12 December 2011

Christie at Christmas

I have chosen 4 Christie stories to highlight at this time of the year.
In general Christmas is not a time when Christie's sleuths were active and we must assume that they, like the general population of readers, celebrated Christmas without a lot of interruption by murder or theft.

As Christmas approaches we look forward to a season of happiness and festivity but the season is dampened when a death occurs.

THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY was actually first published (1931) in the US under the title of THE MURDER AT HAZELMOOR.

Christmas is approaching. Snow has fallen in England over the last four days and the landscape on the fringe of Dartmoor at Sittaford House is several feet deep in snow. To all intents and purposes the tiny village of Sittaford is almost completely cut off.
The winter tenants of Sittaford House, Mrs Willett and her daughter Violet, are entertaining the residents of the nearby estate cottages to afternoon tea. To pass the time the group tries a spot of table turning. When the table spells out the message "Captain Trevelyan ... dead... murder", one of the party, Trevelyan's lifelong friend Major Burnaby decides to make the six mile trek into the village on foot, just to check his friend's welfare.

All of the people who were in Sittaford House that afternoon have something to hide, and so the story is rather liberally sprinkled with red herrings, and with sub-plots, including a breakout from a nearby prison on Dartmoor which reminded me a bit of the plot from Dickens' GREAT EXPECTATIONS. There is a basic assumption that the murderer had either to be from Sittaford House itself or from one of the cottages. Christie plays a little with the reader through the dual investigations, and it means that we don't actually have all of the facts at our disposal.

In HERCULE POIROT'S CHRISTMAS (1938) Simeon Lee gathers his family around him for Christmas, including his black sheep of a son Harry, whom everyone had assumed (or hoped) was either dead or in gaol somewhere. His granddaughter Pilar, whose mother had died the previous year, turns up as does the son of his old mining partner in South Africa.

On Christmas Eve Simeon Lee signs his death warrant by telling his collected family that he is about to change his will.
    "Your mother had the brains of a louse! And it seems to me that she transmitted those brains to her children!". He raised himself up suddenly. A red spot appeared on each cheek. His voice came high and shrill. "You're not worth a penny piece, any of you!  I'm sick of you all! You are not men! You're weaklings - a set of nanmby-pamby weaklings. Pilar's worth any two of you put together! I'll swear to heaven I've got a better son somewhere in the world than any of you, even if you are born on the right side of the blanket. "
This is a locked room mystery. There are plenty of suspects. Simeon Lord is found with his throat cut on the other side of a door with the key on the inside.

The third story is a Miss Marple from THE THIRTEEN PROBLEMS, a collection of short stories published in January 1930. The story is called A Christmas Tragedy.

While visiting Keston Spa Hydro, Miss Marple meets Mr and Mrs Sanders. Certain that Mr Sanders plans to kill his wife, Miss Marple does everything she can to protect the innocent woman. Despite Miss Marple’s best efforts poor Mrs Sanders is killed but her husband has an alibi – could the amateur sleuth have made a mistake? Could Miss Marple have prevented the murder?

The short story collection WHILE THE LIGHT LASTS contains a story, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, about a stolen ruby. This was published in a number of short story collections and was also titled A Christmas Adventure.

When a priceless ruby, belonging to a Far Eastern prince, is stolen from him whilst he is on a visit to England, Poirot is asked to make a quiet investigation. The ruby was destined for the prince’s bride-to-be and a scandal must be avoided.

Do you have a favourite Christie that you read at Christmas?

Have I missed any Christie stories related to Christmas?

2 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - Thanks for posting these stories. I've always liked The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, as much for the atmosphere as for anything else, and I don't know that it's one of Christie's better-known stories...

Bella said...

I like to read Murder on the Orient Express this time of the year. It's not particularly christmasy but it has a lot of snow :)

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