During a séance in Sittaford House, the Ouija board spells out “Captain Trevelyan Dead”. You’ll never guess what happens at roughly the same time to Captain Trevelyan in his house a few miles away at the same time? Bludgeoned to death with a draft excluder (honest), that’s what!
I’m not that well-read on non-Poirot or Marple Agatha Christie novels, so I thought I’d give this one a try. It’s from1931, only her 11th published novel, and so far, only The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the only Christie “classic” to have been written. It dates from the time of the early Ellery Queen novels, but, unlike those, the year it is set in is fairly important. I can’t say why without giving away the murderer, but it certainly made me overlook something obvious that a reader of the time would not have done.
It’s a funny old thing this book – it’s a very quick read, which helps – as it’s absolutely full of red herrings. The first mystery is who the sleuth is going to be – at first it seems that it’s the Major who finds the body, then a perfectly competent policeman shows up and then the fiancée of the accused takes things over. I suppose by floating the responsibilities around (there’s also a reporter who investigates with the fiancée) it means you can include those characters more legitimately as suspects. The central plot is pretty slight – if you work out the point of the séance (and as I said before, if it were ghosts, then I wouldn’t be reading it) then you can fill in most of the blanks yourself. It’s not complicated – I think the “whodunit, why and how” is covered in about a page – they could teach Ellery a thing or two about conciseness – but the critical clue is introduced very late in the book. As such, you do feel a bit that you’ve read a lot of irrelevant fluff before you get to the end.
I’m reaching into spoiler territory here, which I’m not supposed to do, but I think Dame Agatha cheats with this one. Not a clever misdirection, but a downright cheat. I’ll put the relevant reference here – it’s the first page of chapter three – highlight it to read it, but this is a downright lie in terms of what is happening. Definitely not playing fair.
So, not a major work by Dame Agatha, but it passed the time. It probably would have worked a lot better with some of the characters cut out and presented as a short story. Not dreadful by any means, but there are better Christie novels out there by far. Bonus points, however, for not having the young lady and young man investigating the crime getting engaged/married by the end of the book – Carr could learn a thing or two from Dame Agatha.
One final thing, if you’ve seen ITV’s “Marple” version of this, it’s got a different murderer, so read the book anyway.
WHERE CAN I GET IT?
It’s still in print, as is all of Agatha Christie’s books, so any good bookshop. Or try your local library – always a treasure trove.