Saturday, December 8, 2012

Murder for Christmas: Review

Just in time for the holidays!  Murder for Christmas (aka Hercule Poirot's Christmas or A Holiday for Murder) by Agatha Christie gives us a good old-fashioned English country Christmas.  Well...okay, not really.  But it does give us a good old-fashioned English country Christmas murder complete with the typical nasty patriarch ticking off as many family members as possible, threatening to change his will, and getting himself bumped off for his efforts.

Simeon Lee is an overbearing man who has invited his far-flung brood home for the holidays.  Ostensibly because he is getting old and just wants his family around him for Christmas.  In reality, he wants to give them all a good shake-up.  On the guest list are all his sons and their wives.  Alfred, the good boy who has stayed home and allowed himself to be kept under father's thumb; George, the "respectable" one--a member of parliament and in need of a generous supply of cash to support the life-style...and his rather expensive spouse; David, the one who resents his father most...primarily because of the way dear old dad treated his mum; and Harry, the black sheep of the family who left home after certain unmentionable events and is ready to be welcomed back to the bosom of his loved ones.  Surprise guests include Pilar, Simeon's granddaughter by his only daughter--who ran off with a Spaniard--and Stephen Farr, son of Simeon's partner from the old days in South Africa.

Simeon spreads the good cheer among his offspring liberally for the holidays--first by making it clear that Harry is more than welcome back at home (to the extreme displeasure of Alfred) and that granddaughter Pilar is fast moving up the ranks in his affections and second by announcing that he has plans to make substantial changes to his will.  There are other minor skirmishes, but those are the biggies.  It's no surprise that the evening after relaying the news about the will Simeon is found murdered--with his throat cut after what appears to be a violent struggle.  It is a surprise for the murderer that Hercule Poirot is staying with the Chief Constable and is soon on the spot to get to the bottom of it all.

As Poirot proves in the final wrap-up, they all had motives and they all could have done it--even the ones who were apparently alibied.  There are red herrings and clues a-plenty and an astute reader should be able to reach the proper answer.  That's not to say that you will--I didn't--but it's there for the taking if you can grab onto all the correct clues.  

It is always a delight to return to Dame Agatha, particularly after not reading anything by her for a while.  Tight plotting and interesting twists are par for the course in a good Christie novel--and this is definitely one of that rank.  Four stars


I'm old-fashioned, I daresay, but why not have peace and good will at Christmas time? (Hilda Lee, p. 25)

I believe the present matters--not the past! The past must go.  If we seek to keep the past alive, we end, I think, by distorting it. We see it in exaggerated terms--a false perspective. (Hilda Lee, p. 26)

Pilar--remember--nothing is so boring as devotion. (Simeon Lee, p. 48)

Do you mean to tell me, Superintendent, that this is one of those damned cases you get in detective stories where a man is killed in a locked room by some apparently supernatural agency? (Colonel Johnson, p. 88)

Her eyes met Poirot's. They were eyes that kept their own secrets. They did not waver. (p. 106)

Mon cher, everyone lies--in parts like the egg of the English curate. (p. 142)

[about a triangular piece of pink rubber and a small wooden peg picked up at the scene of the murder]
HP: Yes. What was it that the senorita picked up?
SS: I could give you three hundred guesses! I'll show it to you. It's the sort of thing that solves the whole mystery in detective stories! If you can make anything out of it, I'll retire from the police force! (Hercule Poirot, Superintendent Sugden; p. 165)

When one suffers some great hurt physically, it causes shock and pain, but it slowly mends, the flesh heals, the bone knits. There may be, perhaps a little weakness, a slight scar, but nothing more. My husband, Mr. Poirot, suffered a great hurt mentally at his most susceptible age.  He adored his mother and he saw her die. He believed that his father was morally responsible for that death. From that shock he has never quite recovered. (Hilda Lee, p. 178)


Susanne said...

I do believe this is one of her better mysteries - and that line by Superintendent Sugden made me smile too - Agatha was taunting us a bit, I think.

Ryan said...

This is one of those books that I was hoping I could get to this Christmas. But since I'm reading them in order this time around, and because Mary Roberts Rinehart took up so much time, I wasn't where I needed to be. But I will be next year.

ErinPaperbackstash said...

I'd love to get this one sometime. Agatha Christie rocks. I especially love Hercule Poirot