The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie – Book Review

I couldn’t recall much about this stand-alone murder mystery other than a few stray details, but that’s an unfair reflection on the novel. While it may not be one of Christie’s true classics, it definitely deserved to be remembered better.

The setting is wonderfully atmospheric: in the depth of winter, in a tiny remote village of Sittaford on the edge of Dartmoor, six people decide to amuse themselves with a game of table-turning. “Spirits” duly show up and silly harmless fun is had, until a startling announcement from a nameless ghost casts a pall over the evening: Captain Trevelyan, the owner of the Sittaford House, is proclaimed dead. Everybody’s nerves are rattled, including Major Burnaby, a long-time friend of Captain Trevelyan, who decides to brave the heavy snowfall and check on the Captain. When he finally makes six miles through the blizzard, he finds his friend murdered, and shortly after the police snap up the prime suspect, Trevelyan’s nephew James.

Though I quite liked Inspector Narracott, the clever and resourceful policeman assigned to the case, the novel really comes to life with the introduction of Emily Trefusis, the fiancée of the accused. Emily knows her man and is convinced that he’s incapable of murder, and so she sets out on a quest to acquit him and discover the real culprit. She’s a delight to follow: whip-smart and keenly aware of her own intelligence and talent for getting her way through subtle manipulation, determined to keep her emotions in check but not without vulnerability either. It’s a fun reversal of damsel-in-distress, and Emily even gets her own sidekick, a journalist named Charles Enderby who is not-so-secretly falling hard for her.

Emily ends up investigating the extended family of the late Captain, who all benefit from his death, as well as the colourful locals of Sittaford. Her attention is particularly drawn to the current residents of the Sittaford House, mother and daughter whose decision to exchange the sunny South Africa for the gloom of English winter in the middle of nowhere strikes everyone as bizarre to say the least. I love Christie’s small English villages and I enjoyed the snowy secluded Sittaford with its collection of eccentrics and busy-bodies.

I’m proud to say that I guessed the killer very early on through the power of logic, though I couldn’t put my finger on how the murder was actually committed. If there’s a serious weakness to the novel it’s that the murderer’s motivation feels a tad weak, and the victim’s personality is not explored apart from a few broad strokes. However it’s still an entertaining Christie mystery with a smart fun heroine and picturesque setting, and – for a change – a nicely handled romantic aspect.

I’ve decided to change up the format of my book reviews, and take my own photos of the books I read. For now my small wooden table will do as the background, but let’s see if I can get more creative in the future!

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