15 September 2015

Nothing Like Holidays to Prompt Joy ... and Murder

by Barb Goffman

Today is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.  (Happy new year to my Jewish readers!) So it seems a perfect day to consider how often crime stories are set during holidays.

82 days until Hanukkah begins!
Crime on holidays? Particularly religious holidays? How blasphemous, some of you may be thinking. But the rest of you, admit it, you're thinking that holidays involve family, and family members not only know each other's buttons, but they love to push them. Of course there's crime during the holidays.

But how much crime? If you follow Janet Rudolph's Mystery Fanfare blog, www.mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com, you'll have an inkling. Janet loves holidays, and on every one, she posts a list of mystery books/stories she knows about that are set on that day. But reading these  lists piecemeal won't give you the full picture. That's why I've reviewed all her lists from the past year (you're welcome!) and learned that the most dangerous holiday is ...

Drum roll ...
Christmas! Yes, the culmination of the season of joy is the most crime-ridden day of the year, at least according to mystery-fiction writers. Last year Janet listed nearly 600 novels with Christmas crime. That's enough to make Santa go on strike.

What was the next most-dangerous holiday? Take a guess. It's kind of tricky. Ha! It's ... Halloween. The holiday of ghosts and goblins and children begging for candy is perfect for moody, scary stories. Janet's list last year had nearly 200 Halloween mysteries.
Far fewer mysteries have been set on today's holiday, Rosh Hashanah, but there are some. My Macavity Award-winning story "The Lord is my Shamus" references both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement), thought it's not set on either of these holidays. Last year Janet's blog listed eight novels and two short-story anthologies set during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the days in between (the Days of Awe). I'll be heading over to her blog today to see if she's added any new books or stories to the list this year.

I've always been a fan of holidays myself. It's fun to dress up in costumes or to torture my dogs by dressing them up. (Check out the photos on the side.) I've written a number of short stories set during holidays, too, with Thanksgiving and Christmas being used most often (four stories each). (My website, www.barbgoffman.com, has a complete list of my published stories.) It's really a no-brainer: family in close quarters with lots of food and drink? Call the cops, baby, 'cause you know what's coming.

Indeed, knowing how ripe holidays can be for inducing murderous thoughts, a few years ago, authors Donna Andrews, Marcia Talley, and I decided that it would be fun to make holidays the theme for the seventh volume of the Chesapeake Crimes series (which we edit). We envisioned an anthology with short stories set on the standard big holidays, but we also hoped for stories set ones used less often in crime fiction. Our authors came through. The resulting book, Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, has stories set on Groundhog Day (my story), Valentine's Day, Presidents' Day, St. Patrick's Day, Halloween, Christmas, and (out of chronological order), Talk Like a Pirate Day. Arrr. Author Cathy Wiley gets mad props for coming up with a story set on this fabulous holiday, which occurs annually on September 19th. That's this Saturday, folks.

And in honor of this holiday, on this Saturday afternoon, five authors with stories in Homicidal Holidays--Donna Andrews, Clyde Linsley, Shari Randall, Cathy Wiley, and I--are scheduled to appear on a panel at Kingstowne Library in Alexandria, Virginia, to talk about using holidays in crime stories. The free event is open to the public. If you're in the Washington, DC, area, we hope you'll attend. You can get more details and register here: http://tinyurl.com/oh2h2kv. (The link will take you to the Fairfax County library website. The link was super long, so I shortened it.)

Cathy Wiley at our launch party.
We've had good luck with this book. My Groundhog Day story, "The Shadow Knows," is a finalist for the Anthony and Macavity awards, and it was a finalist for the Agatha Award in the spring. (You can read it here: www.barbgoffman.com/The_Shadow_Knows.html). Our own Art Taylor also has an Agatha Award-nominated story in the book ("Premonition," a Halloween story), and Cathy Wiley's pirate story ("Dead Men Tell No Tales") was up for a Derringer Award last spring.

So if you like holidays--and who doesn't?--I hope you'll attend this Saturday's panel to learn about using holidays in mysteries. It will be fun for readers and writers. And word has it that Cathy Wiley will be dressed as a pirate. Shiver me timbers, you can't get more fun than that.

Do you like reading mysteries set on holidays? If so, which is your favorite and why?

13 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

I hope someone gives me some of these stories in my Purim stocking.

Paul D. Marks said...

And I thought the food was bad for my health on the holidays. Who knew they were just bad for your health in general :)

Barb Goffman said...

About twenty years ago, I was working as a reporter. It was Christmas night. The police scanner was on in the newsroom, and at one point, a cop's voice came through loud and clear: "Looks like everybody got knives for Christmas." That really just says it all, doesn't it.

Thanks for stopping by Leigh and Paul!

Eve Fisher said...

I enjoy holiday homicides - from Christmas to Valentine's Day to Rosh Hashanah to Halloween. I think the most under-represented is Thanksgiving Day, and I can't think why, because really, all people do on Thanksgiving is eat, drink, and watch football -
Excuse me, I have to get writing!

John Floyd said...

Enjoyed the column, Barb, as usual.

For some reason I don't write many holiday-themed stories. I've done some, mostly for anthologies, but that subject just doesn't seem to come to mind during my (probably scary) creative process. On the other hand, I like reading/watching holiday-themed stories and movies. I remember once being asked, at a family gathering, to name my favorite Christmas movie. I said Die Hard. My wife just rolled her eyes.

Barb Goffman said...

Ahh, Thanksgiving. I have enjoyed writing Thanksgiving crime stories, Eve. Thanksgiving is the type of day people have expectations for. The turkey will be perfect. The children will act perfectly. We'll have picture-perfect memories. And we all know how expectations of perfection tend to turn out. My first Thanksgiving story had a food fight. The second one had someone die at the table. The third involved stolen food, and the fourth had more flying good. (Flying food is always fun.) I have to give credit to one of my publishers, Untreed Reads, for putting out the four Thanksgiving anthologies. Here's hoping for a fifth one next year.

And John, Die Hard is a great holiday movie. Perhaps not touching in the same way as It's a Wonderful Life, but when that TV reporter gets punched out toward the end, well, that does make the heart sing, doesn't it?

Janet Rudolph said...

What a fun post. Thanks for including me.. and special thanks for photos of animals in costume!

Anonymous said...

I'm having loads of trouble posting a comment.

Anonymous said...

Now that I got that off my chest, I'll try again! (By the way, the problem was while posting from my phone. The successful message above (and hopefully this one) is from a computer.

Anonymous said...

Emotions and booze run high during holidays. But as always, the key to a good story are good characters and plot.

B.K. Stevens said...

I enjoyed the post, Barb. Leigh, I've actually written a Purim story--"Death on a Diet," which appeared in AHMM back in 2006. And I'm revising a Sukkot mystery now.

John, at least your wife can be glad you didn't say Gremlins or The Ref.

Melodie Campbell said...

Love holiday stories! My "Santa Baby" was published in Alfred Hitchcock a few years ago, and it's still one of my faves. Holidays are emotional, and fiction is about emotion - crime fiction even more so. What a delicious fit. Great post, Barb!

Barb Goffman said...

You're very welcome, Janet. I love reading your blog. Wags and woofs from Jingle and me (and Scout too) to you and Topper and Rosie and the rest of your clan.

Thanks for stopping by, Anonymous, Bonnie, and Melodie. Yes, a good character and plot are essential to a good story. The beauty of holidays is that they often can provide the source of the conflict that is the base of a story (people bumping up against each other, emotions running high, expectations running high). Characters then react to the conflict and the plot unfolds.