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Literature / Hercule Poirot's Christmas

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Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (published in the US as Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder) is a 1938 novel by Agatha Christie.

Old, rich and tyrannical Simeon Lee invites his entire Big, Screwed-Up Family for Christmas, leading the family members to become suspicious at this sudden display of generosity and friendship. The suspicions prove to be correct: Simeon only intends to taunt his four sons and their wives, telling them they are utter failures and hinting he is soon going to change his will. The only relative to whom he is genuinely nice is his Spanish granddaughter Pilar, whom he has met for the first time.

On Christmas Eve, sounds of a fight and a dreadful scream are heard from Simeon's locked room, and the old man is discovered lying dead in a huge pool of blood with no trace of his killer. Now the entire Lee clan, along with Stephen Farr, a son of Simeon's friend who was visiting as well, and three servants fall under suspicion. Who will solve this strange mystery? Luckily, famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is in town.

The novel was adapted in 1994 as one of Poirot episodes, released on Christmas Day, and loosely adapted in 2006 as the first episode of Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie.

The novel contains examples of:

  • Age-Gap Romance:
    • George’s wife Magdalene is young enough to be his daughter. She cheats on him, and he’s not her first older Meal Ticket.
    • Harry and Stephen are both attracted to the much younger Pilar. She ends up with Stephen.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Simeon Lee cheated on his wife left and right, and she was meek towards him and instead complained all the time to her children.
  • Beneath Suspicion: The policeman in charge of the case is the killer.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Lees all hate each other, more or less. Harry Lee is the ne'er-do-well son who ran off with some money and hasn't been seen in 20 years. David Lee cut himself off from the family because he couldn't forgive his father for how Simeon treated David's mother. Alfred's years of living under his father's thumb have left him a weakling. Alfred and George especially are pissed at Harry showing up out of nowhere and potentially claiming some of the family fortune. Daughter Jennifer, who has recently passed away, left the family home and married a Spaniard. Simeon Lee holds all his children to be disappointments.
  • Black Sheep: Years earlier, Harry got into debt and disappeared with a good chunk of the family's wealth. They consider him a failure, and he hasn't come home or gotten in touch with them except to ask for more money.
  • Blaming the Cuckold: Simeon Lee's marriage was a disaster, with Simeon constantly having affairs. Several characters, including, rather expectedly, Simeon himself, blame the fact on Mrs. Lee as well, stating she was The Eeyore who constantly sulked and complained rather than stand up to her husband, which he would have preferred.
  • Bucket Booby-Trap: A murderous variation, as the killer puts a decorative cannonball right over the door to Pilar's room, so that it will fall on her and crush her skull. She barely escapes.
  • Busman's Holiday: Come to think of it, what is Hercule Poirot doing staying with some random local police chief in northern England on Christmas Eve?
  • Christmas Episode: Poirot on a case during Christmastime. Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Continuity Nod: Colonel Johnson, the local police constable, also appears in Three Act Tragedy, and mentions that book when he reminisces with Poirot about "that Cartwright case."
  • Crappy Holidays: It certainly put a damper on things when Simeon is found brutally murdered on Christmas Eve. Pilar expresses disappointment that she didn't get to see an English Christmas with tree decorating and a Yule log and such, to which Stephen answers that for that stuff you need "a Christmas uncomplicated by murder."
  • Creepy Uncle: Downplayed with Harry Lee, who is very attracted to Pilar and sadly remarks that "pity one can’t marry one’s niece". The girl isn’t his niece, as it turns out. She ends up with Stephen, who also believed himself to be her uncle (well, half-uncle).
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Pilar and Stephen Farr are both impostors, who opportunistically decided to take the identities of Simeon Lee's granddaughter and his best friend's son.
  • Dedication: The book is dedicated to James Watts, Christie's brother-in-law, who complained that her murders are becoming "too refined" and wanted a story with a "good violent murder with lots of blood."
  • Detective Mole: Superintendent Sugden of the local police, the investigating officer (with Poirot tagging along in his usual way) turns out to be the killer.
  • Dirty Old Man: Simeon Lee makes lecherous remarks towards his daughters-in-law and happily recalls his youthful exploits at every opportunity.
  • Doting Grandparent: Simeon Lee genuinely likes his granddaughter. It helps that they share an adventurous streak and she enjoys his company too. He never finds out she was an impostor.
  • The Dutiful Son: Alfred is the only son of Simeon’s who lives and puts up with his father. Lampshaded all the time by Harry, who compares Alfred’s dislike of him to the original dutiful son’s irritation about the prodigal son getting welcomed.
  • Dramatic Drop: Horbury the valet dramatically drops a coffee cup when Tressilian tells him that a policeman is coming by. It turns out that Horbury is a blackmailer but it's a red herring.
  • Fair Cop: Superintendent Sugden is very handsome. He takes after his father Simeon Lee.
