For those looking for a prolific writer whose works are always in season, Agatha Christie should be on the top of your list. You won’t run out of books to read quickly — they are fun to revisit even if you have read them some time ago, and she even has a holiday tale. . . .
Known by several titles since its original publication in 1938, Agatha Christie’s A Holiday for Murder (aka Hercule Poirot’s Christmas or Murder for Christmas) has been delighting fans of classic murder mysteries for decades.
Simeon Lee is an unpleasant old man. He is also a very rich old man, which might explain why his timid son Alfred and Alfred’s long-suffering wife Lydia tolerate his meanness. They’ve lived with Simeon for years, despite his cruelty and the savage way he treated his late wife.
The rest of the family long ago figured out their own escape, whether it was fleeing to London for a political career like stingy George, becoming an artist and renouncing all family ties like the sensitive David, running away to Spain to get married like free-spirited Jennifer, or just absconding to parts unknown like the family’s wild child Harry.
But for Christmas, Simeon has summoned all of his sons (and their wives) back home, as well as the late Jennifer’s daughter Pilar. Also popping in is the son of his former business partner back in South Africa. It almost looks like the old man wants to make amends for the holidays, but anyone who assumes that just doesn’t know Simeon very well. . . .
I first read this Agatha Christie classic several years ago when I was in the middle of binging her books. I didn’t exactly remember the plot, but I did remember enjoying it. Having reread it, I can confirm that it’s a fun read if you like classic mysteries, a la Agatha Christie.
Her strength as a writer never was crafting realistic crime stories. If you want that, you need to look elsewhere. But if you want a fun witty mystery that doubles as a brainteaser, she’s perfect, and this book is no exception.
Christie tended to write her characters as broad character types–mean old man, adventurous rogue, etc.–but she writes them so well that it doesn’t really matter that they are not more complex and fully fleshed out.
What she makes up for in regard to characterization is an overall insight into the human mind and especially human interactions. I have always felt that Dame Agatha was at her best not when her characters are uncovering clues or figuring out the murderer but in depicting domestic life that has gone horribly wrong. To that end, the Lees’ dysfunction is darkly funny and believable and the highlight of the book for me.
This is a mystery that features Hercule Poirot as the detective–he is conveniently celebrating Christmas nearby–but it doesn’t seem as much like a Hercule Poirot book as some of the others I have read. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good mystery. My armchair detective skills in correctly guessing the murderer are pretty well developed, but this one kept me guessing until the end, even though I had read the book before, and the reveal at the end still made sense and didn’t feel like cheating.
One thing that does set this book apart from many of Christie’s other works is how savage the crime is. It’s not a spoiler to say that Simeon Lee ends up dead, with multiple suspects afoot, but the manner in which he does die–with his throat cut–is pretty brutal for a mystery of this type. Usually, it’s a more tame poisoning or a much more polite bludgeoning with a lot less blood. That being said, it’s still nowhere near as disturbing or graphic as the murders in many more contemporary mysteries.
If you’re a fan of these types of mysteries, you have likely already read this one. But if you haven’t or you are looking for a seasonably appropriate mystery, it doesn’t get much better than A Holiday for Murder by whatever you want to call it.
*Audiobook also available on Libby.
Recommended for those who enjoy Arthur Conan Doyle, John Dickson Carr, C. Alan Bradley, and Georges Simenon.
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Do you like a good mystery? Who is your favorite mystery writer? What is your favorite Agatha Christie book? Tell us in the comments!