Agatha Christie published this book in 1938. But the story is timeless. Other than a brief mention of events in another part of the world, one could easily assume that this was a contemporary novel.
Simeon Lee, the patriarch of a family of four, insists that each of his children come home for Christmas. But don’t think that he plans on playing “happy families”. His intentions are the complete opposite. He does everything to goad each of his children by insulting them and denying their petty grievances and long-held grudges. Before the first Christmas cracker is even pulled, he’s found bludgeoned to death in his locked bedroom.
When the Chief Constable of Middleshire receives a call about the murder, he asks Poirot, who is spending Christmas with him, to come along while he investigates. Poirot’s ability to stand back, observe and listen is his forte. It’s not his “little grey cells” (who aren’t even mentioned), that allow him to understand the “human condition”, but his powers of observation. And it’s always that one word, or gesture, or look that, when observed by Poirot, seals the fate of the murderer.
A more clever mystery you won’t find. There’s a reason that Agatha Christie is known as “The Queen of Crime” and this novel says it all.
Wilson’s second attempt at using the “real” Agatha Christie as a sleuth in her own right is not as successful as his first (A Talent for Murder), in my opinion. But then the premise of the first novel was unique and leant itself to a very interesting story.
In this novel, Agatha is “hired” to investigate a death in the Canary Islands, and here she encounters many odd and eccentric characters. I had to constantly remind myself that this was fiction and to suspend my disbelief. I kept getting caught up with the fact that surely these people, and especially Agatha Christie, just wouldn’t act the way that they were (not that I have any personal insights into Christie’s character, whatsoever). I’d like to think that they would have put a stop to the horribly repugnant things that were happening to some of the residents of the island and not simply hope that someone else would intervene.
This certainly coloured my opinion of the story and although a few surprises were revealed, the story arc was quite predictable.
Wilson will have to do a lot better if I’m to read any further books in this series.
In December of 1926 Agatha Christie went missing from her home in Styles, England. For eleven days the police scoured the countryside for any clues as to what had befallen her. Had she committed suicide? It was well known that since the death of her mother some months previously, Christie had been depressed and had developed writer’s block. Her depression was further intensified by the marital problems that she was having at the time. Had she somehow been injured? Or, most dreadful thought of all, had she been murdered and done away with?
While using the known facts of the case, Wilson has created a story that gives us another possibility for her disappearance. As Agatha, herself relates the events, we learn that her disappearance was orchestrated by someone wanting her to commit a murder for him. Who better to do this than the Queen of Crime? And what was the hold that he had on her in order to coerce her to do this? Blackmail and threats of harm to her family! So how could she not do what he was forcing her to? Agatha must use the same ability that creates the clever plots in her mystery stories to make this personal story end well.
Christie never talked about her disappearance and makes no mention of it in her autobiography so we’ll never know what really happened. To my way of thinking, Wilson’s story is as plausible as any of the other explanations that were bandied about during the winter of 1926.
Who wouldn’t be excited to read a new Hercule Poirot mystery? Well, don’t hold your breath with this one. I’m still trying to decide if it was written as a joke as it was so appallingly awful. It read like an old English farce (a comedy that aims at entertaining the audience through situations that are highly exaggerated, extravagant, and thus improbable)*, and a bad one at that. Even the names of some of the characters are reminiscent of this art form, e.g.: “Lady Playford”, “Catchpool”, “Shrimp Seddon”.
It all begins with Poirot’s invitation to the Irish estate of Lady Athelinda Playford, the famous children’s author. Along with Poirot, Lady Playford has invited Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard. Neither of these men knows why they have been invited and Lady Playford is not at all forthcoming in explaining her reasons to either of them. Yes, a murder does take place but it is so preposterous as to be almost laughable. The plot is convoluted (Lady Playford, herself, uses this term to describe the plots of her children’s novels!), confusing, and at times makes no sense at all and the characters have no reasonable motivation for what they do or say in many instances.
Poirot is held in such high esteem in Agatha Christie’s novels. Here – not at all.
In fact, his reputation as a brilliant detective isn’t even acknowledged, nor is he even given a chance to show what he can do. But then, the occasional “mon ami”, and a reference to “grey cells” do NOT a Poirot make!
Give this one a miss. Otherwise it’s a couple of hours that you’ll never get back!