Hercule Poirot's Christmas is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 19 December 1938 (although the first edition is copyright dated 1939). It retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6).
It was published in US by Dodd, Mead and Company in February 1939 under the title of Murder for Christmas. This edition retailed at $2.00. A paperback edition in the US by Avon books in 1947 changed the title again to A Holiday for Murder. The book features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and is a locked room mystery.
- 1 Plot introduction
- 2 Summary
- 3 Characters
- 4 Major themes
- 5 Literary significance and reception
- 6 References to other works
- 7 Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
- 8 Publication history
- 9 International titles
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 sadistic game with his family's emotions. 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.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
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 it, 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 victim's nature; he was methodical and vengeful, and the way these characteristics come out in his children. When the butler mentions his confusion about the identities of the house guests, Poirot realizes that the four legitimate sons may not be Simeon's only sons. The final major clue is dropped by Pilar, who, while playing with balloons and one bursts, lets slip that what she found on the floor must also have been a balloon. She knows more than she realizes, as Poirot warns her. She is later almost killed in a murder attempt by the killer.
The killer is Superintendent Sugden. Sugden was another illegitimate child of Simeon Lee, from the latter's days in Africa. Sugden hated the man who abandoned his mother and took his revenge. The diamonds had nothing to do with the motive for the murder. The "small bit of rubber and a small object made of wood" found by Pilar were not the same as the "small triangle of rubber and the peg" that Sugden reluctantly shows Poirot, as Sugden had switched them in order to muddy the waters.
This is the only full-length Christie novel in which a policeman, much less the investigating detective, is the guilty party; although in the short story, The Man in the Mist, a policeman, the victim's long-lost husband from decades earlier, also turns out to have been the murderer.
Gorston Hall and the Lees
- Simeon Lee, an old millionaire
- Alfred Lee, Simeon's son
- Lydia Lee, Alfred's wife
- George Lee, Simeon's son
- Magdalene Lee, George's wife
- David Lee, Simeon's son
- Hilda Lee, David's wife
- Harry Lee, Simeon's son
- Pilar Estravados, Simeon's only granddaughter
- Stephen Farr, son of Simeon's former business partner
- Sydney Horbury - Simeon's valet
- Edward Tressilian - butler
- Other members of the Gorston Hall domestic staff
- Other members of the Lee family tree
- Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective
- Colonel Johnson, Chief Constable
- Superintendent Sugden, the investigating police officer
Like Appointment with Death (1938) before it, this is a novel in which the victim is depicted as a sadistic tyrant whose characteristics are mirrored or distorted in the next generation. This theme arises in Christie’s work at the end of the 1930s, enabling her characters to explore the psychology of inheritance in later works such as Crooked House (1949) and Ordeal by Innocence (1958).
In some editions, the novel is headed by an epigraph from Macbeth that appears repeatedly in the novel itself: "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?"
Literary significance and reception
Maurice Percy Ashley in the Times Literary Supplement (17 December 1938) had a complaint to make after summarising the plot: "Mrs Christie's detective stories tend to follow a pattern. First, there is always a group of suspects each of whom has something to conceal about his or her past; second, there is a generous use of coincidence in the circumstances of the crime; third, there is a concession to sentiment which does not necessarily simplify the solution. Mrs Christie makes one departure here from her recent practice, as she explains in her dedicatory foreword. The complaint had been uttered that her murders were getting too refined – anaemic, in fact. So this is 'a good violent murder with lots of blood.' But there is, on the other hand, another departure from Mrs Christie's earlier stories which must be regretted. M. Poirot in his retirement is becoming too much of a colourless expert. One feels a nostalgic longing for the days when he baited his 'good friend' and butt, Hastings, when he spoke malaprop English and astonished strangers by his intellectual arrogance."
In The New York Times Book Review (12 February 1939), Isaac Anderson concluded, "Poirot has solved some puzzling mysteries in his time, but never has his mighty brain functioned more brilliantly than in Murder for Christmas".
In The Observer of 18 December 1938, "Torquemada" (Edward Powys Mathers) finished his review by stating defensively, "'Is Hercule Poirot's Christmas' a major Christie? I think it is, and that in spite of a piece of quite irrelevant tortuosity in the matter of the bewitching Pilar Estravados, and in spite of the fact that the business of the appalling shriek will probably make no mystery for the average reader. The main thing, is, surely that Agatha Christie once more abandonedly dangles the murderer before our eyes and successfully defies us to see him. I am sure that some purists will reverse my decision on the ground that the author to get her effect, has broken what they consider to be one of the major rules of detective writing; but I hold that in a Poirot tale it should be a case of caveat lector, and that the rules were not made for Agatha Christie."
