Published: 1938 (“Murder for Christmas” and “Holiday for Murder”)
Publisher: originally G.P. Putnam Sons (Penguin), then Harper Collins
Christmas Eve, and the Lee family’s reunion is shattered by a deafening crash of furniture and a high-pitched wailing scream. Upstairs, the tyrannical Simeon Lee lies dead in a pool of blood, his throat slashed.
When Hercule Poirot offers to assist, he finds an atmosphere not of mourning but of mutual suspicion. It seems everyone had their own reason to hate the old man…
Alfred, David, Harry, and George Lee may be brothers but they each lead vastly different lives. Alfred is a doting son, David still mourns over his mother, Harry is the prodigal returned home, and George is incredibly thrifty. Their wives are passionate and suspicious, and everyone is on edge when Simeon invites the whole family together for Christmas. What does this awful old man want? Will there be any holiday cheer? Who is this estranged granddaughter Pilar and a dear old friend’s son Stephen? Why are the servants nervous this Christmas? Everyone is to be blamed for the murder, but who really committed the crime?
This was my first step into old school mystery fiction. I’m not much of a mystery reader, in the traditional sense. I like Tana French, and the typical plot twists in general fiction, but who-dun-its and clues are not my thing. Since the holidays are approaching and people rave over Agatha Christie’s brilliancy, I decided to give this a shot!
It was a quick read, and light and interesting and fun. But I think the book could have benefited with more descriptions of her characters and the setting. This may be a personal preference or a change in the times — I’m not sure — but Christie lacked the description I felt was necessary to help the reader discover the murderer just as Poirot does. Christie was excellent with dialogue! She knew just how to shape a turn of phrase to make you love and hate a character all at once. But when Poirot gave his big reveal, I was stunned. Poirot used physical descriptions of the murderer and the surroundings to guide everyone to his conclusion. I would not have gotten there on dialogue alone.
I wonder if I should read one of her first pieces, or a Miss Marple story, and see if this can change my opinion of Christie and mystery fiction. After all, Christie became the queen at some point!