Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie


Cover image (c) HarperCollins
Christmas in the Kelly household means a few things: seeing Gran in the morning, a midday trip to the Falcon Inn, a mountain of food, an animated film, sleeping, drinking and then a Poirot murder mystery on TV. This year, being on the Agatha Christie binge that I am, I figured that I would have a read of a Poirot novel to get me in the mood.

Having focused my Poirot reading on the Middle-Eastern mysteries so far with the intrigue that they present to the reader, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is a much more traditional Christie novel. All the necessary elements are there: the big house in the countryside, a rich old man, the ‘black sheep’ of the family returning, mysterious strangers, jewels and a squabbling family.

The story starts on December 22nd and centres on a family Christmas to be hosted by Simeon Lee, a millionaire who made his money in South Africa as a diamond miner. Alfred and Lydia Lee, his son and daughter-in-law respectively, live with him in a large country house as Alfred runs the family business.

After many years of seemingly not caring for his family, Simeon Lee decideds to invite all of his sons and their wives to share Christmas with him. Reluctantly, his children accept. Also invited to the planned festivities is his hitherto unknown granddaughter, the exotic, half-Spanish Pilar Estravados. The final guest to party, arriving uninvited and unannounced is Stephen Farr, the son of his former business partner in South Africa.

Prior to Simeon Lee’s demise, a number of uncut diamonds go missing from his safe after he has shown them to Miss Estravados. Superintendant Sugden is called to look into the theft. Later that evening Simeon Lee is killed in a noisy and bloody battle, in an apparently locked room. Chief Constable Colonel Johnson attends the crime scene and brings along his friend to help look into the case. His friend is, of course, Poirot and as you would expect, it is not long before Poirot takes the lead.

As the investigation unfolds within the confines of the mansion, it appears that many of the characters are not what they seem, or who they say they are. Everyone has a potential motive and just when the reader is becoming sure of the guilty party, Poirot reveals the most unlikely of perpetrators during a gripping denouement.

Again, Christie uses a different structure to entice the reader. Choosing to separate the action into the seven days from 22nd to 28th December, allows us to see the disparate Lee family considering the invitation to Christmas, coming together, observing the tensions grow, all before the trouble erupts.

So, if you want a break from the family, or from stuffing the turkey this Christmas, take a trip back to 1938 with this novel, and thank God that your dinner will be a lot simpler than that of the Lee family!

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