Xmas Crime – Is Santa Guilty?

Every December on the blog I feature the special CiB meme ‘Xmas in books, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures’

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. And yes, they will continue after Christmas Day.

Department stores again - see also earlier post

The Dauphin’s Doll by Ellery Queen

published 1948

dauphins doll 24 Dec

There is a law among story-tellers, originally passed by Editors at the cries (they say) of their constituents, which states that stories about Christmas will have children in them. This Christmas story is no exception; indeed misopedists will complain that we have overdone it. And we confess in advance that this is also a story about Dolls, and that Santa Claus comes into it, and even a Thief…

Dauphins doll xmas eve

[moving on to the climax of the story…]

Something happened in Mr Queen’s head – a little click!  like the sound of a switch. And there was light.

‘Some of you men!’ he roared. ‘After Santa Claus!’

‘After who, Ellery?’ gasped Inspector Queen.

‘Don’t stand there! Get him!’ screamed Ellery, dancing up and down. ‘the man I just let out of here! The Santa who made for the men’s room!’

Detectives started running, wildly….

‘Lead me to that Santa Claus,’ whispered Inspector Queen.
But Santa Claus was being led to him. Struggling in the grip of a dozen detectives, his red coat ripped off, his red pants around his ankles, but his whiskery mask still on his face, came a large shouting man.

commentary: As the opening para above shows (it is also the introduction to the story) this is not a tale to be taken too seriously. There is a splendidly ludicrous seasonal setup: an extraordinarily valuable doll has to be displayed in a department store in New York during the whole of 24th December, ie Christmas Eve. A famous crook called Comus has generously warned the police that he is going to steal it during that day of display.
Ellery Queen and his father and the police department are all determined to stop this happening.

And in fact their security is so good that the attempt fails and – Oh OK, no just kidding. The Doll is going to disappear. But don’t worry, Ellery Queen will solve the crime. There are plenty of suspicious characters around: a fake grandfather, a bag snatcher, and of course Father Christmas.

It’s a jolly giddy tale. Is Santa guilty? You will have to read the story to find out…

There is one unsolved mystery. I cut short the last sentence above: it ends like this.

[The story features] a Thief; though as to this last, whoever he was – and that was one of the questions – he was certainly not Barabbas, even parabolically.

It sounds as though Queen is under two misapprehensions, well three really: that a Thief has something to do with the Christmas story (no), that Barabbas is the Good Thief (no – apocryphally it is Dismas, Barabbas is someone quite different), and that the word parabolically adds to this line as anything but complete affectation. (Presumably parabolic in its obscure meaning of ‘expressed by or being a parable: allegorical’. But as the thief could hardly literally be Barabbas, this is just flourish.)

Anyway, I should be more Christmas-y and less critical:  It is a most enjoyably silly story.

Top picture from the Library on New South Wales.


  1. It does sound both silly and enjoyable, Moira. It's one of the Ellery Queen stories I admit I've not read, so I'm very glad you featured it here. I now have these great mental images of everyone chasing after Santa Clause...

    1. Queen does it with great style, Margot, which is only what you would expect!

  2. Great fun! I read it in The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler, which I heartily recommend.

    1. Isn't that the one that has a fabulous cover? One of these days I will read it: will give me lots of entries I am sure.

  3. "...adds to this line as anything but complete affectation."

    Wasn't that the trademark of this writing team? Don't think I know this one. But I do have a fondness for The Finishing Stroke, their retro-Golden Age mystery written in the late 1950s but set in 1929 at Christmas time with a "Twelve Days of Christmas" themed house party, a macabre gift giving motif, weird Christmas rhymes and gruesome murders. I don't recall a single child in that novel.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, Moira, and all the best wishes for a fantabulous 2019!

    1. Yes! A couple of years ago I did an article for the Guardian about the 12 days of Christmas, and Twelfth NIght, in books, and I was furious because I discovered the Ellery Queen book just after it had been published - it would have been the perfect addition.
      Happy Christmas to you too John, and best wishes for 2019 - wouldn't it be nice if there were another awards ceremony to go to?

  4. Moira: Now there is a client for a defence lawyer to love, You could call a billion children as character witnesses. Merry Christmas!

    1. Thanks Bill, and Happy Christmas and best wishes to you and yours.

  5. I enjoyed this Christmas story a few years ago, especially because of early scenes at the Queen household.

  6. A reminder to read the EQ you sent me a year or two back. Late with Christmas wishes, so have a Happy New Year!

    1. Yup - you should at least try him. And most festive wishes to you and yours...


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