How I discovered
I have joined Kerrie from Mysteries in Paradise with her Agatha Christie Reading Challenge and this is part of that. Also this week is Agatha Christie Week, which coincides with a celebration of Agatha Christie’s birthday, Sept. 15, 1890, and for that, I’m reading a novel per day and posting a review here. This is my fourth review this week, with the first three being The Boomerang Clue, Murder in Three Acts, and Death In The Air.
When Alice Ascher is murdered in Andover, Hercule Poirot is already on to the clues. Alphabetically speaking, it’s one down, twenty-five to go.
synopsis from Powell’s Books
In yesterday’s Guardian, John Curran, who edited the official Agatha Christie newsletter for years, named this book one of the top 10 Agatha Christie mysteries, and, in my humble opinion, I believe he is correct in his assessment. In other words, I’m just going to cut to the chase here and tell you that I rate this one a 5 out of 5. But why?
Hercule Poirot is back and unlike in the last few mysteries, where he has not had the assistance of Capt. John Hastings, in this one, Hastings returns and for me, not a moment too soon, to enliven the Poirot series and my own reading of Christie’s novels in order. Take this exchange between the two:
“Well,” I demanded eagerly.
We were seated in a first-class carriage, which we had to ourselves. The train, an express, had just drawn out of Andover.
“The crime,” said Poirot, “was a crime committed by a man of medium height with red hair and a cast in the left eye. He limps slightly on the right food and has a mole just below the shoulder-blade.”
“Poirot?” I cried.
For a moment I was completely taken in. Then the twinkle in my friend’s eye undeceived me.
“Poirot!” I said again, this time in reproach.
“Mon ami, what will you? You fix upon me a look of doglike devotion and demand of me a pronouncement a la Sherlock Holmes! Now for the truth – I do not know what the murderer looks like, nor where he lives, nor how to set hands upon him.”
However, it is not just the return of Hastings that makes this one a classic, but it is the murders themselves. They are different from other ones Poirot has investigated, or as Hastings tells Poirot: “All our murders have been– well, private murders, so to speak.” To which Poirot responds:
“You are quite right, my friend. Always, up to now, it has fallen our lot to work from the inside. It has been the history of the victim that was important. The important points have been: ‘Who benefited by the death? What opportunities had those round him to commit the crime?’ It has always been the ‘crime intime.’ Here, for the first time in our association, it is cold-blooded impersonal murder. Murder from the outside.”
Also what makes this one a classic is how Christie goes back and forth from the first person to the third person narrative, about which she (well, Capt. Arthur Hastings, O.B.E. actually) warns in a foreword to the novel. I believe she might have done this in at least one earlier work, but without any warning, which made that story unbelievable. At least, in this one, she gives us fair warning and I believe it works, especially when she presents a major red herring early in the book, one which I took by the way.
Like in many novels with Poirot in them, he summarizes the case at the end, but unlike Death In The Air, where I found the revealing of the killer to be too far-fetched, in this one I could believe it. I also liked how it twisted from what you were led to believe and presented a different possibility. The journey as always was a delightful one with Poirot and Hastings, in fact, quite sporting. As Poirot said with the last line of the novel:
“So, Hastings– we went hunting once more, did we not? Vive le sport.”
My rating system:
5- Classic, must read
4- Worth owning a copy
3- Worth picking up at library
2- Worth skimming at the bookstore
1- Worth being a doorstop
For others reviews of the book:
If you also have reviewed this book and would like a link to be included here, please leave it in the comments or e-mail me at unfinishedperson (at) gmail (dot) com. I already used Fyrefly’s Book Blogs Search Engine and found The Book Brat and Nithin’s reviews, but am looking for other points of view also. Now off to read Murder in Mesopotamia.