I read this book as part of my church’s amazing book club, “Dusty Tomes”. It was our selection over the holidays, where many of us would be busy, running around, and likely stressed out enough as it is. So why not a charming holiday mystery novel?
And this book did not disappoint. It was my first Agatha Christie mystery ever, and it was so delightful and fun. It was all the things I imagined such a book would be in its psychology, humor, whimsy, and mid 20th-century sense of propriety and scandal.
She wrote this after receiving criticisms that her murders were getting to tame and understated, so she decided to give us a very bloody mess indeed. She obviously had a good time writing this. To wit: the original title for the novel was “Murder for Christmas”.
This book explores the Lee family, which is full of all the characters you would imagine: the dutiful son, the romantic mother’s boy, the prodigal rogue, and their various wives and relations. They’ve all arrived for Christmas at their family home led by the Scroogely, spiteful, and curmudgeonly family patriarch, Simeon Lee. It is in this setting that the crime in question unfolds with Christie’s most famous detective, Hercule Poirot.
Again, this was my first Christie novel and so it was also my first time with Poirot himself. He was not what I expected. He is not a Sherlock Holmes-style show-off who explains his every step and thought process. Nor is he the Columbo-style unassuming bumbling drunken master sort of detective.
Rather, I found him to be much more of a quiet observer than an aggressive investigator. He is humorously arrogant and confident in his abilities, but is still funny, jovial, and personable throughout. And the inevitable final gathering of all the suspects where Poirot explains all his reasoning and revelations does not disappoint in its panache and revelatory glee.
So does Christie stick the landing? Almost entirely yes. There are a lot of red herrings along the way, and a couple of the turns seem a little overly clever, but overall they work; all the pieces stick together, and you see the bread crumbs that led to that end, as in any good mystery. You are left with a smile on your face and an “of course!” on your lips.
In fact, this novel feels like the most direct inspiration for Rian Johnson’s original “Knives Out” film. So if you enjoyed the quirky nature of that film–sitting with a mystery that slowly pulls on various threads and clues, and spending time with a properly dysfunctional wealthy family–then this is your book.
Another reason we chose this book was that meany of us would be traveling for the holidays and a book like this lends itself well to audiobook listening on the road, which my wife and I did. It is a very easy listen with a most delightful British narrator. I also highly recommend reading/listening to this with someone else so you can put your brains together and discuss clues. It adds a lot to the fun.
I’m genuinely sad to be leaving this family I feel I’ve gotten to know so well through the course of this book. But the good news is that Poirot has many more pages wherein I can spend with him–and I’m sure I will. And if you’ve never read a Christie mystery, this us a great place to start. Merry Christmas!