P D James was often commissioned by newspapers to write short stories and four of the best were published in 2016 in the book The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories which I chose to read for A Literary Christmas Challenge organised by In The Bookcase. As P D James died in 2014 it was a pleasure to buy a new book of her work.
I have read most of P D James's crime novels and really enjoyed them. It is quite difficult to write a good short story as the author has to develop characters and plots in addition to describing the settings but is restricted by the number of words s/he can use. As P D James states in the preface to this book "The good short story is accordingly difficult to write well, but in this busy age it can provide one of the most satisfactory reading experiences." I think that this book demonstrates that P D James could write excellent short stories too.
The first story in the book is "The Mistletoe Murder" which is set in a country house at Christmas during the Second World War. The narrator's description of the house immediately creates an atmosphere - "and then the moon moved from behind a cloud and the house was revealed; beauty, symmetry and mystery bathed in a white light." The narrator is visiting her grandmother for Christmas. Her cousin has also been invited in addition to another distant relation who is an antiques dealer and is to value her grandmother's coins. Christmas Day passes quietly with the age old traditions of exchanging presents and eating Christmas lunch. The next morning the antiques dealer is found dead in the locked library. The local police believe the murderer had come in through the French windows - however the coins have not been taken. We eventually learn how the murder was committed and why.
The second story entitled "A Very Commonplace Murder" was much darker than "The Mistletoe Murder". The final two stories in the book involve a young Adam Dalgleish who features in many of P D James's novels.
I really enjoyed this book and now plan to read The Lighthouse by P D James as it is sitting on my bookshelf! I gave the rest of her novels away to a charity shop when I moved house recently.