Griswold recounts how he was able to detect a thief posing as a department-store Santa trainee.

There are three major strikes against this particular Union Club mystery story.

Strike number one: I was able to guess the ending. That’s never a good sign, especially when I’m never seriously trying to.

Strike number two: I was able to guess the ending because of weak writing. That is, I didn’t follow Griswold’s logic to its logical conclusion, rather, I noticed that only there was only one character in the flashback-within-the-flashback (other than the narrator), and so by the process of elmination, they must be the guilty party.

(Union Club mysteries tend to have a relatively complicated narrative structure, although it’s not a serious problem because it’s all so straightforward. The narrator—presumably Asimov himself—tells the story in the first person. At the Union Club, Griswold tells Asimov (et al.) the story of a mystery he solved in flashback form, also in the first person. In many cases, Griswold gets involved because an acquaintance comes to him with a problem, and there’s a brief flashback-like summary within Griswold’s flashback narrating the problem.)

And finally, strike number three: The guilty party breaks down and confesses as soon as they’re confronted and the story brought to a swift conclusion.

This is an inherent problem given the fact that Union Club mysteries are puzzle stories and often just brain-teasers in story form. The climax is finding the solution to the puzzle, not “solving the crime”—and there is no catharsis, no real emotional response to that solution. It’s one thing to have the guilty party break down, say, on the witness stand after a verbal pummelling by Perry Mason, and it’s quite another for Griswold to flatly say, “And, of course, they admitted it as soon as they were confronted with the evidence.”

This is somewhat implausible for starters. In this case, we have someone cool enough to have faked a malfunction in the security system, “borrowed” a Santa Claus costume without being noticed, and then calmly and cooly stood by and said nothing when actually caught in the act. And yet, we are expected to believe that as soon as Griswold’s friend tells them, “I know you did it, because you didn’t want to betray the fact that you’re a woman not a man and that’s why you didn’t say 'Ho ho ho’ when I caught you at the scene of the robbery and after all there’s only one woman in New York so it had to be you.” (Or words to that effect.) Sorry, I ain’t buying it.

And, as I say, it’s emotionally flat. The story doesn’t come to a conslusion so much as it just stops, and the reader is left to chuckle at how clever it all is. If you happen to enjoy this sort of thing, that’s fine and I won’t begrudge you that pleasure. It is, however, not something that would have satisfied Aristotle.

This particular little mystery appears in an anthology of original mysteries with a Christmas theme, Misletoe Mysteries, edited by Charlotte MacLeod. I will admit that I haven’t read the book as a whole, inasmuch as I restrict Christmas books to Christmas-time, and my own copy of the book arrived just too late for that.

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