The special CiB meme ‘Xmas scenes from books, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures’ is back!
Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page. You’d think I’d be running out of Xmas books and scenes by now, but far from it – I have to begin this feature earlier in December each year. More ideas still welcome in the comments. (If it’s a particularly good choice I will ditch one of the ones I have ready and give you credit…)
Death on Christmas Eve by Stanley Ellinshort story from collection published 1956
As a child I had been vastly impressed by the Boerum house. It was fairly new then, and glossy; a gigantic pile of Victorian rickrack, fretwork and stained glass, flung together in such chaotic profusion that it was hard to encompass in one glance. Standing before it this early Christmas Eve, however, I could find no echo of that youthful impression. The gloss was long since gone; woodwork, glass, metal, all were merged to a dreary grey, and the shades behind the windows were drawn completely so that the house seemed to present a dozen blindly staring eyes to the passerby.
When I rapped my stick sharply on the door, Celia opened it.
‘There is a doorbell right at hand,’ she said. She was still wearing the long outmoded and badly wrinkled black dress she must have dragged from her mother’s trunk, and she looked, more than ever, the image of the old Katrin in her later years: the scrawny body, the tightly compressed lips, the colourless hair drawn back hard enough to pull every wrinkle out of her forehead. She reminded me of a steel trap ready to snap down on anyone who touched her incautiously.
commentary: If you want a bit of miserable Christmas atmosphere, then this is the story for you. Stanley Ellin isn’t well-known in the UK: he’s a real crime fan’s writer. His collected short stories are as varied as they could possibly be, and are famously wonderful. You can find a report on one of them here on the blog: it’s funny, contemporary, moderately light-hearted. Ellin did all modes and moods.
In general I am not a fan of short stories, but I love these, and am also of the somewhat unpopular opinion that his short stories shone but his full-length novels I can, to say the least, do without. (You can follow through on that here, if you’re interested: in a friendly survey of crime fiction fans I chose him as my author who only wrote one good book.)
But I’m not going to argue that one out now. This grim story of death in a family house will do nicely for Christmas…. These are the opening paras of the story, and I think tell you exactly what sort of a tale it is going to be. A tale to be read by someone who is very much enjoying their Christmas, and is settled comfortably on a nice sofa.
The picture of an old woman is by Sandor Bihari, and can be found on Wikimedia Commons. (It's my goto image of a grumpy old woman, and has been used as such several times on the blog already.)
The house is an illo from a book on old houses of southern Maine, and came from Flickr.