Christmas Reading: A Holiday for Murder by Agatha Christie

My continued craving for holiday reading brought me to A Holiday for Murder, also known as Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. I’ve seen the tv version of this mystery novel, but couldn’t remember who the culprit was so thought it would be safe to read it. It isn’t really a Christmas story – the murder takes place at Christmas, but there is hardly any mention of the holiday or the traditions surrounding it. That was okay, though, because reading it reacquainted me with Agatha Christie, whom I haven’t read in many years.

This novel finds Poirot spending Christmas with Colonel Johnson when they are called to Gorston Hall, the scene of a horrific murder. Simeon Lee, the wealthy patriarch of a bickering family, has had his throat slashed. His four sons and their wives, plus two unexpected guests, have assembled for Christmas and they all become suspects as the room Lee was killed in was locked from the inside and the window closed. The assumption is that an intruder would not have been able to leave the house unseen.

The usual interrogations and sly Poirot ‘conversations’ soon give him all the information he needs to reveal the killer of Simeon Lee. It is a very tricky outcome and I definitely didn’t guess who the culprit was.

Agatha Christie is a forceful writer and I’d forgotten how colorful her characters are. I wouldn’t recommend this novel if you are looking for holiday cheer, but it is a good example of the ‘locked room mystery’.

I’d like to read some of her other novels next year – do you have a favorite Christie novel? What is her best mystery?

endpapers designed by Peggy Skycraft.

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

There’s been an interruption to my scheduled reading plans because I have been stressed at work and needed pure escape. I haven’t read a good British mystery in a while and when I saw a review of this on Book Group of One it sounded like just the respite I needed. I plunged into it last week and shoved the other books I’d planned to read under the bed so they’d be out of mind. But I think they would have been out of mind anyway because this mystery completely absorbed my interest!

Ruth Galloway, the main character in The Crossing Places, is my soul sister. She’s in her late thirties, overweight, single, has two cats and keeps to herself for the most part. I instantly identified with her. She’s a forensic archaeologist in a desolate marsh area near Norfolk. When the novel opens she’s been summoned by the local police force to examine some bones that have been found on the marsh. Those bones turn out to be from the Iron Age, but she proves herself useful and is soon after asked to consult on the case of a missing girl and begins to develop a relationship with married DCI Harry Nelson. As the case, and her involvement in it, intensifies, the suspense accelerates and Ruth finds herself pursued by a killer. A blockbuster ending in the dark and dangerous marsh had me flipping the pages to find out if she’d survive and if the killer would be revealed.

This is an engrossing, solid mystery. I’m taken with both Ruth and DCI Nelson and will continue to read the series if only to see where their relationship ends up. The snippets of historical details that twist through the narrative are a treat for those of us who have fantasies of being archaeologists and the setting is appropriately dark and moody. And that is all that I needed to keep me entertained and distracted while my brain melts with worry.

What do you read when you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown?

The Complaints by Ian Rankin

This Ian Rankin is a very clever guy. I’d forgotten how sly his plots are. I read the entire Rebus series a few years ago (all except for the last one – I couldn’t bear to see the end of Rebus) and loved the convoluted and complex plotting. This latest book, The Complaints, takes place in familiar territory for Rebus fans, the police force of Edinburgh, and also has so many twists  your head spins with the craziness of it.

Malcolm Fox is a middle-aged loner who works in the Complaints office of the police – I think the American version would be called internal affairs. They are charged with investigating rotten police officers and when the novel opens they’ve just closed a case against a corrupt officer who was in with all sorts of bad characters. Malcolm is almost immediatley after called on to investigate an officer who is suspected of being into child pornography. At the same time, his sister’s boyfriend is found murdered and he can’t help himself from butting into the investigation of his death. Before long, Malcolm is breaking many policies and rules himself and soon finds himself on the other end of the complaints office investigations.

With his usual humor and fast-pacing, Rankin has crafted another riveting and fascinating police thriller. He has a talent for creating atmosphere in this novels, making this Southwest US residing reader (who’s never been anywhere near Edinburgh) feel like I know the city and its people. That might be my favorite aspect of Rankin’s writing, yet I obviously also love his knack for plot.

This is another great story from Rankin and I hope he continues it as a series.