E.R. Punshon of The Guardian, in his 13 January 1939 review wrote that Poirot, "by careful and acute reasoning is able to show that a convincing case can be made out against all the members of the family till the baffled reader is ready to believe them all guilty in turn and till Poirot in one of his famous confrontation scenes indicates who is, in fact, the culprit. In this kind of detective novel, depending almost entirely for its interest on accuracy of logical deduction from recorded fact and yet with the drama played out by recognisable human beings, Mrs. Christie remains supreme. One may grumble…that she depends a little too much upon coincidence and manufactured effect…but how small are such blemishes compared with the brilliance of the whole conception!"
Robert Barnard: "Welcome interruption to the festive season as mischievous old patriarch, tyrant and sinner gets his desserts. Magnificently clued."
References to other works
The character of Colonel Johnson previously appeared in Three Act Tragedy (1935) and here he mentions that case in Part 3, section v of the novel.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Agatha Christie's Poirot
The story was adapted for television in 1994 as episode 1 of series 6 of ITV's Agatha Christie's Poirot with David Suchet in the lead role. The adaptation is generally faithful to the novel, although some characters have been left out.
Petits meurtres en famille
An adaptation in French was made by Escazal Films for the France 2 network. Entitled Petits meurtres en famille, this was a miniseries in four episodes of 90 minutes each. It was directed by Edwin Baily with screenplay by Anne Giafferi and Murielle Magellan and was broadcast in France from 14 November 2006 to 5 December 2006. This adaptation replaced Poirot by a duet of newly created characters Larosière and Lampion and is set in the north of France in the 1930s. Mathew Prichard himself, grandson of Agatha Christie, was quoted by Télérama as calling it the best TV adaptation he had seen.
Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie
Escazal Films followed on the success of their first adaptation with another one, as part of Season 2 of their series Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie Broadcast in 2018, this was entitled Meurtres en solde and set in the north of France in the 1950s and featured another new set of investigators, commissaire Laurence, his secretary Marlene and journalist Alice Avril. This adaptation retains some of the premises of the original but is unique in being set around October and not having a Christmas theme.
BBC Radio 4 adaptation
In 1986 BBC Radio adapted the novel.
- 1938, Collins Crime Club (London), 19 December 1938, Hardback, 256 pp
- 1939, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), February 1939, Hardback, 272 pp
- 1947, Avon Books, Paperback, (Avon number 124, under the title A Holiday For Murder), 255 pp
- 1957, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 189 pp
- 1962, Bantam Books, Paperback, 167 pp
- 1967, Pan Books, Paperback, 204 pp
- 1972, Fontana Books, Paperback, 189 pp
- 1973, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 253 pp ISBN 0-00-231309-X
- 1974, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 253 pp
- 1985, W. Clement Stone, P M A Communications, Hardback, ISBN 0-396-06963-0
- 1987, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover
- 2000, Berkley Books (New York), 2000, Paperback, ISBN 0-425-17741-6
- 2006, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1938 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, 6 November 2006, Hardback, ISBN 0-00-723450-3
The book was first serialised in the US in Collier's Weekly in ten parts from 12 November 1938 (Volume 102, Number 20) to 14 January 1939 (Volume 103, Number 2) under the title Murder For Christmas with illustrations by Mario Cooper.
The UK serialisation was in twenty parts in the Daily Express from Monday, 14 November to Saturday, 10 December 1938 under the title of Murder at Christmas. Most of the instalments carried an uncredited illustration. This version did not contain any chapter divisions.
- Czech: Vánoce Hercula Poirota (Hercule Poirot's Christmas)
- Dutch: Kerstmis van Poirot (Christmas of Poirot)
- Estonian: Hercule Poirot jõulud(Hercule Poirot's Christmas)
- French: Le Noël d'Hercule Poirots (Hercule Poirot's Christmas)
- German: Hercule Poirots Weihnachten (Hercule Poirot's Christmas)
- Hungarian: Valaki csenget... (Someone is Ringing a Bell...), Poirot karácsonya (Poirot's Christmas)
- Italian: Il Natale di Poirot (Poirot's Christmas)
- Japanese: ポアロのクリスマス (Poirot's Christmas)
- Norwegian: Guds kvern maler langsomt (The mills of God grind slowly)
- Polish: Morderstwo w Boże Narodzenie (Murder for Christmas)
- Portuguese: O Natal de Poirot (Poirot's Christmas)
- Romanian: Crăciunul lui Poirot (Poirot's Christmas)
- Russian: Рождество Эркюля Пуаро (=Rozhdestvo Erkyulya Puaro, Hercule Poirot's Christmas)
- Spanish: Navidades Trágicas (Tragic Holidays/A Tragic Christmas)
- Turkish: Noelde Cinayet (Murder in Christmas)