Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hercule Poirot's Christmas: Agatha Christie



I collect books, especially older paperbacks, with skulls or skeletons on the cover. Moira, a lover of Agatha Christie's mysteries, and author of the entertaining blog Clothes in Books, graciously offered to send me a copy of this book with a skull in a Santa hat. I decided to jump ahead in the series so I could feature this book during the Christmas season.

This is truly a country house mystery. The house belongs to Simeon Lee, the head of a large family that doesn't get along. He is overbearing, argumentative, and delights in stirring up trouble among his children.

His son, Alfred, and Alfred's wife, Lydia, live with Simeon, and Alfred has faithfully attended to the family business for many years. Simeon's other children left home at an early age and have never returned. However, all of them have accepted monetary support from Simeon over the years. Simeon has asked all of his sons (and their wives if married) to join him for Christmas at the familly home. And they have accepted.

His only daughter married a Spaniard and has recently died, so her daughter has also joined them. And a surprise guest shows up, the son of Simeon's old business partner when he was living in South Africa.

Before Christmas, someone in the family is murdered. There is not much festivity on Christmas day. Hercule Poirot is called in to investigate, to cooperate with the local policeman and the Chief Constable, Colonel Johnson.

There is a large cast of characters. Most of the characters in the family were not very likable but that did not bother me. Hercule Poirot, on the other hand, is very likable in this book. He had his quirks but he was not annoying.

I read other reviews and it is really interesting how differently various reviewers interpreted the book. This is one of my favorites so far. Certainly my favorite one starring Poirot. But some reviewers complained about the lack of description or character development.

I thought the mystery was good and for once I had no clue who the culprit was. Maybe a twinge of a suspicion that just flitted through my mind and was rejected. I always love to read books written in the late 1930's and the 1940's, around the time of World War II.  This one was written before World War II. Simeon Lee's granddaughter, who has left Spain and has come to live with Simeon, speaks of the effects of the unrest and fighting in Spain at that time. All in all, a very enjoyable read for me, even if not a jolly Christmas story.

This book has had several titles. Per Wikipedia, it was first serialised in the US from 12 November 1938 to 14 January 1939 under the title Murder For Christmas. It was published in book form in the UK in December 1938 under this title (Hercule Poirot's Christmas). It was published in US in book form in 1939 under the title of Murder for Christmas. A later paperback edition in the US was titled A Holiday for Murder.
 
As I said above, Clothes in Books is a wonderful blog, full of entertaining information about books of all types. Here is an entry on Hercule Poirot's Christmas at Moira's blog. Please check it out.


24 comments:

  1. That is such a cool thing to collect! Love the idea of themed book collections. And you can't beat Christie - but this sounds like one it must be of the few Poirot mysteries I haven't read. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marie, I do enjoy finding books with skulls on the cover. I also collect Rex Stout mysteries, any paperback editions I can find ... But there are way too many editions of Agatha Christie's books. This one was a good one.

      Delete
  2. Tracy,
    What a wonderful Christmas post that I'll place within my blog entry for today! I'm psyched about this one, particularly the dates of the publications. One could really go in search of. I have a collection Murder for Christmas, but it was published much, much later. I'll have to write about it.
    Great fun!
    Judith (My husband collects books with swastikas on them. Sounds strange but the Nazis were such love-to-loathe villains.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Judith. We are always on the lookout for books with swastikas on them for similar reasons. Fiction about the Nazis is a favorite around here. Non fiction too for that matter.

      Delete
  3. Very few seasonal mysteries really seem to work for me but this is one that I remember liking a lot, though the second murder seems unnecessary and in a way makes the identy of the culprit slightly easier to guess. Also I love locked room mysteries and even though it is not on par with a John Dickson carr, it is wonderfully elaborate - great review TracyK.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sergio, I generally agree about seasonal mysteries. But I have a few more I want to try. And one I liked (long ago) was Rest You Merry by Charlotte MacLeod.

      Delete
  4. Doesn't that cover look great there? So glad you liked it Tracy, and that you could give it a good home! It is one of my favourite Christies, and I like the fact that Christmas is kind of draped round the edges, it doesn't intrude too much. But the set up is so traditional and so good - country house party, lots of feuding relatives, weird married couples. Great book. And thanks for the kind words!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Moira, for increasing my collection. It is a beautiful cover. The feuding relatives was the best part, just like real life.

      Delete
  5. Tracy - What a creative collection! And this particular story is such a good look at family dysfunction, without being too heavy-handed about it. A really nicely-done 'country house mystery,' I think. Interesting that Christie dedicated it to, I think, her brother-in-law, who'd wanted her mysteries to have more blood in them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right, Margot, I meant to mention the dedication, but forgot. So I am glad you did. It was very interesting.

      Delete
  6. Such a good review! I really liked the book, and wrote about it here, if you'd like to read it:

    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2009/12/hercule-poirots-christmas-by-agatha.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nan, I did go read your review and it was very enjoyable. I love your point about readers expecting "a light, cozy, uncomplicated little mystery" from Agatha Christie, and she provides so much more than that. I had read many of her mysteries when I was younger, yet still when I started reading them again I was surprised to find them so complex.

      Delete
  7. Nicely reviewed, Tracy. My wife has this book in her collection though I haven't come to it yet. My reading of Christie's mysteries in chronological order has taken a backseat. Hopefully, in the new year...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I KNOW what you mean, Prashant. I am always changing my reading plans. I want to read Christie's books mostly in order. This is a good mystery though.

      Delete
  8. I love this book. One of my favourites and I love the fact that Poirot is so uncomfortable in a traditional English house. A classic

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sarah, I was so pleased that this one was a country house mystery, one of my favorite types. I thought it was funny that all the women in the house wanted to confide in Poirot, a stranger and a foreigner.

      Delete
  9. Haven't read it but I will add this one to my collection!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Keishon, I think you will like it and will look forward to your review someday. Set in an interesting place and time.

      Delete
  10. I read a lot of Christie as a teen but never did read this one. I am definitely looking for a copy of this one!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Peggy, this is a fun book (even though a lot of the characters are not fun) and I think you will enjoy it.

      Delete
  11. This is one of my favourites, Tracy. I couldn't guess the identity of the murderer at all. I love how Christie drops a clue via the butler.

    Your review is so good it makes me want to pick up a country-house X'Mas mystery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Neer, I think what I love most about country house mysteries are the servants, the butlers and housekeepers and cooks.

      Delete
  12. Tracy, despite the general comments and your review all praising/enjoying the book, I'll pass...just not enough time I'm afraid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No problem, Col. There are too many great authors and good books to read them all. And I went years and years without reading any Christie.

      Delete