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The Really Popular Book Club is the reading group hosted by Cambridge University Libraries. Everyone is invited to join us and our special guests to discuss a really popular book, one that we all know and perhaps or perhaps not love.

Join us this December as we get together to discuss a festive treat! As the acknowledged Queen of Crime, P.D. James was frequently commissioned to write a special short story for Christmas, and The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories draws together four of her finest. James’s elegant prose illuminates each tale, making them ideal reading for the darkest days of the year. While she delights in the secrets that lurk beneath the surface at family gatherings, her Christmas stories also provide tantalising puzzles to keep the reader guessing. From the title story about a strained country house Christmas party, to another about an illicit affair that ends in murder, and two cases for her poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh - currently returning to our television screens in brand new adaptations of James’s novels - each tale revels in the lure of a mystery to be solved.

Our special guest for the evening will be Nicola Upson; author of a series of detective novels which feature the brilliant Golden Age writer Josephine Tey as their lead character. Beginning with An Expert in Murder (Faber), which was dramatised for BBC Radio 4, the books paint an atmospheric picture of England between the wars and have been described as 'historical crime fiction at its very best' (Sunday Times). Nicola has also written a standalone novel, Stanley and Elsie, about the life of artist Stanley Spencer, and two works of non-fiction. Her latest book, The Dead of Winter, is a riff on the Golden Age Christmas detective story and was longlisted for the CWA Gold and Historical Daggers.

About The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, Nicola says: ‘P.D. James was a good friend for many years, and so The Mistletoe Murder - published posthumously - holds mixed emotions for me: sadness, because her output of brilliant crime writing which did so much to elevate the genre is now complete; and joy, because that voice I know so well springs once again from the page, vivid and timeless, there simultaneously as entertainment and encouragement. These perfectly formed miniatures contain everything I love and admire most about Phyllis’s work: atmospheric storytelling; a strong sense of place, unsurpassed in the genre; and an unflinching understanding of the darkness that lies in us all.’

As well as hearing from Nicola about her thoughts and observations on The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, we will once again be opening the floor up to you, our club members, to share your own observations and remarks. To get you thinking and to help prepare any comments or questions you might want to share, we have prepared three starter questions:

1. The Christmas detective story is a well-established tradition, but why do so many of us turn to dark tales of murder and mayhem for our entertainment at this time of year?

2. P.D. James is best known as a novelist, but - as she says in her preface - the short story is just as difficult; what techniques does she exploit here to fulfil the specific demands of working in a shorter format?

3. What do we learn about James’s serial detective from these stories? How does Adam Dalgliesh conform to and stand apart from a long line of much-loved fictional detectives?

 Further information about The Really Popular Book Club, including our FAQs, can be found here.

Where: Online via Zoom Meetings

Registration: Free, booking essential. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Date: Tuesday 7th December 2021

Time: 
19:00-20:00