C.C. Benison, author of the Reverend Tom "Father" Christmas series.
C. C. Benison is the pseudonym of Doug Whiteway. He has
worked as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines, as a book
editor, and as a contributor to nonfiction books. He is the author of
four previous novels, including Death at Buckingham Palace that won the Arthur Ellis Best Novel Award.C.C. Benison's sixth and latest novel is Eleven Pipers Piping, the second in the series of crime novels
inspired by the verses of the well-known carol, The Twelve Days of
The Twelve Days of Christmas
When I was a lad – many, many, oh, many years ago – in the days when Canada had but a single television channel, two items were staples of Christmas morning programming: the Queen’s Christmas message and a short film, On the Twelfth Day, featuring a young Edwardian man on a penny-farthing bicycle visiting his lady love at her snow-covered terraced London house and bringing her gifts, starting with a partridge in a pear tree. It’s significant that he starts with the partridge in a pear tree – not with twelve drummers drumming as I do in the Father Christmas mystery series – because each time he brings his true love another gift – six geese a’laying, say – he also (to conform to the repeating verses of the Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”) brings another set of his earlier gifts. Thus, by the end of the film, the woman’s home is stuffed with 22 pipers piping, 30 lords a’leaping, 36 ladies dancing, 40 maids a’milking, an appalling number of birds, and not a few cattle, such that the only escape from this mad house is from the roof, by hot-air balloon, conveniently supplied by the young man, whose plan it likely was all along to secure his true love to himself.
Unlike Her Majesty and her Christmas message, On the Twelfth Day – designed by cartoonist Ronald Searle – disappeared from Christmas morning viewing by the Sixties (though it has since reappeared on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRijElQVlVk). But I never quite forgot its madcap energy. Any time the song was sung ever after, the images from the film would slip into my head.
Skip ahead several decades, and I am in a bookshop devoted to mystery novels, in Winnipeg, where I live, trawling with the shop owners through the computer, admiring all the clever concepts for mystery series, whether letters (A is for Alibi) or numbers (One for the Money) or kings (Bertie and the Seven Bodies) or queens (Death at Buckingham Palace). It is Christmas time. Snow is everywhere. Seasonal music pours from every shop speaker, including one that features gift giving on a grand scale. I am reminded of Ronald Searle’s film. Has anyone framed a mystery series around the carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, I ask, presuming the computer to immediately spit out a list?
No one had.
And so the holiday that inspired a carol that inspired a film inspired me, and the Father Christmas series was born. The protagonist is Tom Christmas, an Anglican priest living in small village in rural England. He’s a widower, a single father, a reluctant detective, and he suffers more than endorses the droll pairing of his profession and his surname. He – and the villagers, too – are seemingly oblivious to the strange pairing of the crimes in their community and a certain Christmas song. A young woman is found dead in a taiko drum in Twelve Drummers Drumming. A member of a Scottish pipe band dies mysteriously in Eleven Pipers Piping. And yet, for all this Christmasness, neither mystery is set at Christmas time. Twelve is set in May, Eleven in January. Ten Lords a’Leaping, scheduled for autumn 2013, is set in August. One day, one volume of the series will be set at Christmas, but I won’t say which one. This may disappoint some potential readers, those who are avid for crime novels set at Yuletide. But I agree with Jerry Herman who wrote a song for his musical Mame called “We Need A Little Christmas”. We need a little Christmas. Not a lot.
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