Author: Agatha Christie
Finished on: 10 December 2016
Where did I get this book: A book token purchase (so that’s allowed ok) last week
Christmas is a time for fun and festivities in the bosom of your loving family. Isn’t it? Or is it, as the great Belgian detective himself points out at the beginning of Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, a time when “people who do not feel amiable, are putting great pressure on themselves to appear amiable”? Not to mention his concern about the irritative effects of overeating and indigestion. All of which, our hero of the little grey cells concludes, contribute to a level of stress and tension that just might have dire consequences.
If Christmas is all getting a bit much for you, then this could be the holiday read you’re looking for. Curl up by the fire with a mulled wine, relax and enjoy the ride as Simeon Lee, the ultimate demanding, tyrannical patriarch at the centre of Christie’s story, gets his throat cut like a pig in a locked room. A superb antidote to too much saccharine Christmas sentimentality.
All the classic Christie elements are here. The grand house cut off from the rest of the world, and containing a family group who almost all have a reason to wish Simeon dead. Dark secrets are uncovered; old grudges and alliances are revealed. I almost never correctly guess who the killer is in a Christie story, although I do love to try. And this one is no different. She is a master of misdirection, with red herrings aplenty, as well as genuine clues, littering every scene.
When it comes to plotting, Christie is nothing short of a genius. I would love to write a thesis unpicking that uncanny ability to put all the information you theoretically need to guess the true identity of the murderer right under your nose, all the while nimbly diverting attention onto other suspects. When the killer is revealed, that kick yourself because you know all the clues were there if only you hadn’t been distracted quality is wonderful. While not quite in the same league as Death On The Nile (which to be fair is possibly the finest whodunit ever written) the twists and turns in this tale are still irresistible. Indeed it becomes so genuinely unputdownable that I had to delay Bond-themed cocktails with my sisters by twenty minutes in order to make it to the big reveal. “Poor show Anna,” in the words of my sister.
This story was supposedly prompted by a criticism from Christie’s brother-in-law that her murders were too refined and anaemic. He asked her for a good violent murder with lots of blood, and she wrote this book in response. But despite the blood-spattered room, this is the usual civilised Christie fare where a murder may be bad, but a scandal would be unthinkable, and Poirot has everything neatly solved, tied-up, done and dusted well before new year.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas should provide just the escapism you need to go back and face your family with a smile on your face. Just as long as nobody is talking about rewriting their will…