|21-02-11, 10:39 PM||#1|
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Agatha Christie - Hercule Poirot's Christmas
Hercule Poirot's Christmas
When multi-millionaire Simeon Lee unexpectedly invites his family to gather at his home for Christmas, the gesture is met with suspicion by many of the guests. Simeon is not given to family sentiment, and not all of the family are on good terms with one another. To make things worse, he has invited the black sheep of the family, Harry, and Simeon’s granddaughter, Pilar, whom none of them has ever met before. Simeon is intent on playing a deadly and sadistic game with his family. An unexpected guest – Stephen Farr, son of Simeon Lee's former partner in the diamond mines – means that the house is full of potential suspects when the game turns deadly.
It is Christmas Eve and everyone in the house hears the crashing of furniture, followed by a wailing and hideous scream. When they get to Simeon Lee's room, they find it locked and they have to break the door down. When they finally get through the door, they find heavy furniture overturned and Simeon Lee dead, his throat slit, in a great pool of blood. Superintendent Sugden notices Pilar Estravados pick up something from the floor. She tries to conceal what she picked up, but when pressed, opens her hand to show a small bit of rubber and a small object made of wood.
Superintendent Sugden explains that he is in the house by prior arrangement with the victim, who confided to him the theft of a substantial quantity of uncut diamonds from his safe. When Poirot is called in to investigate, there are therefore several main problems: who killed the victim? How was the victim killed inside a locked room? Was the murder connected to the theft of the diamonds? And what is the significance of the small triangle of rubber and the peg that Sugden is able to provide when reminded by Poirot of the clue that had been picked up by Pilar?
Poirot’s investigation explores the nature of the victim – a methodical and vengeful man – and the way that these characteristics come out in his children. He seems focused on the idea that one of the immediate family is the murderer. When the butler mentions his confusion about the identities of the house guests, Poirot realizes that the four legitimate sons may not be the only heirs of Simeon’s temperament.
The final major clue is dropped by Pilar, who while playing with balloons lets slip that what she found on the floor must also have been a balloon. She knows more than she realises, not least because she was hiding outside the room in which the murder was committed. Poirot warns her to be careful, but it is only by chance that she is not killed by a cannon ball trap set above her bedroom door.
In the denouement of the novel Poirot is able to unmask several characters: Pilar is an imposter who was with Simeon’s grand daughter when she died because of a bomb attack, and Stephen Farr is revealed to be an illegitimate son. Neither, however, is the murderer. The real killer committed the murder earlier and prepared the room with all the furniture piled up and a long cord hanging out of the window. The final touch was a “Dying Pig” toy: a rubber bladder that was rigged to provide the apparent death-scream as the furniture fell. The room had to be locked in order that the carefully staged room would not be entered and discovered.
The only person able to release the piled furniture from outside the house was also the last person supposed to have seen the victim alive: Superintendent Sugden. He was yet another illegitimate son of the victim, who used a fictitious theft of the diamonds to trick Simeon into opening the safe and then killed him. A bottle of animal blood, prevented from clotting by the addition of sodium citrate, was used to dress the scene and create the impression that the murder had taken place much later. Crucially, Sugden had intended to recover the incriminating “Dying Pig” toy before it was noticed, but once Poirot had learned of it, he had to provide a faked clue, physically similar, in order to protect the means by which the murder was committed.
At the end of the book two of the imposters - Pilar and Stephen – marry. Colonel Johnson, stunned by the loss of his best policeman, perhaps speaks for the reader when he asks “What’s the police coming to?”.
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