Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. You can see some of last year’s pictures in this entry, and find (endless!) more Xmas books via the tags at the bottom of the page.
The Snapdragon and the CID by Margery Allingham
[Albert Campion has accompanied Superintendent Oates on a trip to a private hotel – it is Christmas Day, and they are trying to crack an alibi and solve a Christmas Eve murder. Lady Larradine is holding court]
There she stood in an outmoded but glittering evening gown looking as always, exactly like a spray-flecked seal.
They had entered the drawing-room and the party had begun. As Mr Campion glanced at the company, ranged in a full circle round a magnificent tree loaded with gifts and sparkling like a waterfall, he saw face after familiar face. They were old acquaintances of the dizzy 1930s whom he had mourned as gone for ever when he thought of them at all. Yet here they all were, not only alive but released by great age from many of the restraints of convention. He noticed that every type of headgear from night-cap to tiara was being sported with fine individualistic enthusiasm. But Lady Larradine gave him no time to look about. She proceeded with her task immediately.
Christmas tree procedure at the Craven proved to be well organized. The Dragon did little work herself. Armed with a swagger stick she merely prodded parcel after parcel hanging amid the boughs, while the task of detaching them was performed by the Brigadier, who handed them to Fiona. Either to add to the excitement or perhaps to muffle any unfortunate comment on gifts received by the uninhibited company, jolly Christmas music was played throughout.
commentary: This is a great story. There is a complex winding plot regarding a murder, an alibi and some stolen jewels, and Campion and Oates end up at a residential hotel full of aged toffs. There, while the presents are being distributed, Campion gets to the bottom of the whole business. The story is ten pages long, but a whole world is there – absurd, funny, clever, and ranging from high life to lowlife. Lady Larradine is a fabulous character. It is also very charmingly Christmass-y – this collection gives no details of dates or provenance, but this surely was commissioned for the December issue of a magazine, and must have done its job marvellously. You wonder how Allingham does it – she was so lavish with the characters and incidents and scenarios – most writers would have turned this into a novel.
Reading it was a real seasonal pleasure.
The picture is Dressing the Christmas Tree by Bessie Maud Christian Fagan from the The Athenaeum website. Of course this woman is a lot younger, and is putting things on the tree rather than taking them off, but it seemed a nice idea to give Lady L a look from her own past…