The Adventure Of The Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie, 1960
The magic trick:
Rewarding the characters for making a decision based on sentimentality
Please, please, newcomers to Hercule Poirot, don’t make “The Christmas Pudding” your first installment. He is one of literature’s all-time great characters, and the Agatha Christie novels in which he features provide the template on which all murder mysteries are based. I promise you will love him. “Christmas Pudding,” however, is not his finest hour. Rather it’s an enjoyable enough little holiday lark. If you’re looking to combine Poirot and the holidays, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is a wonderful novel.
Now that we’ve established that this is not a scintillating mystery, we can talk about what it makes it an enjoyable story nonetheless. Christie, who was pushing 70 when this was published, is clearly enjoying a trip down memory lane. Her introduction to the book is full of wonderful Christmas memories of her youth. The first half of “Christmas Pudding” follows in the same vein, with Poirot and the elderly Mrs. Lacey discussing the merits of a traditional family Christmas celebration vs. the unfortunate changes of modern society.
I really think Christie would have been happy to write an entire story of such syrupy nostalgia, but of course she has to get on with the mystery – a rather silly bit of gem thievery and children’s theatre. The mystery isn’t the point. The story works as a nice way spend a quiet hour by a fireplace during December. And that’s quite a trick on Christie’s part.
“I hope you will enjoy our Christmas party here, M. Poirot. It’s only the family, you know. My granddaughter and a grandson and a friend of his and Bridget who’s my great-niece, and Diana who’s a cousin and David Welwyn who is a very old friend. Just a family party. But Edwina Morecombe said that that’s what you really wanted to see. An old-fashioned Christmas. Nothing could be more old-fashioned than we are! My husband, you know, absolutely lives in the past. He likes everything to be just as it was when he was a boy of twelve years old, and used to come here for his holidays.” She smiled to herself. “All the same old things, the Christmas tree and the stockings hung up and the oyster soup and the turkey – two turkeys, one boiled and one roast – and the plum pudding with the ring and the bachelor’s button and all the rest of it in it. One can’t have sixpences nowadays because they’re not pure silver any more. But all the old desserts, the Elvas plums and Carlsbad plums and almonds and raisins, and crystallised fruit and ginger. Dear me, I sound like a catalogue from Fortnum and Mason!”
“You arouse my gastronomic juices, Madame.”