Taken At The Flood aka There Is A Tide by Agatha Christie

Rosaleen Cloade has been unlucky in love. Her first husband has been reported dead in far-off Africa. Her second husband, Gordon Cloade, died in a bombing in the Blitz. Now, however, due to her inheritance, she is rich beyond her wildest dreams. This rather dismays Gordon’s relatives, who he had been supporting. If only they could prove that Rosaleen’s first husband hadn’t died in Africa… or failing that, the nature of the inheritance means that the money will revert to the original beneficiaries… if Rosaleen were to die.

A man claiming to be Rosaleen’s first husband duly arrives, and, of course, tragedy follows. But at least two of the family have the same plan – recruit a certain Hercule Poirot to sort things out.

I’ll make a confession – I wasn’t supposed to be reading this book. I’m also about halfway through The Probability of Murder by Ada Madison – review coming very soon, but I left it at work. A quick dive into my Kindle to find a quickish read, and this one popped up. I’d bought it a while ago, as it was a Poirot that I could remember that I liked, but could remember very little else about it. Following the disappointment of Endless Night, I thought I’d like to remind myself of what Dame Agatha was capable of.

I make this the twenty-third Poirot novel and it would be four years before Agatha Christie returned to her famous Belgian in Mrs McGinty’s Dead. Presumably, this is the point where she was starting to tire of the old chap – so is there a visible decline here, or is this as strong as her earlier efforts?

You never hear much about Taken At The Flood – I can think of only one “best of…” list that it’s part of – and that’s mine. But despite the decent impression that it had left me with, it seems to be a very forgettable book. I think the reason that it stuck with me in order to make it to that list is that it was the last Poirot that I read – mainly because I didn’t realise that it was a Poirot novel. This was pre-internet, obviously, so all I had to go on was the “by the same author” in the front of the book, and I never came across it in bookshops. The primary thing that I remembered about it was that I’d worked out at least part of the mystery and felt rather proud of myself.

On a re-read, I feel a little less clever. You see, just for once, you’re supposed to work out part of the mystery. That’s the point.

As the essay in the back of the Kindle edition points out, there is one absolutely honkingly obvious clue as to part of the plot. Really, really obvious. So obvious, only a chimp could miss it. Well, a chimp or a blogger like me. But I’d still guessed what was going on.

But that’s the beauty of Taken At The Flood. You’re given snippets and teases and enough clues to work out the majority of what is happening – and Dame Agatha uses that as a distraction to sneak the final – and most important – piece of the puzzle past you. It’s a clever trick, and it worked a treat on me.

Character-wise, it’s pretty good, and, after the first third of the book, you get to see a lot of Poirot. There certainly isn’t any feeling of tiredness in Christie’s writing of him. Some of the one-scene characters are rather one-dimensional – notably the mad old bigoted bat in the hotel (Sidenote: Interesting in this day and age that her use of the N-word isn’t edited out.)

I’ve been looking for a while for an Agatha Christie novel to introduce girls at my school to – one that isn’t too complicated, partly solvable and yet still with a surprise. About 90% of the way through, I was certain that I’d found that book. And then…

In pretty much the final scene, there is one of the most horrendously misjudged scenes of sexual politics that I have ever read. Apologies if this spoils some of the shape of the story, but there is one character who cannot decide between two suitors – a dangerous cad or a boring farmer. She makes the decision who to stick by when one flips out and tries to strangle her (and almost succeeds in killing her) and… yes, it’s him that she chooses. I won’t say any more. But it’s absolutely horrible.

That scene aside, I maintain my claim that this is an underappreciated Christie masterpiece. But unfortunately, it’s that scene that now sticks in my memory…

9 comments

  1. Well, I certainly agree with you! Along with THE HOLLOW, I always though this among the very best of the later Poirot books The plot doesn’t have the jaw-dropping cleverness of her great successes of the 30s but you get compensations in shape of a fairly subtle design and characterisation considerably more in depth (and to a degree darker) than before the war (well, by Christie standards). Greta choice. They managed to mess the adaptation with David Suchet up quite a lot as I recall (not helped by having to relocate the setting to before the war of course).

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    • I read about the changes on the Wikipedia page – and almost all of them seem at best pointless and at worst, very ill conceived. Oh, and I think this is miles better than The Hollow, which I thought was very straightforward for Christie

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      • What I remember liking about THE HOLLOW (and I’ll readily admit, it’s been a long while and probably not in English either) was a greater sense of care in the creation of more psychologically plausible characters. I admit that all the shenanigans over the gun are a bit of a bore, though the identity of the murderer did surprise me as I recall.

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  2. […] But to entice a reader, you need the right bait. Everyone has different opinions and preferences amongst the Poirot canon, so you need to think about who the reader is before picking a recommendation. Readers who prefer a psychological mystery might prefer the somewhat flawed but well-written Five Little Pigs or the superior Cards On The Table. Readers who prefer entertaining but solvable problems should look to Peril At End House or Lord Edgware Dies. If you’d prefer a cunning mystery and can turn a blind eye to some horrendous sexual politics, then try Taken At The Flood. […]

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  3. […] Although David hogs the spotlight in some respects I was quite engaged by Lynn and her love/hate relationship with her mother and her more independent thinking makes her a character you can warm to and identify with. Her romantic tangles are also interesting as she works her way through what is real and what she imagines to be so. I think the only thing which troubles me with her romantic adventures is their ending, an ending which seems to advocate male violence as firstly a proof of devotion and secondly as an attractive quality? I wouldn’t have felt this was something Christie would want to promote, so I am unsure as to its purpose in this book. Is it a symptom of new post-war world? Any thought do let me know. It isn’t just me who was perturbed by this as the Puzzle Doctor on his blog had a similar issue. […]

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