I think this is one of the best Agatha Christie books I’ve read recently. Poirot investigates the death of Simeon Lee, the head of the Lee family. None of his family like him, in fact most of them hate him and there are plenty of suspects for his murder. He is found dead with his throat cut in a locked room – locked from the inside.
He lived with Alfred his eldest son and his daughter-in-law Lydia. Their lives are dominated by him and they agree to his every demand. He has invited his other two sons and their wives to stay for Christmas – David and Hilda and George and Madeleine. Then Simeon annouces he has invited two more guests, who happen to be another son Harry, who left home years ago, a disreputable character who is at loggerheads with Alfred, and Pilar his granddaughter, his daughter Jennifer’s child. Jennifer had recently died in Spain where she had married a Spanish artist. Pilar quickly gains her grandfather’s favour and when he annouces he is going to remake his will she hopes she will be included. Another unexpected guest turns up – Stephen Farr, the son of Simeon’s former partner in a diamond mine in South Africa.
The mystery is just how was Simeon killed? The family are dispersed through the house and on hearing a blood curdling scream they all rush to Simeon’s room. Pilar finds a small piece of rubber and a peg on the floor – just what do they signify? And the uncut diamonds Simeon kept locked in a safe in his room have gone missing – who has stolen them?
This story kept me guessing all the way through, with lots of red herrings and Tressilian, the butler’s confusion about the identity of the guests. He is old with poor eyesight and can’t be sure who is who. Poirot who is staying nearby with Colonel Johnson, the Chief Constable, unravels the mystery with the aid of a false moustache and then gathers the family together to go through the evidence and reveal the identity of the murderer.
There are a variety of themes, including the psychological hold Simeon has over his family, the effect of heredity, the distortion of the past through holding on to obsessions, jealousy amongst the siblings, and the effect of holding grudges for many years. Lydia and Hilda are level headed women, both of them suspicious of Simeon’s motives and supporting their husbands. Lydia maintains that evil exists and Hilda believes that it is the present that matters and not the past. But the past has cast a long and evil shadow over the present.
NB see more Christmas titles here – Suggest a Christmas Title.