Elinor Carlisle is having a rather bad time of it. After visiting her Aunt to check on her health – and, to be honest, the health of her inheritance, she finds herself in court charged with the murder of Mary Gerrard – the young nurse who had become close to both her aunt and her fiance… and possibly her aunt’s money as well. As she stands in the dock, it seems that no-one can help her. Well, apart from that funny looking Belgian in the corner…
That’s not the biggest mystery here. The biggest mystery here… how is it that, having been reading crime fiction since goodness knows when, did I manage to miss this Poirot? That’s right, somehow the somewhat-obsessional completist managed not only to miss this one, but also not to notice that I’d missed it. How strange. So, what was it like, reading a “new” Poirot for the first time in over twenty years?
Well, let’s see why I missed it in the first place. I know we had it in the house when I was growing up, so I probably started it at some point. But I’ve always had difficulty keeping focus with one of Christie’s plot styles, namely the one that goes:
- Prologue with a hint of Poirot
- Long flashback leading up to the murder
You see, with my shortish attention span, I’d have trouble getting past section two. In other such books, sometimes it was worth it – After The Funeral, for example, and sometimes it wasn’t – The Clocks. Both of those books, it took a couple of goes for young me to get through them. For whatever reason, I never made it back to Sad Cypress. Who knows why – maybe it was just after The Clocks. Anyway, enough nostalgia, on with Sad Cypress.
It’s not a classic, let’s be honest. The central character, Elinor, is either sympathetically portrayed as having a breakdown, hence the lack of any protestation of her innocence, or just unbearably irritating. I can see people thinking the former, but I’ll plump for the latter. There’s no reason for her to be accepting her fate as readily as she does, apart from for Poirot to be investigating with a minimum of information. Come to think of it, given her ultimate fate, Christie is clearly going for the former, but not desparately convincingly.
The mystery as well is oddly structured, with the crucial clue standing out a mile, even if you can’t work out what it means. You’ll need knowledge of the existence of a certain thing in order to solve it properly, but I imagine a lot of people won’t know that it exists.
Overall, I think this book might work better if it wasn’t an Agatha Christie. For a large part of the book, the reader is shown no hint that Elinor might be innocent – indeed, Poirot is recruited to get her proved innocent in court, not to show that she is innocent in general. But the nature of Dame Agatha’s work implies that she isn’t and – and sorry if this is a bit of a spoiler – once innocence is established, the clues and corroboration come so thick and fast, you wonder how on earth she was convicted in the first place.
But anyway, maybe I’m being a little harsh. It’s a decent enough read, but compared to her best work, it’s decidedly average. Cautiously recommended, if you’ve run out of the good Poirot books.