Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This is a reprint of a post which appeared in this blog in November 2009.

Count on Agatha Christie to see the dark side of Christmas.

In a short letter which prefaces Hercule Poirot's Christmas, Christie writes, "My dear James . . . You complained that my murders were getting too refined--anaemic, in fact. You yearned for a 'good violent murder with lots of blood'. A murder where there was no doubt about it being murder!

"So this is your special story--written for you. I hope it may please. Your affectionate sister-in-law, Agatha."

And that's what she provides. This is the story of Simeon Lee, a malicious old man who gathers his feuding family around him in his castle-like mansion at Christmas.  

Being the malcontent he is, he arranges for them to overhear a conversation with his lawyer in which he says he intends to change his will.

Add into the story a couple of almost-strangers--an as-yet-unmet granddaughter and the son of a former business partner, along with the rest of the long-feuding family, and you have what would naturally make for a murderous Christmas.

When someone murders Lee, the family calls the police, along with Hercule Poirot, to solve the murder.

I'd forgotten what a firm grasp Christie has of evil.

She often hides her intimate understanding of human nature in the puzzle-like quality of her stories, but if you look closely enough, real human evil is almost always there.

At one point, an admiring character says of Poirot, "Yes. You know, it was really amazing the way everything fell into place when he explained it." And another replies, "I know. Like when you finish a jig-saw puzzle and all the queer-shaped bits you swear won't fit in anywhere find their places quite naturally."

But the truth is, it wasn't the puzzle which appealed to me in this story. It was the almost unadulterated evil Simeon Lee unleashed in his family at Christmas.

I am often bored with (or find fantastic and fail to believe) Agatha Christie's puzzles. But her grasp of evil is something I can understand. What a brilliant (and probably troubled) woman she was!

This book's copyright is 1939. I found it interesting to read seventy years later.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Got it, Joe. Thanks!

Joe Barone said...

You are welcome.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I think you're right Joe - it's a decent whodunit but you can see why she didn't try to do locked room mysteries very often (twice by my reckoning). Lee si definitely the character you take away from this one.


Joe Barone said...

Sergio, Three years ago I read a whole host of Christmas mysteries in the Christmas season. This was one of them, and one of the better ones, if I remember correctly.

Sextonblake said...

Some of the later Marple stories (NEMESIS/SLEEPING MURDER/POCKETFUL OF RYE) have truly evil murderers. People sometimes accuse Christie of being 'twee', but she really did have an understanding of the flesh creepingly evil.

Joe Barone said...

Sextonblake, Thanks for the titles.