Hercule Poirot's Christmas

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas  
Hercule Poirot's Christmas First Edition Cover 1938.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
Author(s) Agatha Christie
Cover artist Not known
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Crime novel
Publisher Collins Crime Club
Publication date December 19, 1938
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 256 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN NA
Preceded by Appointment with Death
Followed by Murder is Easy

Hercule Poirot's Christmas is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on December 19, 1938[1] (although the first edition is copyright dated 1939).[2] It retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6).[2]

It was published in US by Dodd, Mead and Company in February 1939 under the title of Murder for Christmas.[3] This edition retailed at $2.00.[3] A paperback edition in the US by Avon books in 1947 changed the title again to A Holiday for Murder.

The book features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and is a locked room mystery.

Contents

Plot introduction

When multi-millionaire Simeon Lee unexpectedly invites his family to gather at his home for Christmas, the gesture is met with suspicion by many of the guests. Simeon is not given to family sentiment, and not all of the family are on good terms with one another. To make things worse, he has invited the black sheep of the family, Harry, and Simeon’s granddaughter, Pilar, whom none of them has ever met before. Simeon is intent on playing a deadly and sadistic game with his family. An unexpected guest – Stephen Farr, son of Simeon Lee's former partner in the diamond mines – means that the house is full of potential suspects when the game turns deadly.

Summary

It is Christmas Eve and everyone in the house hears the crashing of furniture, followed by a wailing and hideous scream. When they get to Simeon Lee's room, they find it locked and they have to break the door down. When they finally get through the door, they find heavy furniture overturned and Simeon Lee dead, his throat slit, in a great pool of blood. Superintendent Sugden notices Pilar Estravados pick up something from the floor. She tries to conceal what she picked up, but when pressed, opens her hand to show a small bit of rubber and a small object made of wood.

Superintendent Sugden explains that he is in the house by prior arrangement with the victim, who confided to him the theft of a substantial quantity of uncut diamonds from his safe. When Poirot is called in to investigate, there are therefore several main problems: who killed the victim? How was the victim killed inside a locked room? Was the murder connected to the theft of the diamonds? And what is the significance of the small triangle of rubber and the peg that Sugden is able to provide when reminded by Poirot of the clue that had been picked up by Pilar?

Poirot’s investigation explores the nature of the victim – a methodical and vengeful man – and the way that these characteristics come out in his children. He seems focused on the idea that one of the immediate family is the murderer. When the butler mentions his confusion about the identities of the house guests, Poirot realizes that the four legitimate sons may not be the only heirs of Simeon’s temperament.

The final major clue is dropped by Pilar, who while playing with balloons lets slip that what she found on the floor must also have been a balloon. She knows more than she realises, not least because she was hiding outside the room in which the murder was committed. Poirot warns her to be careful, but it is only by chance that she is not killed by a cannon ball trap set above her bedroom door.

In the denouement of the novel Poirot is able to unmask several characters: Pilar is an imposter who was with Simeon’s grand daughter when she died because of a bomb attack, and Stephen Farr is revealed to be an illegitimate son. Neither, however, is the murderer. The real killer committed the murder earlier and prepared the room with all the furniture piled up and a long cord hanging out of the window. The final touch was a “Dying Pig” toy: a rubber bladder that was rigged to provide the apparent death-scream as the furniture fell. The room had to be locked in order that the carefully staged room would not be entered and discovered.

The only person able to release the piled furniture from outside the house was also the last person supposed to have seen the victim alive: Superintendent Sugden. He was yet another illegitimate son of the victim, who used a fictitious theft of the diamonds to trick Simeon into opening the safe and then killed him. A bottle of animal blood, prevented from clotting by the addition of sodium citrate, was used to dress the scene and create the impression that the murder had taken place much later. Crucially, Sugden had intended to recover the incriminating “Dying Pig” toy before it was noticed, but once Poirot had learned of it, he had to provide a faked clue, physically similar, in order to protect the means by which the murder was committed.

At the end of the book two of the imposters - Pilar and Stephen – marry. Colonel Johnson, stunned by the loss of his best policeman, perhaps speaks for the reader when he asks “What’s the police coming to?”.

Characters in “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas”

  • Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective
  • Colonel Johnson, Chief Constable
  • Superintendent Sugden, the investigating police officer
  • Simeon Lee, an old millionaire
  • Alfred Lee, Simeon’s son
  • Lydia Lee, Alfred’s wife
  • George Lee, Simeon’s son
  • Magdalene Lee, George’s wife
  • David Lee, Simeon’s son
  • Hilda Lee, David’s wife
  • Harry Lee, Simeon’s son
  • Pilar Estravados, Simeon’s only grand-daughter
  • Stephen Farr, Son of Simeon’s former business partner
  • Horbury, Simeon’s valet
  • Tressilian, the butler
  • Walter, the footman

Major themes

Like Appointment with Death (1938) before it, this is a novel in which the victim is depicted as a sadistic tyrant whose characteristics are mirrored or distorted in the next generation. This theme arises in Christie’s work at the end of the 1930s, enabling her characters to explore the psychology of inheritance in later works such as Crooked House (1949) and Ordeal by Innocence (1958).

In some editions, the novel is headed by an epigraph from Macbeth that appears repeatedly in the novel itself: "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?"

