A Holiday for Murder
by Agatha Christie

Review by
Jennifer Monroe Franson

a Hercule Poirot mystery

as Hercule Poirot's Christmas
Collins: London, 1939
251 pages

as Murder for Christmas
Dodd, Mead: New York, 1939

as A Holiday for Murder
Avon: New York, 1947

Bantam: New York: 1962

November 2011


Hercule Poirot leaned back in his chair. He joined his fingertips. He studied his host thoughtfully. He murmured: "It is, then, your opinion that Christmas time is an unlikely season for crime?"

"That's what I said."


"Why? ... Well, as I've just said — season of good cheer and all that!"

Hercule Poirot murmured: "The British, they are so sentimental!"

The set-up of A Holiday for Murder is classic Agatha Christie: the ill-assorted members of the wealthy and dysfunctional Lee family have gathered in an English country house, summoned by the unpleasant family patriarch to celebrate Christmas together. The family includes Alfred, the dutiful eldest son, pathetically eager to please his tyrannical father; Alfred's intelligent, aristocratic wife Lydia; pompous, penny-pinching George and his expensive, ex-model wife Magdalene; handsome prodigal son Harry; sensitive David, an artist obsessed with the memory of his wronged mother; David's level-headed wife Hilda; and the exotic Pilar, Simeon Lee's half-Spanish granddaughter. (Indeed, fans of Christie's other famous detective, Miss Marple, will be reminded of the equally dysfunctional Crackenthorpe family in 4:50 from Paddington.) When the son of his old South African business partner turns up unexpectedly, Simeon Lee adds a further twist by insisting that he join the family party for Christmas.

With his family gathered around him for the holiday, it quickly becomes clear that fostering good will is not what Simeon Lee has in mind; instead, he amuses himself by needling his sons and their wives and stoking the simmering resentments between them. As a crowning act of malice, he arranges for all of them to overhear his telephone conversation with his solicitor about drawing up a new will.

This web of family conflicts and family secrets soon leads to bloodshed. The tension and mutual antagonism come to a head when an inhuman scream and the crashing of furniture in a locked room announce a Christmas Eve marred by murder most violent. The ensuing investigation teams Police Superintendent Sugden — on the scene almost immediately after the crime — with Hercule Poirot, who happens to be spending the Christmas holiday with the Chief Constable of the county. Their researches reveal, in the best Christie tradition, that several members of the family are not quite what they seem, and almost all have something to hide.

Although the Christmas holiday gives Simeon Lee a pretext for summoning his family, the date otherwise plays little part in the mystery; Christie could have set the novel at any other season without serious injury to the plot. The setting, however, does allow her to explore what might be seen as the negative side of the holidays; she has Poirot point out that Christmas, with its abundance of indigestion-inducing foods and its pressure on people to appear amiable and high-minded, may actually intensify stress and encourage strife. Whether its seasonal backdrop is integral or incidental to the plot, however, A Holiday for Murder makes a satisfying addition to the roster of Christmas-themed mysteries.


© 2011 Jennifer Monroe Franson

Detection at Troynovant
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