If you’re a book lover at Christmas, there are few things better than wrapping up in the warmth and enjoying a good read. But what to choose? 2020 marks the 100-year anniversary of the first work by Agatha Christie so, this Christmas, why not enjoy a festive tale by the Queen of Crime?
There’s only one Christie book that is explicitly set at the festive season: the rather aptly-titled Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. But there’s nothing overly festive about the story, which features one of the bloodiest murders in the author’s bibliography. It sees the wealthy and cruel Simeon Lee summon his family home for Christmas, as well as two unfamiliar faces: the son of his former business partner, and his Spanish-born granddaughter. It transpires that his intention is to change his will, and he broadcasts it in such a way as to stoke negative feelings among his children.
I wouldn’t say that Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is one of the essential Christies, but it’s a nicely constructed tale and shows that the author is at her best digging into the psychology of families
That night, Simeon is murdered, his room destroyed, and an awful scream is heard by the family. The local police superintendent is there, and he tells Poirot that Simeon told him about the theft of a quantity of diamonds from his safe. The Belgian detective investigates, and he must determine whether the murder was a reaction to the new will, an attempt to get away with the theft, or something else entirely.
I wouldn’t say that Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is one of the essential Christies, but it’s a nicely constructed tale and shows that the author is at her best digging into the psychology of families; she was clearly on a roll with the topic, as the book preceding this one was Appointment with Death, which also features a tyrannical parent. I’m still a bit unsure about one of the key clues, which is either painfully obvious or really obscure (on my first reading, I fell in the latter camp), but I do like the solution to this one. It sees Christie be a little more playful, and her more playful books are always the best reads.
Miss Marple has her own Christmas tale to share – in The Thirteen Problems, the spinster herself narrates the tale of A Christmas Tragedy
However, this novel is only half the story – Christie also penned a number of Christmas short stories. Poirot returns in ‘The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding‘, recruited to hunt for a fabulous ruby at a traditional English Christmas. There, a number of teenagers think it would be fun to arrange a false murder for Poirot to detect, but are disturbed to discover that their false victim is in fact dead. This is a fun short story with a lot going on. It’s one of her longer short form tales, giving her more room to build character. It comes in an eponymous short story collection of somewhat uneven quality, but this title tale is well worth a look.
Miss Marple has her own Christmas tale to share – in The Thirteen Problems, the spinster herself narrates the tale of ‘A Christmas Tragedy‘. Miss Marple tells the story of a festive stay at a hotel. She sees a young couple, and is convinced that the husband intends to kill his wife. There are a couple of natural deaths at the hotel, building an air of tragedy, and then the young woman is killed. The husband has a perfect alibi, but Miss Marple is certain that he is guilty and attempts to prove it. I can’t claim the story feels overly Christmassy, but it’s an effective short tale and it offers an interesting insight into the mind of this iconic Christie figure.
Not every Christmas work by Christie is a murder tale, however. In 1965, she released Star Over Bethlehem, a series of short stories and poems on the theme of Christianity. The poems do read a little Victorian now, but the two specifically Christmas ones, ‘Star Over Bethlehem’ and ‘The Naughty Donkey’, are nice and interesting. Both are linked to the birth of Jesus, with the first giving Mary a glimpse of her son’s future and the second seeing events through the eyes of a donkey. Although they’re pleasant reads, they’re a bit of an obscure Christie work, but perhaps worth seeking out if you’re a completionist.
Whether it’s one of these stories or another or her tales, an Agatha Christie work at Christmas won’t see you wrong. When she was writing, they used to be published around this time as ‘a Christie for Christmas’ so, really, you’ll just be continuing a long literary tradition if you read one yourself.