For a story which spans just seven days, Agatha Christie’s “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas” feels a little long-winded. It takes a long time before the inevitable murder of old Simeon Lee – described by Christie as a “good violent murder with lots of blood”, in her preface – on the third day on Christmas Eve, and thereafter it also takes a long time before the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot unravels the mystery. At first glance it appears to be a case where “a man is killed in a locked room by some apparently supernatural agency”, though it quickly becomes apparent that the murderer is someone from within the household. As Poirot concluded: “There is a case against every person here”.
The plot moreover, is a tad formulaic. The police officers drew up a possible list of suspects, before accounting for their whereabouts during the crime, their corresponding alibis, as well as their possibilities, opportunities, and motives. Yet even with these “facts”, the Belgian detective explained the need to take the perspective of Lee himself, to think of the “psychologically possible criminals”. Guided by two inadvertent clues, he went on, he had to make sense of three things: the violent struggle within the room, the turned key from the outside, and the snip of rubber.
In the words of Lydia Lee, summarising Poirot’s ability to make sense of these: “Like when you finish a jigsaw puzzle and all the queer-shaped bits you swear won’t fit in anywhere find their places quite naturally”.
The slow pacing and the predictable plot progression, however, is made up for by a surprise resolution, which is turn is made possible by the foreshadowing and the red herrings – trademarks of Christie – peppered from the get-go: the interactions between foreigners Pilar Estravados and Stephen Farr in the train carriage, Lee speaking of “still some fun to be got out of life” while ruffling through his uncut diamonds and him giving his children a dressing-down just before Christmas Day, and the initial conversation between Poiriot and Colonel Johnson, on the subject of Christmastime as a likely season for crime, of the strain when “families who have been separated throughout the year, assemble once more together”. These clues may only make sense in retrospect, but they find their places, quite naturally.