Just imagine, you’re sunning yourself on the beach by the luxury hotel The Jolly Roger on Smugglers’ Island off the coast of Devon, not a care in the world. A fellow guest tells you that a celebrity is also staying at the hotel. After checking that it’s someone who famous for actually achieving something, rather than being famous for being famous, you cheer up and look forward to meeting them. And then you’re introduced to Hercule Poirot… My advice – run. Because someone’s going to get murdered and it might well be you. Oh, and on the off-chance you’re a murderer? Give up now.
Such is the case for a group of holiday makers, but as a) this was written seventy two years ago (blimey) and b) they’re fictional characters, my advice goes unheeded. Arlena Marshall, a former actress and general magnet for men of a certain character, is sunning herself in a reclusive cove, only to be discovered later, laid out on the beach, sun-hat over her face, strangled to death. A number of guests seem to have motives for her murder, but they have all got iron-clad alibis. Can Poirot find the killer? Of course he can.
Hmm. Not sure about the general feeling for this one amongst the reviewing community. It’s certainly the classic Agatha Christie set-up and I went into it knowing who the murderer was. I hadn’t read the book before – I don’t think – but I have seen the Peter Ustinov film which does fiddle with a lot of the sub-plots but keeps the killer and the structure of the crime intact. I certainly enjoyed the book – it keeps the focus on the crime and it’s from a good return to form for Poirot after the disappointing Sad Cypress and (from a distant memory) One, Two, Buckle My Shoe. It feels like a slightly earlier Poirot – in fact it feels a bit too much like one in particular.
Now I’m not going to name it, as if you’ve read that one and not this one, or vice versa, it’ll spoil the other book for you. But I’m going to discuss it vaguely anyway – if you’ve read the major Poirot books, then the one that I’m talking about was the second Poirot novel published in 1937. On a basic level, Christie plays the same game with the distractions away from the murderer and the “things aren’t quite what they seem”. And the unfortunate thing was that all I could think about once this occurred to me was that she did it better the first time.
The other point to raise – and I was keeping an eye out as I read it – are there any actual clues to indicate who the murderer is? Obviously Poirot’s given solution is correct, given the subsequent events, but, for the reader, this is a solution (and not the only one) that fits the given facts, rather than a solution that must be true. I’ve had a mild whinge at other authors for this sort of solution but if Dame Agatha was doing it, why shouldn’t anyone else?
Nevertheless, despite being rather harsh here, it’s a fun read and is the sort of Poirot story that Christie is most renowned for. Recommended.
I bought this copy with my own pennies – obviously, no publisher is sending round Agatha Christie novels to review, are they? Why not pop to your local bookshop to get your copy?