A keeper? I think so – fluff, but entertaining
Nobody much likes old Simeon Lee, and he hasn’t seen most of his children for years. He’s never seen his only grandchild. But this year – which must be 1937, I suppose, since that’s when the book was published – he has invited the whole family to gather at his luxurious country home. What’s more surprising is that no one refuses. They all come, from the South Pacific and the midst of the Spanish Civil War, as well as from various parts of England. (And so does a mysterious young man from South Africa.) Has age caught up with Simeon? Does he want to be reconciled to his family at last?
Well, no. What he wants is to spread hints about shameful or criminal shenanigans they may be involved in, and announce that he’s going to make a brand new will with brand new beneficiaries. In the real world, people like Simeon get away with their games as often as not – but we’re in an Agatha Christie novel, so it’s no surprise when somebody murders Simeon.
But who could it be? There’s no weapon, so it wasn’t suicide. The room is locked up (several of the sons have to get a sturdy bench and batter the door down), but nobody’s inside except Simeon’s body. Besides, there was a horrible crash of falling furniture and a fearsome scream that brought everyone in the house running, so how could the killer have had time to escape?
After a quick marathon of investigation (the murder happens on Christmas Eve, and a few days later the book’s over), Hercule Poirot figures everything out. He identifies which characters seem to be part of the Lee family and aren’t. He tells us which ones are really Lees no matter who they claim to be. And he presents a series of explanations for the murder, then rejects them one after another before presenting the real killer and describing the central clue to the whole case – a pink balloon!
In many ways this is an over-the-top parody of the classic English country house murder mystery. I don’t know if that’s what Agatha Christie intended, but that’s what makes it fun. If you come across a copy, take a look.