Thursday, 27 October 2016

hercule poirot's christmas

On Monday 24th October I finished Hercule Poirot's Christmas. It was okay.

It was the classic country house full of people with a reason to have murdered the unpleasant murder victim (whose murder clearly no one minded much about except as a mystery to be solved or to be lived with pragmatically - I like my crime novels like this, cosy puzzles, with as little grief or tragedy or real life as possible).

It was fine, nothing special, but did the job satisfactorily, although it has at least one device which was too far-fetched for my liking. It was also unfortunate in that it used a particular plot device which I have read in a couple of recent Christies (which may have been decades apart - this one was published 1938 (there are a couple of references to the Spanish Civil War, which are pretty much the only specific dating references to the untrained eye)), so that immediately I thought 'surely there's not going to be that thing again', and it turned out that there was.

Also an element (which I didn't get) which I'm beginning to recognise as a Christie technique, which is often well done: profession, trait or relationship X is important; one or more characters are explicitly X; but there is a character (one or more) who appears to have hidden or unrecognised Xness; but there will turn out to be another character who turns out to be X but who we've been diverted from by those others.

The Wikipedia entry (which don't read, because it gives the solution in detail - Wikipedia plot summaries are annoyingly erratic in this regard) indicates that it was first published as a serial, which you don't think of but is more often the case than one might think. I wonder if it was written with serialisation in mind, or simply as a whole novel.

First line: Stephen pulled up the collar of his coat as he walked briskly along the platform.

Last line: Hercule Poirot, conscious of the draughts round his neck, thought to himself: 'Pour moi, every time the central heating . . .'

Dedication: My dear James / You have always been one of the most faithful and kindly of my readers, and I was therefore seriously perturbed when I received from you a word of criticism. / You complained that my murders were getting too refined - anaemic, in fact. You yearned for a 'good violent murder with lots of blood'. A murder where there was no doubt about its being murder! / So this is your special story - written for you. I hope it may please. Your affectionate sister-in-law / Agatha

(I've often thought there's an interesting essay to be written - probably has been written - collecting and explaining the who and why of all of Agatha Christie's dedications.)

The cover of the library copy I read (Harper's 2001 'Agatha Christie Signature Edition') is another of those interesting covers that bears literally no relation to the contents, with its primary image of bloody footprints in the snow. The book contains neither snow nor bloody footprints - but the image (and the blue-grey colouring, with a torch spotlight effect) does convey the idea of murder at Christmas, so... The book title lettering doesn't feel quite right, though - it looks more like spooky wobbly Halloweeny lettering, and if it's meant to look like it's written in the snow, or in melting ice, then it's not really working. Big signature - the name is as or more important than the book title, the use of the signature as a branding (potentially creating it for future recognition), and perhaps for visual interest, and perhaps also as a period signifier in the kind of handwriting. The spines in this edition have the name of the detective at the top. This cover design by Nick Castle.

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