Peril At End House by Agatha Christie

We return to the quest for the ideal starting book for budding Agatha-philes with this very early entry in Poirot’s adventures. This is the sixth novel (not counting Black Coffee) and so far, the only ground-breaking entry into the series is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – if you haven’t read it, go and read it NOW!

Nick Buckley, a young heiress is dining with Hercule Poirot and Hastings, recounting tales of recent near misses with death, when she swats a wasp away. On closer examination, there is a bullet hole in the brim of her hat and a bullet on the ground nearby. It wasn’t a wasp!

Now Poirot, despite having recently retired, charges himself with protecting Nick. But the attempts continue until someone lies dead.

This was one of the first Poirot novels that I read, and I’ve got very fond memories of it. But I’ve said that before…

I’ve referred to this as ground-breaking because it’s the first time that Christie uses what must be one of her favourite tricks – she uses it at least twice more in the Miss Marple books but I think it’s done a bit better there. This is going to be difficult to comment on the issues I had with this book second time around without hinting at the plot. Still, never let it be said that I shied away from a challenge…

Basically, it’s signposted far too heavily. The majority of the suspects are under-developed with, arguably, only Nick herself and the murderer get much of a personality, and as such, you find your focus too much on the murderer so that when they drop the crucial clues, you notice them. And the central clue, which concerns the motivation for the mayhem, isn’t done very subtly. An important fact is mentioned a few too many times to be missed and… hmmm… let’s say that of the two things that appear to be different that are in fact the same, one is too close to what it actually is for it to be missable. Is that cryptic enough? And let’s not get into the convoluted nonsense about the poisoned chocolates…

Worst of all, Poirot comes off as a bit of a chump. It doesn’t help that Hastings’ narration doesn’t give us an insight into Poirot’s thoughts, like we had in Mrs McGinty’s Dead, but it does seem odd that he doesn’t even consider the truth until very late on. You could say that it’s early in his career, but it’s not – just early in the bits that Christie wrote about.

Now the reason that I loved this when I first read it – probably roughly thirty years ago – was that I solved it, motive, clues et al. Now I see why – it’s obvious, I think.

Now that obviousness of the plot might make this a contender for that introduction to Christie that I’m looking for, but I’m not convinced. Other books do the trick and hide the trick better, so maybe this should be read before them… maybe not…

So, recommended if you haven’t read it and want an “easy” Christie. I’d warn against a re-read, though.

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15 comments

  1. Blimey, you slammed this one even more than I thought you would! Well, I can;t afford to comment as my memory is clearly much too clouded by the passage of time. In terms of your challenge, do you think the problems you found would still be there for a newbie, or do you think that the fact that, and I, have such fond memories of a first reading, is in this case more significant than the faults you have found as a more seasoned reader?

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    • Well, that’s the issue. I remember adoring this because I solved it. So maybe a solvable mystery is the way to go. And also, if read after the possibility raised by the repeats of the idea, the book is certainly lessened. So maybe I should get it out of the way… Decisions, decisions (but nice decisions)

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  2. Fair review, I think. I too have nostalgic memories of this one, and as a nine year old I thought it was amazing. But it really is obvious (I managed to solve it even at that age) and Christie really isn’t comfortable writing about drug abuse so her characters are even less convincing than usual.

    I also think some of the chapter titles give away a bit too much about the form of the solution…

    One thing that I remember noticing recently: Hastings’ rumination about Margaret, Maggie. Peggy etc. is copied very closely by some of the dialogue in Dennis Lehane’s SHUTTER ISLAND. Not to the extent that I think it’s plagiarism, but enough that I’m 99% sure he lifted the idea from Christie.

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    • Haven’t read Shutter Island, but saw the film – thought that it would have been more interesting if the default twist about someone investigating an asylum hadn’t been used. Hope the book was better…

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  3. I remember Peril At End House being my favourite Agatha Christie book when I was younger – you lot were obviously much cleverer than me as I remember being totally blind-sided by the solution! I *recently* re-read it at uni as well, and still enjoyed it – I enjoyed Nick as a character, so perhaps that’s why?

    PS Just been reading through all of the Christie entries on your blog so expect a bit of a comment rampage from me! But in your quest for a starter Christie book, I would pick a Poirot over a Miss Marple any day of the week!

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    • I think you either see it or you don’t. But once it clicks, it becomes very obvious – a similar thing happened to me when I watched The Prestige (wonderful film, by the way). A main part of the plot clicked very early for me and suddenly it seemed that the script was littered with clever winks confirming what I’d guessed. Same thing here – if you guess it, the motive, the methods, everything just falls into place… but if you don’t (like my good lady wife with the film) then the surprise really catches you.

      Oh, and comment away! The more the merrier!

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