Though Christie wrote a great many standalone crime novels, Endless Night feels like a true departure, different to everything else she wrote before or since. It’s not a classic detective story with classic detective tropes, there is barely any criminal investigation and the crime itself happens almost three-quarters into the story. Back when I first read it as a teenager my reaction was ambivalent, but even then this eerie novel imprinted on my brain as much as the haunting passage from William Blake’s poem it takes its name from. Revisiting it now has cemented Endless Night as one of my Christie favourites.
Until the whodunnit elements kick in late into the novel, it unfolds mostly as a slow-paced love story with a gothic tinge. Its narrator, Michael Rogers, is a young working-class tumbleweed, dabbling in odd jobs here and there, restless and searching for something special. One day, a chance and a whim brings him to a property auction in the countryside, where he meets Ellie, a sweet-natured American girl who turns out to be a fabulously wealthy heiress. A whirlwind romance follows, and soon the lovebirds settle into their new beautiful home, built by Michael’s brilliant architect friend on the very plot of land where they first met. Dream house, glamorous life of the rich, and a woman who loves you – could this modern fairytale get any more perfect? But the land, nicknamed Gipsy’s Acre after the gypsies who once lived there and were eventually driven away, is said to be cursed, and the couple’s newlywed bliss is marred by a series of sinister events.
Some Christie novels use their narrators mostly as a featureless window into the story, but a significant chunk of Endless Night is about getting to know Michael and what makes this ambitious charmer tick. It also spends a lot of time on the central relationship and Ellie and Michael’s merging lives, as Michael is forced to deal with Ellie’s relatives and guardians who are naturally not thrilled about her marriage. Another source of tension is Greta, Ellie’s trusted companion and confidant whose influence over Ellie is resented by Michael. Underlying all this domestic drama is a creeping sense of unease, and knowledge that something terrible is about to happen. Other than And Then There Were None, I can’t think of a Christie novel with a stronger sense of mood and atmosphere.
Though not everyone will appreciate the slow-burn narrative, the final twist and the dark unsettling conclusion are an ample reward. As an aside, re-reading the novel in the original English was a reminder that, no matter how great a translation might be, there are language and cultural subtleties that inevitably get lost. Michael in the Russian translation didn’t have the same distinctive working-class vibe I got when revisiting the book in English. However, the Russian translation of William Blake’s poem is just as powerful.
P.S. Apparently there’s a TV version of this novel with Miss Marple somehow worked into the story… which, as much as I love Miss Marple, frankly sounds like the dumbest idea.