“I regret exceedingly -” said M. Hercule Poirot.

This book has sat on my shelf since last Christmas, awaiting reading at a suitable time of year. Fortunately, it was worth the wait. Herein reside six of Agatha Christie’s short stories – five with Poirot, and one with Marple. Only the first one is festive, but they’re all rather good.

In “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding”, Poirot finds himself experiencing a typical British Christmas under the instruction of a European prince who has lost a very expensive ruby. He has reason to believe that it’s somewhere in the house, but who has it and why? And what exactly are the children of the house plotting to give Poirot as a surprise? In the second story, “The Mystery of the Spanish Chest” a body is found curled up in a trunk, stabbed in the neck. It’s particularly strange as the man in question should’ve been in Scotland, and his friends (including his wife) were in the same room as the chest all night, and yet none of them claim to have known he was there.

Thirdly we get “The Under Dog”, where an argument is overheard in a large house by the butler, leading to an unexplained death. They’ve already arrested the prime suspect, but the lady of the house, Lady Astwell, is convinced of his innocence, claiming that her women’s intuition tells her that it was someone else, although she has no concrete proof. A combination of hypnotism and Poirot’s own intuition lead him to the correct solution.

Fourthly, we have “Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds”, in which a man’s eating habits become a key part of the investigation, and the fifth story, “The Dream” tells of an eccentric millionaire who keeps having the same dream every night of his own suicide. Although he seems to have no intention of killing himself at the time Poirot meets him, nonetheless a few days later the man is dead – in exactly the same manner as he dreamt. There’s a red herring there somewhere, but where?

Finally, we get “Greenshaw’s Folly”, a story featuring Miss Marple and her author nephew Raymond West. While visiting a large, ugly country pile, they meet the ownder, Miss Greenshaw, although their acquaintanceship doesn’t last long when she is shot by an arrow and killed in her garden by an unseen assailant. When the police are stumped, Miss Marple suggests a solution that might just be right.

All in all, they’re a good bunch of stories. My favourite is the first, while “The Dream” is probably my least favourite. It’s also unusual to see Poirot and Marple in the same book, although they appear in stories and do not meet. They never meet actually, although it’s established a few times that they inhabit the same universe, so the potential was always there. I often wonder how they would have got on – probably not well. Nonetheless, the book shows Christie’s powers very much undiminished – she was seventy when this collection was published – and each story had me foxed, although I’m definitely getting better at working out part of the solutions. Christie was excellent at short stories, being able to pack a lot of drama and action into just a few pages, and still allowing for a good story with a serviceable solution. She never cheats the reader, and her skill is such that it’s only afterwards you realise that all the clues were there and you had just a good of a chance as Poirot as solving the mystery. A true talent.

All that remains for me to say is have a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year!

If you feel like treating yourself or a friend this Christmas (or even treating me, since I get money from it!) please download my debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus and, should it ever get famous, you can be smug that you got there first. It’s a win-win-win, isn’t it?

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