One of the joy of Christmas is getting down my collection of Christmas Books, which I try to add to year by year. Last year I bought a detective novel Murder at the Old Vicarage a Christma Mystery by Jill McGown, which I started but only got a few pages in. This year I made a fresh assault and finished it. I think that when I bought it I assumed that it was one of those old books like The Santa Klaus Murder or Mystery in White (1938 and 1938 respectivey). It was actually published in1988 (as Redemption) but works more or less within the conventions of the traditonal genre. It was easy to read and kept me guessing to the end and that is all you can really ask of such a novel. There was bags of snow and the action takes place over the Christmas period but it is not very Christmassy.
In the bookshop a few weeks ago I saw two books on carols that looked interesting. I went for Carols from Kings by Alexandra Coghlan over Andrew Gant's broader work, probably becasue it was a hardback. I am not a particular fan of the King's service, owever, and so a lot of the content was rather list on me, although I enjoyed learning about the history of carols and liked her list of Christmas music worth hearing (see below).
OLD CAROLS, NEW LIVES
Carols continue to evolve. even today. thanks to the invention and creativity of pop and Jazz artists. But which are the covers worth exploring?
• Jeff Buckley's stripped-back recording of the 'Corpus Christi Carol' is hauntingly lovely and deeply persistent
• Once in Royal is transformed into a lilting country song in the hands of Mary Chapin Carpenter.
• No choir could bring the same poised solemnity to 'We Three Kings' that Ella Fitzgerald somehow achieves.
• Who knew Peter Warlock's 'Bethlehem Down' was hiding a slinky jazz number under its robes? The David Rees-Williams Trio take this beautiful carol to a late-night piano bar, with wonderful results.
• Sufjan Stevens makes a laid-back Indie ballad out of Germany's beautiful Christmas hymn 'Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming'.
• Bert Jausch retains all the simplicity of 'In the Bleak Midwinter' adding his own spontaneity to create a gorgeous pop song.
• 'Little Drummer Boy' gets some unexpected urban edge from Lauryn Hill.