What’s on the Christmas Tree



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

short story from The Allingham Case-Book, published 1969



[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…


  1. I don't know how Allingham managed, either, Moira. That sounds like quite a rich story, especially for such a short one. And I like that wit woven through the story, too: ...exactly like a spray-flecked seal... - priceless!

    1. 'Rich' is such a good word for her writing Margot, and yes, she was very witty. The spray-flecked seal is excellent. I wonder if Bill would be able to tell us more...

  2. This is not the story I read last year in Martin Edwards' collection, Silent Nights. That one was titled The Case is Altered. Maybe I wasn't in the mood at the time, the description I have read sounds like it should be good. Maybe puzzle type mysteries don't suit me in short stories.

    This one sounds interesting with a "residential hotel full of aged toffs." But I want to know what a "spray-flecked seal" looks like.

    1. I'm not a big short story fan, but I think I DO like seasonal ones. (I asked for the PD James collection for Xmas, and look forward to reading it). I don't know if I've read The Case is Altered - what is it about?
      I'm suggesting to Margot that Bill may know what a spray-flecked seal looks like. He probably has a picture.

  3. December 24th 1961 in The Sunday Telegraph. Allingham wrote more than one Xmas story (I can think of THE CASE IS ALTERED from the 1930s)but this one is especially interesting due to how late it was in her career. She had three novels left at this point, and was not in the best of health, so the feeling of nostalgia is rather similar to that of Christie in the Christmas Pudding story that you were talking about a few days ago. Of all the 'Crime Queens' I've always felt that Allingham's stories had the richest backgrounds. It's like she is tapping into a real world that is going on all the time behind her fiction. There is the character Thomas Knapp, who first appears back in the second novel from the early '30s, turns up now and again, and suddenly reappears in the penultimate novel in 1965. You feel that he's there all the time, living out his life just out of sight of the series.

    Alligham had very high standards, and it feels as if she put the same amount of effort into the short pieces as she did into the long pieces. She couldn't just throw off the shorts in ten minutes. She really did work at them.


    1. Thanks for the info, and yes indeed. She wasn't just phoning it in, was she? I did always feel her characters had lives of their own.

  4. Very good and very thriller story which revolves around the murder. However I love your blog and real all those articles which I have read till. Keep posting.


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