xmas poirot

Candy cane daggers and poisoned eggnog not included.

“Stephen pulled up the collar of his coat as he walked briskly along the platform.”

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. A tyrannical father lying dead with a slashed throat on his bedroom floor. Wait … it must be a Christie Christmas!

Once upon a time, someoene had got fed up with Christie’s murders. He claimed that the murders were too refined and desperately wanted a “good violent murder with lots of blood”, in which there was absolutely no question of it having been murder. This person was Agatha Christie’s brother-in-law, James. In retaliation, she wrote and dedicated this book to him, one of her goriest.

Simeon Lee is the head of a family that has long since disbanded but, with Christmas, approaching, he calls back his sons – dependable Alfred, vacant David, stingy George and black sheep Harry – and their wives for a family Christmas. Simeon is an invalid now, waited on by his carer Horbury and his butler Tressilian, and while some of the family think that this is a genuine move on his part to try and reunite the family in his final days, some think otherwise. To round off the party, there are the additions of Simeon’s only grandchild, Pilar Estravados, escaped from Spain, and Stephen Farr, the son of Simeon’s old business partner.

On Christmas Eve, after a meeting in which Simeon disparages every last one of his family, telling them that none of them have made him proud and he probably has illegitimate children he would be prouder of, he throws them out of his room and implies that he is going to change his will. Later that night however, there is an enormous crash from Simeon’s room, and an inhuman scream. The household rushes to the bedroom to find that the room has been locked from the inside. Once they break the door down, Simeon is laying dead on the floor, his throat cut. There is blood all around the room that has been turned upside-down, and the diamonds from Simeon’s safe are missing. It’s time to call in Poirot…

Poirot is at his finest here, slightly conniving as he works his magic to solve the bizarre problem. Obviously, everyone claims to have been somewhere else but there is little love in the family and everyone seems to have the means, motive and opportunity. It is a classic example of the “locked room mystery” where, as stated above, something happens in a room that has been locked from the inside. With just a couple of tiny clues, Poirot solves the whole thing in an amazingly satisfactory manner.

I can’t claim to have got this one right, but I did toy with the solution for a while earlier on in the novel. Towards the end, though, I’d changed my mind, quite wrongly. This is one of Christie’s better character-driven novels, with the personalities all very strong (particularly those of the wives, Lydia, Hilda and Magdalene, all of whom I liked a lot) and while there are perhaps rather too many coincidences and strange things going on, it does actually all make perfect sense. Perhaps more of a product of the time, you are unlikley to entirely work out the methods used in the murder unless you’re familiar with the time the book is set.

Christie definitely delivered for her brother-in-law, and I hope he enjoyed it. I know I did.

Merry Christmas, everyone!