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…