Winter and Holiday Mysteries


Because I just saw snow falling for the first time this year, I started thinking about my favorite mysteries with a winter or holiday setting. If you have a few spare minutes here and there during this busy time of year or if you find yourself snowed in with nothing to do at some point, you might enjoy sitting down with some tea or eggnog, putting your feet up and reading these great holiday stories. This list of suggestions covers a wide range of mystery genres, including cozies, classics, futuristic mysteries, historical mysteries, Scandinavian crime and humor.

Holiday in Death and “Midnight in Death” (one of the short stories in Three in Death) by J.D. Robb

The books in J. D. Robb’s “In Death” series, which take place in New York City roughly 50 years in the future, are suspenseful, fast-paced and almost impossible to put down. The novel Holiday in Death tells the story of Lieutenant Eve Dallas’s investigation into a serial killer who, during the weeks leading up to Christmas, enters his victims’ homes by disguising himself as Santa Claus. In the short story “Midnight in Death,” the action takes place on Christmas day, the day after Holiday in Death ends, so it is fun to read these two together. It tells the story of an escaped serial killer whose Christmas list is a list of people who are responsible for putting him in prison and whom he plans to kill off one by one. These stories include suspense, humor and romance, but are also fairly dark and gritty, so they are definitely not for those who are looking for cozy mysteries.

Still Life and Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

These are the first two novels in Louise Penny’s fantastic Chief Inspector Gamache series. They take place in a small Quebec town not too far from Montreal called Three Pines, a town filled with interesting and very appealing characters. In Still Life, a Three Pines resident named Jane Neal is shot in the woods with a bow and arrow just before the holidays, and Inspector Gamache and his team, as well as the residents of Three Pines, seek to understand what happened.  Was Jane’s death the result of a hunting accident or murder?    The second book, A Fatal Grace, is the story of the murder of CC de Poitiers, a new and very troublesome resident of Three Pines.  She is mysteriously electrocuted by her metal folding chair while sitting on a frozen pond watching the town’s annual curling match.

Indigo Christmas by Jeanne M. Dams

Indigo Christmas is part of Jeanne M. Dams excellent Hilda Johansson mystery series, which takes place in South Bend in 1904.  The books provide such vivid detail about turn-of-the century South Bend that you gain a good understanding of what it felt like to live in South Bend at that time, including the social problems that the town faced.  The characters have so much depth it feels like you are reading about real people.  In Indigo Christmas, Hilda’s good friend Nora, with whom she used to work as a maid at the Studebaker mansion, needs Hilda’s help.  Nora’s husband is accused of murder while she is struggling with a difficult pregnancy.  At the same time, Hilda is trying to help with the social problems in town and to do something for the town’s poorer children for the holidays.

The Shooting in the Shop by Simon Brett

This book in part of a mystery series that takes place in the English seaside town of Fethering, where two friends, Jude and Carole, work together to solve mysteries.  In The Shooting in the Shop, Jude and Carole go shopping for Christmas presents in a new shop called Gallimaufry, which is owned by a new friend of Jude.  Just a few days later, the shop burns down and a body is found inside.  Both friends want to know what happened due to their connection with the shop and its owner.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø

In this extremely scary and tense suspense novel, a serial killer murders people and leaves a snowman behind.  Sometimes, he even turns his victim into a snowman.  Harry Hole, a brilliant investigator struggling with alcoholism and personal problems, works to track down the serial killer.  One recommendation–don’t read this book while you are home alone at night!

Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich

This book is laugh-out-loud funny, just like the rest of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich.  In this story about the New Jersey bounty hunter, Stephanie is trying to get ready for the holidays, dealing with her wacky but lovable family and looking for a toy-maker named Sandy Claws who has taken out a bail bond with her cousin’s agency and then disappeared.  To do so, she teams up with a mysterious and somewhat supernatural man named Diesel.

Eleven Pipers Piping by C.C. Benison

This winter story is the second in Benison’s new series about an English vicar, Father Tom Christmas, and the happenings in his small town of Thornton Regis.  I have to admit, I haven’t read this one yet but will soon because I loved the first in the series, Twelve Drummers Drumming.  By the way, despite it’s name, Twelve Drummers Drumming is not a holiday story.

 Hercules Poirot’s Christmas/Murder for Christmas/A Holiday for Murder by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (also published as Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder) is an English country house murder and also a locked room mystery.  The country house’s owner, Simon Lee, is found murdered on Christmas Eve.  Almost every character is a suspect, as he invites his sons and their families to his house for Christmas and threatens to remove them from his will and take away their allowances.  You might also try “A Christmas Tragedy,” a short story in Miss Marple:  The Complete Short Stories.

Two winter mysteries that I plan to read this year are:

A Fatal Winter by G.M. Malliet

The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen

So there you have it, a list of my favorite Christmas and winter mysteries and my winter mystery reading list.  Do other mystery readers have some recommendations?  What are your favorites?




  1. This seems like a great list — I especially like the idea of murder at a curling tournament!

    Here are two books that I love, that depend critically on winter weather. The first is a classic: Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. The second is more recent, Lawerence Block’s A Burglar in the Library, part of the Bernie Rhodenbarr series. Bernie and his girlfriend are snowed in at a luxurious upstate New York B&B, when a murder take place. It’s a very “meta” book, since all the characters are fully aware that they are players in a classic murder mystery scenario.

  2. The Chief Inspector Gamache series is one of the very best.

  3. One of my favorite Christmas mysteries is The Virgin in the Ice, a Brother Cadfael mystery by Ellis Peters.

  4. Great list, Kim — thanks for the suggestions! (And I like David, Elaine, and Mrs. B’s ideas as well.) I have a few additional Christmas mysteries to recommend:
    * Alan Bradley’s _I Am Half-Sick of Shadows_, part of his amazingly well written and finely plotted Flavia de Luce series
    * Margaret Maron’s _Christmas Mourning_, also part of a series. Maron’s Deborah Knott series is set in North Carolina, and her tales always convey a deep sense of place and of the life lived by people there.
    * _Maigret’s Christmas_, by Georges Simenon, a collection of short stories featuring Simenon’s justly famous Inspector Maigret of the French Surete

    I’m going to check out some of your recommendations, Kim, to read on my plane trip this Christmas. Thanks again!

  5. Flavia de Luce is superb.

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