Imagine Christmas night of 1943: it has been a busy day with family and friends, you are tired. You are also anxious about the war raging Europe and the Pacific. You just need to get your mind off things and relax. You turn on the radio to NBC, and are subjected to the new episode of the Adventures of Ellery Queen, “The Dauphin’s Doll.”
It is, of course, a Christmas story filled with orphan children, and a louse who wants to steal from them. An heiress with a doll collection has died, and willed the proceeds of the sale of her collection of ancient used toys to set up some sort of fund to assist orphans. The dolls are not actually worth much, but a huge diamond attached to one of them is. The louse, Riddler style, warns the police that he will steal it when it is displayed December 24 at a busy department store.
The funny thing about this story is that the crime takes place in a busy department store, and yet is a locked room mystery. The diamond, well guarded, is stolen under the noses of a phalanx of New York’s bluest. Ellery eventually figures out the louse’s identity, and the orphan fund lives happily ever after, or at least until it is plundered by people who redefine the words “assist” and “orphans.”
The cousins do have an interesting statement on Christmas Eve, that most secular of our holidays: “Then began the interminable day, dies irae, the last shopping day before Christmas. This is traditionally the day of the inert, the procrastinating, the undecided, and the forgetful, sucked at last into the mercantile machine by the perpetual pump of Time. If there is a peace upon earth, it descends only afterwards; and at no time, on the part ofd anyone embroiled, is there good will toward men. As Miss Porter expresses it, a cat fight in a bird cage would be more Christian.” Even in the 1940s, people still, despite all evidence to the contrary, equated the American celebration of Christmas with the Christian faith.