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....
LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
The Crime at the Noah’s Ark by Molly Thynnepublished 1931
[Our amateur sleuth has been roused at night by knocking on his bedroom door at the inn]
When 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.
[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.
[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.