Xmas Murder - en route to the house-party of death

the book:

Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie

published 1938   Part I - December 22nd


And then, suddenly, he caught his breath, looking into a [railway] carriage. This girl was different. Black hair, rich creamy pallor — eyes with the depth and darkness of night in them. The sad proud eyes of the South… It was all wrong that this girl should be sitting in this train among these dull, drab-looking people — all wrong that she should be going into the dreary midlands of England. She should have been on a balcony, a rose between her lips, a piece of black lace draping her proud head, and there should have been dust and heat and the smell of blood — the smell of the bull-ring — in the air. She should be somewhere splendid, not squeezed into the corner of a third-class carriage.

He was an observant man. He did not fail to note the shabbiness of her little black coat and skirt, the cheap quality of her fabric gloves, the flimsy shoes and the defiant note of a flame-red handbag. Nevertheless splendour was the quality he associated with her. She was splendid, fine, exotic…

What the hell was she doing in this country of fogs and chills and hurrying industrious ants?

observations: This passage is listed on a website called Thought Catalog* as one of Agatha Christie’s top 10 racist moments, so we bring it to you proudly. (Really, THIS is your best shot? Dude, you’re not trying).

The cover of a recent paperback shows a grinning skull wearing a Santa hat. It’s a very well-done picture but it is wholly inappropriate for the book - as we pointed out with Christie’s
Halloween Party, she gives us the occasion, a bit of seasonal description, then we bring our own thoughts to the setup, while she gets on with planting clues and trailing red herrings. Fictional murder at Christmas is usually about the awful destruction of a family atmosphere – in this case you think the party wouldn’t have been much better without the murder. It’s great stuff though, one of her very best, with a victim you don’t much care about, some of those weird long-married couples AC likes dissecting, and young Pilar, above, being very Spanish.

A ‘coat and skirt’ isn’t what it sounds like – it is what we would call a suit. It was also sometimes called ‘a costume’ back in the day.

We said, talking about PG Wodehouse last week, that only Christie could match him for percentage of impostors in a plot, and HPC would be Exhibit A in that field.

Links up with: Agatha Christie has featured many times – click on the label below – and there are Xmas entries all last week and next.

picture – don’t you just want to stare and stare – was taken outside an American railway station in 1940.

*No link. This is deliberate. When I looked at some of their other items, the Christie/racism list was one of the better ones. ‘Supporting the future of journalism’ it says on the site. We’re all doomed then.


  1. Moira - Oh, I've always loved this one. And that description of Pilar Estravados is so well-done I think. You've chosen by the way a terrific 'photo. Looks an awful lot like the way I imagine her to be. And you're right; if you're looking for comments in Christie's work that could be regarded as racist, that one's not even close to the worst one...

  2. Great photo Moira - makes me want to re-read the book with that image of Pilar in my my mind. Frankly I've been to some family Christmas events that would have been significantly enhanced by a well-placed murder, but I'm reliably informed that sort of thinking is not in the spirit of the season :)

  3. It is one of her best ones isn't it? And stands up very well to re-reading. Bernadette, I think you are just more honest than most people!

  4. Racist? I'd say it's a stereotype, but I don't think it rises to the level of racism. Christie does a rather good job of showing us this girl who is definitely not some dainty English rose, and the description helps us understand her backstory when it arises.

    1. Yes indeed - I hope it was clear that I did not agree with that 'racist' description. And in my view she made clever use of stereotypes. I love this book, and have a soft spot for this blogpost, which was very early on in my blogging days. Still think that's the perfect pic for Pilar! Thanks for bringing me back to visit an old post.


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