Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done?” Well, if you’re the villain of the piece, you’ve violently cut the throat of a patriarch on the eve of a family Christmas. And just for good measure, you’ve done it in a locked room as well. Fortunately for you, the family is a typical Christie clan, namely everyone has a secret, and so there are plenty of other suspects. Unfortunately for you, guess which little moustachioed Belgian is a guest of the local Chief Constable.

Generally regarded as Christie’s only locked room mystery (please correct me if I’ve forgotten one) and given the season, this seemed like an ideal candidate for the blog. I’ve mentioned it before on my Hercule Poirot Top Five but I thought it was time for a full look at it.

So, did the memory cheat? Is this the classic that I remembered?

Most definitely yes.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. It may be the closest thing Christie did in the locked room genre, but it’s not much of a locked room mystery. The “how” is trivial and is indeed resolved about two pages after the locked door is commented on – it’s not part of the mystery. The “why” – often overlooked – is the mysterious part, and it’s pretty clever.

In fact, the mystery is one of Christie’s finest. There’s a lovely chapter towards the end where Poirot points out how everyone (who has some sort of alibi) could have actually committed the murder, only, of course, to reveal the real murderer.

Structurally, this is a typical Christie – meet the family, watch someone die, interview suspects formally, interview informally, solve the mysteries, starting with the least trivial and ending with the murderer. In terms of the mystery, I would say this is not a typical Christie. The usual tricks are there, but they are applied in a distinctly different way from the usual method. In fact, I’m not going to say any more at all, for fear of giving something away.

So, if you’re still feeling festive, or just want a fantastic example of what Agatha Christie can do, then grab a copy of this one – one of the best.

By the way, this was going to be a multimedia review, as the David Suchet TV version was on ITV3 the other, but after 15 minutes of dullness and mediocre acting, I turned it off. Say what you like about ITV’s Marple, at least it isn’t dull.

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About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
This entry was posted in Agatha Christie, Film and TV, Hercule Poirot, Locked Rooms and Impossible Murders. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

  1. Pingback: Hercule Poirot Top Five | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

  2. Skywatcher says:

    I do say what I like about ITV’s Marple, and none of it is complimentary. Generally our taste for classic detective fiction appears to coincide, but you do seem to have a problem with telly adaptions. I think that if you were doing a blog about crime novels having only ever read three of them, you would not really be in a proper position to comment, but you are commenting on TV without putting in the time to back up your position. We all have our opinions, and no-one is really right or wrong, but to damn an adaption after fifteen minutes just looks like you’ve already made up your mind before the whole things starts.

    • Well, to be fair, I didn’t do a full review of the adaptation as I hadn’t watched most of it. I generally have problems with the Poirot adaptations – I’ve seen a number of them – and the primary issue I have is that in general, they take themselves deadly seriously. The Marple adaptations seem much more relaxed. I’d say that, for me, a television show has to be entertaining, first and foremost, and, I’m sad to say that I don’t get that from Suchet’s Poirot. The books generally have a lighter touch to them.

      I’d be curious to know though – as someone who has seen a lot of the Poirot’s – which would you say are the best adaptations? If I get the chance, I’ll look them up.

  3. Skywatcher says:

    The earlier Suchet/Poirot shows tend to be much lighter in tone. They were one hour adaptions of the short stories and usually balanced out darker material with lighter subplots (not to mention Hugh Fraser’s Hastings). Since 2003 the production team has been changed,which has led to a more ‘serious’ approach that I don’t always agree with, not to mention the ditching of Hastings, Japp and Miss Lemon. When they did MRS MCGINTY’S DEAD a few years ago they totally missed out the charmingly comical elements of Poirot’s stay at the Summerhayes guesthouse. The adaptions are gradually returning to the lighter elements, but my favourites are still the hour-long shows and the feature length versions from the early 90s. THE ABC MURDERS and THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES are beautifully done, with the former being my vote for the best single Poirot adaption ever. HICKORY DICKORY DOCK is an OK version that has a wonderful ODD COUPLE-type comedy subplot about Japp having to temporarily move in with Poirot. I sense that we’re never going to agree about the merits of the Suchet series (I like even the worst shows), but I think that you’re more likely to enjoy the shorter episodes and the pre-2000 feature length shows.

  4. The one that stands out from the recent adaptations was Hallowe’en Party – adapted by Mark Gatiss, IIRC – although I’ve not seen all of them by any means. I have set the recorder for tonight’s The Clocks – partly because I think it’s one of the worst novels (with hardly any Poirot in it) – so I’m curious what they can do with it. I’ll let you know.