  • Foreign Fanservice: Pilar’s exotic allure, a breath of air amongst all the British Stuffiness, is commented upon by several male characters. Most of whom are her close relatives, which is just one of the signs of how screwed up this Big, Screwed-Up Family is. She’s revealed to be unrelated to them, but only in the end.
  • Foreshadowing: Simeon, who is a gross old creep, can't help but boast about how he had a lot of women back in the day and how his legitimate sons are a disappointment but he probably has more sons "born on the other side of the blanket." In fact he has two illegitimate sons dropping by for Christmas.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Alfred is Phlegmatic, George is Choleric, Harry is Sanguine and David is Melancholic.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Stephen and Conchita decide to get married after less than a week of knowing each other, and less than a day after learning each other's true identities.
  • Gold Digger: He says it without malice but Stephen actually calls Pilar a "gold-digger" for her tactic of flattering her grandfather and getting into his confidence. Pilar is unapologetic, saying that "The world is very cruel to women" and they have to strike when they're young and pretty because "When they are old and ugly no one will help them."
  • Has a Type: Pilar freely admits she likes big, strong men of an adventurous character, and she greatly enjoys the company of Stephen and Harry, both of whom fit the description. She marries Stephen in the end.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Pilar frequently wonders why the English don't seem to be "gay" at Christmastime.
  • Impersonation-Exclusive Character:
    • Pilar Estravados is revealed to have been killed a while ago. Her Thrill Seeker friend impersonates her in the novel.
    • Stephen Farr died two years previously. The character introduced under that name is actually Stephen Grant, Simeon Lee’s illegitimate son.
  • Inspector Lestrade: Subverted. Superintendent Sugden, while not stupid, seems like he is the standard police inspector character in Agatha Christie novels who asks all the wrong questions and accepts the easy answers while Poirot is the clever one who figures everything out. This is all averted in the end when Sugden is exposed as the killer.
  • Locked Room Mystery: Simeon’s room is locked, with a mess and a bloodbath inside, and there is no evidence of how the killer could have left it unnoticed. It is revealed the murder was committed much earlier than everyone thought – the mess and the dying scream were triggered by the killer pulling a string through the window, and the scream was really the sound of a rubber balloon that came from a prank gift shop and was called "The Dying Pig".
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Alfred, George, David, Harry, and the late Jennifer Lee. Plus their half-brothers Stephen Grant and Superintendent Sugden.
  • Momma's Boy: David worshipped his mother and hates his father for driving her to an early grave. Don’t ever suggest to him that maybe she was also at fault in the marital problems.
  • Moving Beyond Bereavement: In the end, David decides to finally come to terms with the loss of his mother, after decades of dwelling on it.
  • Murder in the Family: Most of the suspects for Simeon Lee’s murder are his relatives and in-laws. The murderer is Simeon’s son Superintendent Sugden.
  • Ms. Red Ink: George's wife Magdalene, who has expensive tastes that are causing her husband stress, since George lives on an allowance from his father (despite being a Member of Parliament).
    David: Magdalene, I fancy, is a bit of a spender—she has extravagant tastes.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: Pilar hid amid a set of dimly-lit statues to disguise her presence at the crime scene.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Turns out that the girl who posed as Pilar isn't, in fact, niece to Harry and Stephen. She and Stephen get married.
  • Old Retainer: Tressilian the butler has faithfully worked for the Lees for over forty years. His eyesight has deteriorated to the point that he can barely tell Harry, Stephen, and Superintendent Sugden apart. Because Simeon is the father of all three.
  • Parenting the Husband: David looks for a mother-figure in his wife Hilda, which enrages her, as she feels she is a mother to him rather than a wife.
  • Shared Family Quirks: Simeon Lee's sons share their father's habit of throwing their heads back when laughing and stroking the chin. Including his bastard son from South Africa, and his bastard son who joined the police force....
  • Shout-Out: When the family sees the murder scene with Simeon on the floor and blood splashed all over the room, Lydia is theatrical enough to quote a line from Macbeth: "Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?"
  • Spicy Latina: An Old World variation with Pilar, an attractive, vivacious, passionate Spanish woman.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Simeon Lee and his sons resemble each other a lot, so that the old butler Tressilian can get confused between them. Simeon’s illegitimate sons also take after their father.
  • Summation Gathering: In standard Christie style, as Poirot tells everybody how they could have done it and uncovers some secrets (like the two different characters that are impersonating dead people) before naming the killer.
    Poirot: I wish to share with everyone the knowledge that I have acquired.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole: Simeon Lee is a mean, selfish old millionaire who likes to play mind games with his family. When he was younger he was a serial adulterer who basically rubbed his wife's face in it until she became a Broken Bird. He freely insults his sons. He makes a special point of gathering everyone together, on Christmas Eve no less, to tell them all that they're all worthless and he's cutting them out of his will.