Dress Down Sunday: Creeping round the Inn in a Xmas-y Manner

This is the last of my series of Xmas entries on the blog. 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. Thanks for all the interest, and suggestions - Xmas Books will be back at the end of 2018....


The Crime at the Noah’s Ark by Molly Thynne

published 1931

[Our amateur sleuth has been roused at night by knocking on his bedroom door at the inn]

Crime at the Noahs Ark 3When he opened the door he was confronted by a fantastic figure, which, after a moment of sheer bewilderment, he recognized as that of the younger Miss Adderley. She was clad in a red dressing-gown of some woolly material, and wore round her head and fastened under her chin that knitted abomination which, for some obscure reason, is known as a fascinator. Certain curious projections in the region of her forehead suggested curl-papers beneath.

Crime at the Noahs Ark 4

[A different night, and another guest is roused]

He ventured out into the passage a graceful if rather garish figure, clad in a dressing-gown that Stuart found himself envying, but which he would never have had the courage to wear.

Crime at the Noahs Ark 2

[Yet another guest is up at night: she is the victim of a burglary]

Mrs. van Dolen stood in the doorway, her eyes ablaze with wrath, and her fingers closing and unclosing on the lace handkerchief she held. She was still robed in pink silk, but both her complexion and her coiffure had undergone a change for the better since they had last seen her.

“As nobody’s so much as thought of coming near me since my room was burgled, I thought I’d just have a look round and find out for myself if there was any one alive in this house. It hasn’t occurred to any of you, I suppose, that unless you get a move on, there’s very little chance of my ever setting eyes on my stones again?”

commentary: I complained before Christmas about Winifred Peck’s Arrest the Bishop?great and very enjoyable crime story, but it promised Christmas trappings and didn’t provide. This one is the same: we are introduced to a big gang of people who are on their way to Christmas at a south coast resort in England. A perilous snowfall means they can’t get there, so they take refuge at The Noah’s Ark, an old-fashioned inn. Some of the apparently disparate set of people obviously know each other… there are suspicious goings-on and some shady characters. Eventually there is a murder…

It’s good solid fun, and the snow is used to good effect, but everyone apparently forgets it is Christmas, until the post is delivered on the morning of the 25th (despite being snowed-in) and they all received Christmas greetings from London. 

However all is forgiven because I did love the way that, as above, everyone is forever creeping round this dangerous old dark inn at night, wearing a wide range of costumes – Thynne didn’t do enough daywear in the book, but once night fell...

This is very much a Golden Age mystery: it has been re-published by the ever-wonderful Dean Street Press, and has an introduction by my friend the indefatigable Curtis Evans of The Passing Tramp blog, both of whom do so much to keep books like this alive.

The key theft in the book is of an emerald girdle – hilariously, the redoubtable Mrs Van Dolen has had to make it bigger and bigger (and thus more and more valuable) over the years as her waistline expands. In my view there are too many characters in the book, so it’s hard to keep track of them, and then some of the funnier ones, like Mrs Van Dolen (I mean, you can tell everything about her just from those lines above, right?) don’t get enough space to entertain us. And there are some excruciating snob values in the book – it is very much of its time, and Molly Thynne was one very upmarket lady, from an aristocratic family.

On the plus side, there is a proper use of the old-fashioned ‘fascinator’ (I have blogged before about how the word has changed its meaning), though would take issue with the author’s description of it as ‘an abomination’. The idea is that the fascinator is a light layer for the head, to defeat draughts and add warmth without disturbing the hair (or in this case the curl papers) too much.

There are some mean-minded but funny comments about the man who uses curling-tongs – he nearly starts a fire with the spirit lamp. And the elegant Mrs Orkney Cloude surely has the best character name I have come across this year. If I ever decide to change my name I will certainly consider calling myself that.

I have mentioned recently that CiB should really be going into the bedjacket business – a signature line with a top fashion house – and perhaps a wider range of bedwear could be contemplated: pink silk negligees and fascinators ahoy. Submit your advance orders now.

The fascinator is from a newspaper advert, via Flickr.

Dramatic scene reflected in a mirror is from the Library of Congress.

Film still is from the 1932 version of Scarface.


  1. Oh, there is something about that sort of plot that features a group of disparate people snowed in somewhere, Moira. It makes for such a great mystery story, especially if everyone's creeping around at night. And this one sounds like a great example of it, even if there's little attention paid to Christmas (I wonder about that, too). Sounds like a great premise for the story.

    1. Thanks, Margot, and yes - I will always give a chance to a book with a setup like that, and this one was certainly entertaining.

  2. It does sound good, Moira, but the TBR pile has reached perilous proportions here at Chez Poulson. It is all getting terribly out of hand and I think I am going to have to call a halt to book buying for a while.

    1. We all have to make these resolutions from time to time, Chrissie - I should be doing that myself...

  3. I'm not sure I've ever encountered any reference to a "fascinator" in any book I've read. Intriguing. Something I do encounter an awful lot is the "sponge bag" which I'm still unable to picture or understand its function. Is it meant for carrying items to and from washrooms? Is it actually made of sponges?

    I have to remark on the illustration with the mirror. Is the gent in the tux a reverse vampire of some sort? We see his reflection but not his body. My guess is that it's a two way mirror and he's in a secret passage being illuminated from behind the actual mirror. Thus, the poses and reactions from the ladies.

    1. Sponge-bag, known in the US as a dopp kit, toiletries bag, weekend bag, etc. There's a pattern from the 1930's on TipNut (scroll down to Weekend Kit, Vintage), to be made of oilcloth so your sponge and toothbrush wouldn't leak through onto the other things in your suitcase.


    2. Thanks Shay. Also known as a washbag? Contains all your toiletries, and of course when you are creeping round the inn in the 1930s, you also have to carry it to the bathroom and back - no en suites in those days. (Not in rural England anyway).
      But, very confusingly, there is the whole question of 'sponge bag trousers' - worn by men from Victorian times till probably mid-20th C, and occasionally mentioned after that. I think this referred to a pattern rather than a fabric, though when I first used to come across it my mind boggled at the idea of trousers made of the same stuff as washbags. (which was often, as it happened quite sponge-y or foam-y in its way). Anyway, small, dark, simple check pattern - the criss-cross version of striped morning trousers, for the fancier gent. I have also heard chef's trousers referred to that way.

      Also, John, I absolutely agree with you about that picture: I have stared and stared at it, trying to work out what is going on. I think yours is the best answer...

  4. Having once spent several unhappy hours searching for a fascinator for a daughter's winter wedding, I think the older ones sound much nicer than their modern namesake - warm and cosy, don't fall off or blow away, don't have dangly bits that get in your eye... Just what every bride's mother needs!

    1. I suppose the idea of the modern fascinator (and words do change their meaning, I shouldn't try to stop progress!) is an easier version of a wedding hat, something that modern women find choose and wear without the worry of an old-style Ascot hat. But it doesn't sound as though that worked for you!

  5. This one does not tempt me, but I can tell that it provides some interesting reading. Fascinators are very confusing and I am glad you have explained that.

    1. Always as well to keep up with hat fashions Tracy!
      And you probably have enough books to read by anyone's standards, as well as your always admirable plans for the year.


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