56. Hercule Poirot's Christmas
by Agatha Christie
I wonder how many people open an Agatha Christie book for the first time expecting a light, cozy, uncomplicated little mystery. I think I used to view her work that way. I've read enough now to know this isn't so, yet each time I begin a new one I am surprised at the depth of human emotions she portrays, and how she doesn't shy away from complex individuals and situations. Hercule Poirot often is the only touch of humor and warmth in the stories in which he is the sleuth. Here is an example:
"Nothing like a wood fire," said Colonel Johnson as he threw on an additional log and then drew his chair nearer to the blaze. ... Cautiously he [Poirot] edged his own chair nearer to the blazing logs, though he was of the opinion that the opportunity for roasting the soles of one's feet (like some medieval torture) did not offset the cold draught that swirled round the back of the shoulders.
Colonel Johnson, Chief Constable of Middleshire, might be of the opinion that nothing could beat a wood fire, but Hercule Poirot was of the opinion that central heating could and did every time!
In Hercule Poirot's Christmas, also published as Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder, we are in a country house with a heavy atmosphere of tension and pain. Simeon Lee is a widower with many children. Some are estranged, some are the children of his late wife and some are the children of other women. One lives at home with his wife. He is the dutiful, uncomplaining son and his father treats him poorly. It hurts his wife immensely to see the way her husband takes this punishment. Not all the sons do so, however. One left after his mother died because he hated his father for the way he treated her. Another son roams the world on money given to him by the father. And the other son is a politician. After years and years of not being under the same roof, the father invites them all for Christmas. In addition to the men and their wives, Lee invites his late daughter's child, a young woman he has never met. And a young man turns up at the door, the son of Lee's former partner from his days in South Africa in the diamond trade.
Well, you put all these people together with their various resentments and hatreds and you just know there will be a murder. The father is killed; 'throat cut like a pig. He bled to death in less than a minute.' It is up to Hercule Poirot, who just happens to be visiting a local policeman, to solve the mystery. This is a particularly interesting story which kept me guessing right up until the surprise ending. Another great book by Agatha Christie.
Agatha Christie, A Reader's Companion by Vanessa Wagstaff & Stephen Poole offers a picture of the terrific first edition cover, with the words:
The striking first-edition jacket of Hercule Poirot's Christmas with a bright red cover gruesomely suggestive of blood.