Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie (1938)

The Lee’s have been separated by hatred and secrets for many years. Now, at the whim of its patriarch Simeon Lee, the family has gathered at Gorston Hall for a traditional family Christmas. The gathering is a strained one marked by in-fighting, spurred on by Lee for his own entertainment. And then on Christmas Eve, Simeon is found dead in a pool of blood, his throat slashed. In a house where everyone had their reason to hate the the victim, and each other, Hercule Poirot must find a killer.

First, a confession of my own. I’ve never read Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. Actually, I’ve never read a Poirot. Shocking I know! My fellow bloggers Rekha and Kate needed sal volatile when they heard. I’ve read every Marple, Tommy & Tuppence (yes, even Postern of Fate), and several of the one offs. I love Agatha Christie, yet I’ve just never felt compelled to read the Poirot’s. I know, I know…what an idiot I’ve been! But the scales have fallen from my eyes and I am now a true convert to the little Belgian.

So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…on to the review.

Ah, Christmas. A time for family. A time when –

it is highly probable that dislikes that were before merely mild and disagreements that were trivial might suddenly assume a more serious character. The result of pretending to be a more amiable, a more forgiving, a more high-minded person than one really is, has sooner or later the effect of causing one to behave as a more disagreeable, a more ruthless and an altogether unpleasant person than is actually the case! If you dam the stream of natural behavior, mon ami, sooner or later the dam bursts and a cataclysm occurs!”

And there, in a nutshell, you have the Lee family Christmas. In this story Christie gives us a very well structured plot, an ingenious “locked room” mystery, with a multitude of diverse, interesting characters. All have a motive, and as Poirot later proves, everyone had the opportunity.

Locked room mysteries are not something Christie did often, and here she doesn’t leave the room locked for long. But this is more a mystery about the who and the why. It is about the influence of a man’s character on those around him, and its impact in his own murder.

Christie created quite a number of characters, yet from the most prominent to the least, each is excellently drawn. Simeon Lee, a man of appetites in his youth, now reduced by age and infirmity to living his life in one room. He finds pleasure in taunting and tormenting his family, feeding into their petty jealousies, fomenting long held grudges, and creating new rivalries. And in contrast there is Tressilian, the butler, who has been with the family for over forty years. For all their faults, still devoted to them. Seeing them still as the young people he watched grow. Yet knowing that something is just not as it should be.

Christie does well at presenting all the clues the reader needs to solve the case. And yet the ending came as a surprise for me. Poirot’s seemingly innocuous comments leave the reader to wonder as to their significance, and also make for masterful misdirection. I managed to get an idea of how the “locked room” murder was pulled off, but never the entire scheme. And while I had several ideas of who the murderer could be (and why), Christie kept me confused enough so that I missed the vital clue.

This was a quick paced, engaging, and satisfying read. And this being my introduction to Poirot, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the little detective and his uncanny skills. This is one that will now be on my Christmas reading list every year.

My Judgement – 4.25/5

Prior Rulings – José @ A Crime is Afoot, Kate @ crossexaminingcrime, Brad @ ahsweetmysteryblog, The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Nick @ The Grandest Game in the World

Murder Mystery Bingo Challenge – Clues and Clichés: A magnifier is used, Red Herrings: Inheritance, Weapon: Knife or Dagger

Feature image Hoarfrost from Weather Underground. Artist Unknown. Obtained from https://www.wunderground.com/weather-posters/hoarfrost

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