Welcome back, as we delve into the Agatha Christie Top Ten. I’m going to go one at a time from here on out, since hopefully I’ll have plenty to say about each book. (The last five reviews are here, or check out the complete list.)
Hercule Poirot #19
Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?
If there’s one Christie that remains an icon of my childhood, it is Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. Long before I knew who David Suchet was, or the intricacies of Christie’s career, I’d seen Suchet’s film adaptation, and knew this plot like the back of my hand. The onerous old man upstairs, the miniature gardens, that horrifying pig-like squeal… it all comes back to me as clear as the first night I watched that film.
Of course, the other side of that coin is that I know the book too well: to me, the clues stand out glaringly (as they did when I rewatched the Suchet film last Christmas), and yet I doubt this would be the case for new readers. In short, the biggest problem with doing a Christie Top Ten? Biases you can’t even begin to compensate for.
The premise is pretty standard, really: Poirot is invited – nay, commanded – to the home of a grotesque partriarch in the week before Christmas, only to be called back later that night when one of the family has been murdered. Both Simeon Lee and his nervous adult children are very well-drawn; the country house – filled with bedrooms and conservatories – is perfectly mapped out, allowing for each clue to neatly fit into the larger jigsaw puzzle. The final denouement is undoubtedly beyond our grasp – one element of the murder is an obscure novelty, for instance – but it still works. And the biggest clue – as in At Bertram’s Hotel – has pervaded the entire novel, masquerading as ambience the whole time.
At this stage of the game, there really aren’t any flaws. Poirot has had stronger examples of characterisation, but he makes up for it towards novel’s end, as his passion and anger get the better of him. Beautiful.
[US titles: Murder for Christmas and then A Holiday for Murder. Again, I understand they wanted to sensationalise the books, but that second title – beyond not making any sense – is simply dreadful.]
Rating: a biased 9.5/10
Poirot ranking: 6th out of 38
Next time: Poirot hunts a sadistic serial killer in a dynamite thriller.