“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.