    • The one-hour Suchet stories are much more humorous and fun (there are even scripts by the great David ‘Jonathan Creek’ Renwick) – I thought the ITV version of THE CLOCKS was not terribly impressive, but most of its faults are those of the book where the two plots are basically completely unconnected. The cover for the book you have used is the one from the edition I first had when I read it – I thought the villain was well concealed at the time and remember liking the complication of the locked room but even as a child of 10 or 11 finding it pretty unconvincing (especially the ‘squeal’).

      • Without spoiling anything, I thought the “squeal” was less convincing that a similar device in “He Wouldn’t Kill Patience” which I’ve seen derided a few times.

  5. Curt Evans says:

    Definitely a brilliant puzzle.

    • Indeed. I think one of the strengths is that she uses a lot of her usual tricks on the false solutions, hence fooling even some of her most cunning readers. This was the second time through for me and the clues were still pretty hard to spot – still felt completely fair though.

  6. TomCat says:

    I never understood why this book is considered clever and difficult to solve, when I deductively identified the culprit when I was still newbe. It was one of the first GAD plots I unravelled and remember feeling very smug about it.

    Christie wrote, as far as I can remember, two more impossible crime stories: “The Idol House of Astarte,” concerning a stabbing in front of witnesses by an apparent invinsible agent and was collected in The Thirteen Problems, and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? has a subplot involving a murder disguised as a suicide in a locked study. I don’t remember a thing about the solution of the latter, but it’s the only bone-fide locked room mystery she ever wrote. However, the short story comes closest to resembling the work of the master of the impossible crime, especially in terms of atmosphere.

    Interestingly, one of Nicholas Blake’s two Christmas mysteries, The Case of the Abominable Snowman, also has a locked room murder that is solved in the same, off-hand manner as Christie did in her book.

    • Ah, the joy of the first “solve”. It was The Mysterious Affair at Styles for me. Congrats for working this one out. It’s possible that Christie could have hidden it better in this case by making it easier for the other suspects to have done it. Still, I maintain this is a great puzzle without the artificiality of some of her more celebrated “classics”.

  7. Too bad you did not like ITV’s Poirot Christmas Special. We would never turn it off just because of the clothes and hence, we just published an article about
    Hercule Poirot’s wardrobe that might be of interest to you

    • A fascinating article, Sven, but I’m afraid clothes do not make the mystery for me. I can’t deny that the production values on the Poirot series are outstanding – I just wish the ones that I’ve seen were a bit more entertaining…

  8. I love this book. possibly one of my favourite Poirot’s mystery after the Orient Express. cool review by the way!

  9. richmcd says:

    I remember seeing the ITV adaptation of this when it first came out and thinking it was the best thing I’d ever seen (in my defence, I was probably only nine)! In fact it might have been responsible for starting me reading Christie in earnest. Now that I watch it again I agree with you: it’s dull and over-serious. In fact loads of them are: the ABC murders might be the most plodding mystery adaptation I’ve seen, especially when it comes to the explanation.

    But there are good ones! I try and convince anyone that will listen that Death on the Nile is the best of the ITV episodes. That works precisely BECAUSE it’s one of the few Christies that has strong enough themes to be treated earnestly. It’s miles better than the Ustinov film, which is admittedly funnier but at the expense of actually having a point.

    • Glad someone agrees with me over the TV version! I’ll give Death On The Nile a spin next time they repeat it. It’s one of my favourite books of hers, despite having it “spoiled” by watching the Ustinov film first.

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  12. Pingback: Mrs McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

  13. Dave says:

    I always favour the earlier, pre-2002 Poirots. They are lighter and have comedic moments, mostly with how polite Poirot tries to be when he’s quietly suffering from someone else recognizes him as being famous, his immaculate style, or relations with Hastings and Japp etc. After 2002′s ‘Evil Under the Sun’, it went much darker and character-oriented. The worst of these was probably ‘Murder On the Orient Express’ when we see him almost weep at one point and pray in another. Far removed from the Hastings ‘Good Lord!’ days…

  14. Dave says:

    No, I didn’t like ‘Orient’ either. I’d recommend the feature-length ‘Dumb Witness’ or the 50-minute episodes ‘Dead Man’s Mirror’ or ‘Tragedy at Marsden Manor’.

  15. Pingback: Christmas Mourning by Andrea Frazer | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

  16. David Magady says:

    Personally, I found the solution to complex, even for Christie. I can’t see why anyone would go to the trouble of doing what the killer did

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