is from Polar Horrors: Strange Tales from the World's Ends edited by John Miller. The story I picked out was Skerry Skule by John Buchan, the author of such iconic books as Thirty Nine Steps and Huntingtower.
Lastly I read, The Clergyman's Daughter by Agatha Christie. This is from Midwinter Murder a fairly newly put together collection of her Christmas/Winter short stories. (It's available for free on Prime reading in the UK at the moment.)
So that was fun! I think the best of this bunch is The Earlier Service by Margaret Irwin but the Agatha Christie was great as well. I plan to read a few more Christmassy or wintery short stories over the run-up to Christmas so watch this space!