Literary significance and reception

Maurice Percy Ashley in the Times Literary Supplement of December 17, 1938 had a complaint to make after summarising the plot: "Mrs. Christie's detective stories tend to follow a pattern. First, there is always a group of suspects each of whom has something to conceal about his or her past; second, there is a generous use of coincidence in the circumstances of the crime; third, there is a concession to sentiment which does not necessarily simplify the solution. Mrs. Christie makes one departure here from her recent practice, as she explains in her dedicatory foreword. The complaint had been uttered that her murders were getting too refined – anaemic, in fact. So this is 'a good violent murder with lots of blood.' But there is, on the other hand, another departure from Mrs. Christie's earlier stories which must be regretted. M. Poirot in his retirement is becoming too much of a colourless expert. One feels a nostalgic longing for the days when he baited his 'good friend' and butt, Hastings, when he spoke malaprop English and astonished strangers by his intellectual arrogance."[1]

In The New York Times Book Review for February 12, 1939 Isaac Anderson concluded, "Poirot has solved some puzzling mysteries in his time, but never has his mighty brain functioned more brilliantly than in Murder for Christmas".[4]

In The Observer of December 18, 1938, "Torquemada" (Edward Powys Mathers), a stated admirer of Christie, finished his review by stating defensively, "Is Hercule Poirot's Christmas a major Christie? I think it is, and that in spite of a piece of quite irrelevant tortuosity in the matter of the bewitching Pilar Estravados, and in spite of the fact that the business of the appalling shriek will probably make no mystery for the average reader. The main thing, is, surely that Agatha Christie once more abandonedly dangles the murderer before our eyes and successfully defies us to see him. I am sure that some purists will reverse my decision on the ground that the author to get her effect, has broken what they consider to be one of the major rules of detective writing; but I hold that in a Poirot tale it should be a case of caveat lector, and that the rules were not made for Agatha Christie."[5]

E.R. Punshon of The Guardian, in his review of January 13, 1939, said that Poirot, "by careful and acute reasoning is able to show that a convincing case can be made out against all the members of the family till the baffled reader is ready to believe them all guilty in turn and till Poirot in one of his famous confrontation scenes indicates who is, in fact, the culprit. In this kind of detective novel, depending almost entirely for its interest on accuracy of logical deduction from recorded fact and yet with the drama played out by recognisable human beings, Mrs. Christie remains supreme. One may grumble…that she depends a little too much upon coincidence and manufactured effect…but how small are such blemishes compared with the brilliance of the whole conception!"[6]

Robert Barnard: "Welcome interruption to the festive season as mischievous old patriarch, tyrant and sinner gets his desserts. Magnificently clued."[7]

References to other works

The character of Colonel Johnson previously appeared in Three Act Tragedy (1935) and here he mentions that case in Part 3, section v of the novel.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The story was adapted for television in 1994 in a special episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. The adaptation is generally faithful to the novel, although some characters have been left out. Chief Constable Colonel Johnson, who features in the novel, is replaced in the television adaptation by regular Poirot character Chief Inspector Japp. Stephen Farr is also missing, and his romantic interests in Pilar are given to Harry. Hilda and David Lee were also deleted in the movie. The exterior scenes were filmed in Chilham, Kent and the Chilham Castle was used as Gorston Hall.

Cast:

The story was also adapted for the French television in a four-parts series entitled "Petits Meurtres en famille", broadcast by France 2 in 2006 and 2009, with the notable replacement of Poirot by a duet of newly created characters. Mathew Prichard himself, grandson of Agatha Christie, was quoted by Télérama as calling it the best TV adaptation he had seen.

Publication history

  • 1938, Collins Crime Club (London), December 19, 1938, Hardback, 256 pp
  • 1939, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), February 1939, Hardback, 272 pp
  • 1947, Avon Books, Paperback, (Avon number 124, under the title A Holiday For Murder), 255 pp
  • 1957, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 189 pp
  • 1962, Bantam Books, Paperback, 167 pp
  • 1967, Pan Books, Paperback, 204 pp
  • 1972, Fontana Books, Paperback, 189 pp
  • 1973, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 253 pp ISBN 0-00-231309-X
  • 1974, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 253 pp
  • 1985, W. Clement Stone, P M A Communications, Hardback, ISBN 0-396-06963-0
  • 1987, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover
  • 2000, Berkley Books (New York), 2000, Paperback, ISBN 0-425-17741-6
  • 2006, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1938 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, November 6, 2006, Hardback, ISBN 0-00-723450-3

The book was first serialised in the US in Collier's Weekly in ten parts from November 12, 1938 (Volume 102, Number 20) to January 14, 1939 (Volume 103, Number 2) under the title Murder For Christmas with illustrations by Mario Cooper.

The UK serialisation was in twenty parts in the Daily Express from Monday, November 14 to Saturday, December 10, 1938 under the title of Murder at Christmas. Most of the instalments carried an uncredited illustration. This version did not contain any chapter divisions.[8]

International titles

  • Dutch: Kerstmis van Poirot (Christmas of Poirot)
  • Hungarian: Valaki csenget... (Someone is Ringing a Bell...), Poirot karácsonya (Poirot's Christmas)
  • Italian: Il Natale di Poirot (Poirot's Christmas)
  • Russian: Рождество Эркюля Пуаро (=Rozhdestvo Erkyulya Puaro, Hercule Poirot's Christmas)
  • Spanish: Navidades Trágicas (Tragic Holidays/A Tragic Christmas)
  • Romanian: Crăciunul lui Poirot (Poirot's Christmas)

References

  1. ^ a b The Times Literary Supplement December 17, 1938 (Page 805)
  2. ^ a b Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)
  3. ^ a b American Tribute to Agatha Christie
  4. ^ The New York Times Book Review February 12, 1939 (Page 20)
  5. ^ The Observer December 18, 1938 (Page 6)
  6. ^ The Guardian January 13, 1939 (Page 7)
  7. ^ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie - Revised edition (Page 194). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0006374743
  8. ^ Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers - Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD3 and NPL LON MLD3.

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