Christmas Books: Too Many Santas?

 Christmas Book Scenes!  During December I like to post entries which are more Christmas in Books than Clothes in Books, though perhaps a Santa costume counts...

The Usual Santas by Mick Herron

Short story from the collection Dolphin Junction, published 2021

Story first published in the book-collectors’ magazine, Bookdealer


(Excerpt) The Santas turned up one by one. Whiteoaks had emptied of punters, but still: it would never do for two Santas to be seen together in public.

The first to arrive poured himself a brandy, downed it in a single swallow, poured another, then helped himself to a turkey sandwich. ‘Ho, ho, ho!’ he said as the door opened behind him.

‘Ho, ho, ho! indeed,’ the incoming Santa agreed. He too headed straight for the brandy. ‘What a day,’ he said. ‘What. A. Day.’

‘Christmas Eve.’ They both nodded. The words carried a weight a non-Santa couldn’t hope to understand. ‘You know what happened to me? I was—’

‘Ho, ho, ho!’

‘Ho, ho, ho!’ they both replied as another Santa entered…

Soon the room was full of Santas, bundled round the buffet table; each with glass or plate in hand, and most of them talking at once.

comments: This is a short story from Mick Herron’s collection Dolphin Junction, which Herron junkies consumed while waiting for the next Slough House novel – Bad Actors, came out this year. (You can also enjoy a TV series based on the books)

It is a cheery seasonal tale, not to be taken too seriously, and has no connection to the world of spying. It does contain a nice description of a giant shopping mall on the outskirts of London, and some funny dialogue among the multiple Santas needed at such a spot. But suppose there was one Santa too many - what then?

That’s it really, but very entertaining.

The book contains many solid stories of different genres – one features Jackson Lamb (from Slough House) and there are several about the splendid Zoe Boehm and her partner Joe, private investigators in Oxford, who feature in another series. Then there’s a couple of standalones. Twists and turns and jokes, and some chilling moments – what more could you want from a short story collection?

The title is explained in one of the stories: “…part of our private language. ‘A trip to Dolphin Junction’ meant something had turned out disappointing, or less than expected. It meant things had not been as advertised. That anytime soon would be a good moment to turn back, or peel away.” (You can find out why it means that in the book)

The picture is from the World Santa Claus Congress in Copenhagen (obviously)


  1. You know, Moira, I've read and enjoyed Herron, but never his lighter work nor his short stories. This one does sound like fun, and now I want to know why there's an extra Santa...

    1. Yes, it's a tempting setup isn't it? I'm not always a fan of short stories, but I enjoyed these ones

  2. If you loved Slow Horses as much as we did do read Bill Fairclough's fact based spy thriller, Beyond Enkription, the first stand-alone novel of six in The Burlington Files series. One day he may overtake Bond, Smiley and even Jackson Lamb!

    Intentionally misspelt, Beyond Enkription is a must read for espionage illuminati. It’s a raw noir matter of fact pacy novel. Len Deighton and Mick Herron could be forgiven for thinking they co-wrote it. Coincidentally, a few critics have nicknamed its protagonist “a posh Harry Palmer.”

    It is a true story about a maverick accountant, Bill Fairclough (MI6 codename JJ) aka Edward Burlington in Porter Williams International (in real life Coopers & Lybrand now PwC). In the 1970s in London he infiltrated organised crime gangs, unwittingly working for MI6. After some frenetic attempts on his life he was relocated to the Bahamas where, “eyes wide open” he was recruited by the CIA and headed for shark infested waters off Haiti.

    If you’re an espionage cognoscente you’ll love this monumental book. In real life Bill Fairclough was recruited by MI6's unorthodox Colonel Alan Brooke Pemberton CVO MBE and thereafter they worked together on and off into the 1990s. You can find out more about Pemberton’s People (who even included Winston Churchill’s bodyguard) in an article dated 31 October 2022 on The Burlington Files website.

    This epic is so real it made us wonder why bother reading espionage fiction when facts are so much more exhilarating. Whether you’re a le Carré connoisseur, a Deighton disciple, a Fleming fanatic, a Herron hireling or a Macintyre marauder, odds on once you are immersed in it you’ll read this titanic production twice. For more detailed reviews visit the Reviews page on TheBurlingtonFiles website or see other independent reviews on your local Amazon website and check out Bill Fairclough's background on the web.

    1. I think blogger thought this was a spam post, but I have rescued it from the pit! Because the story told by commenter MI6 is very very interesting, and well worth a look at the various resources he mentions, especially for those of us who enjoy atmospheric spy tales, real or fictional.

  3. The thought of multiple Santas reminds me of the film "The Lemon Drop Kid" very loosely based on a Damon Runyon short story. It's set around Christmas-time, and the title character thinks up a money-making scheme that includes his shady friends posing as street-corner Santas. The film introduced the song "Silver Bells". (The original story is fairly sad and has nothing to do with Santa.)

    1. I don't think I know that film. I read all the Damon Runyon stories many many years ago and don't remember that one, now I will have to try to see the film and find the story again. I did enjoy them very much back in the day.


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