Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?
James Watts, Agatha Christie’s brother-in-law, complained that her murders were getting too anaemic. He wanted a “good violent murder with lots of blood”, so she wrote Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and dedicated it to him.
The 1938 novel is classic Christie and finds her at the height of her powers as she serves up not only a very bloody murder scene but a locked room puzzle as well.
But fear not, it’s still a cosy mystery. Here’s how she describes the crime scene:
There had clearly been a terrific struggle. Heavy furniture was overturned. China vases lay splintered on the floor. In the middle of the hearthrug in front of the blazing fire lay Simeon Lee in a great pool of blood…Blood was splashed all round. The place was like a shambles.
So much for the violence. Christie emphasizes the blood by quoting the Shakespeare line several more times throughout the novel.
The victim is a most disagreeable Simeon Lee, the old patriarch of a rather disagreeable family. He invites all his children and their spouses to his home for the Christmas holiday, not so much to celebrate but to torture them and watch their faces. He lets them know that he’s preparing a new will, but before he can do that, he’s murdered. On Christmas Eve.
One of the remarkable things about this novel is that I had never read it previously. I thought I had read all the Hercule Poirot novels in my youth, but somehow this one slipped past me, so yesterday I rectified that, and I read the whole book in one day, something I haven’t done in a long time. But it’s a great Christie page turner. And I was certain that I had at least part of it figured out, but Christie misdirected me again.
Then I made the mistake of watching the television adaptation in the evening. It was part of the Poirot series, and there was absolutely no blood at all in the show. Oh, well, it was a family series. But the adapter also removed several characters, presumably to make way for more Poirot and to add Christmas carols which were missing from Christie’s book. It had the effect of making the mystery a bit less mysterious, and the denouement was spread out over two locations (for dramatic effect?) which just dragged the proceedings out. Oh, and there was a prologue that took place 40 years in the past that introduced characters and incidents that were not in the novel. Plus, everyone was running around wishing everyone else a merry Christmas whereas in Christie’s book, they felt the situation was a bit too grim for that. All in all, not one of the better adaptations of Christie source material.
But if you are a Christie fan and haven’t read Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, I can heartily recommend it. It’s also been published as Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder here in the states.
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