Friday, April 5, 2013


I am a huge Agatha Christie (15 /09/1890—12/12/1976) fan. I have possibly all of her books, and nearly all the television and film versions of her works, starring a variety of Hercule Poirots (my best is David Suchet) and Miss Marple (Margaret Rutherford, Joan Hickson and Julia McKenzie tops). According to the Guinness Book of records, Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. Often referred to as the “Queen of Crime,” she is also regarded as a master of suspense, plotting, and characterisation.
Recently I started rereading her work and began with Crooked House, one of the seven novels inspired by nursery rhymes. Agatha Christie described this as her favourite book. She says in the author’s foreword: “This book is one of my own special favourites. I saved it up for years, thinking about it, working it out, saying to myself, ‘One day when I’ve plenty of time, and want to really enjoy myself—I’ll begin it! … Crooked House was pure pleasure.’”

Three generations of the Leonides family live together under the roof of wealthy patriarch Aristide. His first wife died; her sister Edith has cared for the household since then. His second wife is the indolent Brenda, decades his junior, who exchanges love letters with the grandchildren's tutor, Laurence Brown. After Aristide is poisoned by his own eye medicine (eserine), his granddaughter Sophia tells narrator and fiancé Charles Hayward that they cannot marry until the killer is apprehended. Charles' father "The Old Man" is the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, so Charles investigates from the inside along with assigned detective, Chief Inspector Taverner. It seems that everyone could have a motive. The ridiculously young wife Brenda wants to be free to marry the tutor. Then there’s Roger, the eldest son who needs money to prop up his tottering business. Second son Philip has always been jealous of Roger. Not to mention their wives (Clemency and Magda), who could also have motive for various financial reasons. Josephine, Aristides’s precocious granddaughter, tells Charles that the police are stupid and she has already worked out who the killer is, along with copious notes and clues in her little black notebook. When Josephine is attacked and Nanny is mysteriously poisoned by hot chocolate after Brenda and the tutor are arrested, the danger escalates to a surprise finish.

This was the first time I’d read the book and it was great. The pace is good, the characters real (we have all met them somewhere along life’s path) and the suspense chilling. I am quite good at guessing the killer in various crime books, but this one stumped (and shocked) me completely. Charles is excellent as the sometimes-bumbling amateur sleuth. Sophia is sharp-witted and courageous. There’s a Roger and a Magda in every family. The family are at once torn apart and cling together in this time of adversity and stalking danger. Highly enjoyable! (A lesson about making a watertight will included!) Five Stars

by Fiona Ingram

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