Following immediately on from the dominating matriarch at the centre of Appointment with Death here we are given the vindictive patriarch Simeon Lee. He too is surrounded by a large family: four sons, three of their wives, and a granddaughter.
The Christmas season brings murder rather than goodwill to Gorston Hall when the old man is brutally and bloodily killed in his locked bedroom. He had been on the verge of changing his will and had suspicions, which are shown to be well founded, that someone had stolen the uncut diamonds from his personal safe, so there is no shortage of suspects.
Poirot is spending the holiday with the Chief Constable and that is his way into the case. Working alongside the local police he is able to see his way through a very clever, though slightly implausible plan – not as a clever, but less implausible than the recently read but unreviewed “Sealed Room Murder” by Rupert Penny.
This is the second Christmas mystery that I have read this month (see An English Murder) and whilst I highly recommend both of them, save them for December if you can to better enjoy the atmosphere.
Recurring character development
Prefers central heating to an open fire. In the TV adaptation he goes to stay with the Lees because they have central heating and his is broken.
Signs of the Times
Stephen asks Pilar about the war and she responds by mentioning the Government and General Franco. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was fought between the left-wing Second Spanish Republic and the ultimately victorious Nationalists led by Francisco Franco who ruled Spain until his death in 1975.
David Lee’s face is described as having “the mild quality of a Burne-Jones knight”. Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) was a Pre-Raphaelite artist known amongst other things for “The Merciful Knight” and the “Holy Grail Tapestries”.
Harry refers to George by the nickname “Popeye”. If this comes from their childhood it can have nothing to do with the cartoon character who was created in 1929.
Tressilian is horrified that Walter serves the vegetables before the gravy. If that is the proper way then you can count me out. Gravy last to hide the vegetables!
David was playing Mendelssohn’s “Dead March” shortly before the murder. More properly Opus 62.3 part of “Songs without Words”.
On seeing the body David says “The mills of God grind slowly…” The original Greek quotation is “The millstones of the gods grind late, but they grind fine”. The version that we are most familiar with now is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Though the mills of God grind slowly; Yet they grind exceedingly small”.
Whereas Lydia says “Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” which is Lady Macbeth’s reaction to the death of Duncan in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Neither seems a likely reaction to violent death which I would expect to be coarser and pithier. However I don’t remember many GAD characters throwing up at the sight of a corpse which is what the most junior police officer always seems to do in modern mysteries so perhaps people were more literate and had stiffer upper lips in those days.
References to previous works
Poirot is staying with Colonel Johnson who appeared in Three-Act Tragedy. He refers to the killer whilst Superintendent Sugden refers to the victim.
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Fulfils “When – during a recognised holiday”.
The One Where The Policeman Did It. The latest in the semi-regular series where it is a person psychologically overlooked by the reader who commits the crime.
Inspector Japp mentions in Death in the Clouds that in story books detectives are sometimes the criminals and Poirot’s comment that “One forgets sometimes that police officers are men” is very similar to something that Tommy Beresford says in Partners in Crime.
As mentioned above there is a similarity in the characters of Simeon Lee and Mrs Boynton but this is extended into the identity of the murderer because in both cases despite having plenty of children and their other halves as suspects it is an outsider who is the killer.
Whilst you can’t inherit your father’s mannerisms, we do often unconsciously mimic those around us. These similar gestures help to amplify the family resemblance between Simeon, Harry, Stephen, and Sugden, even if they aren’t caused by the connection.
It is brilliant that here we have two people staying in the house under false pretences – a relative posing as a stranger and a stranger posing as a relative – followed up by the final revelation of Sugden’s additional identity.