One of my personal favourites, After the Funeral may not have the sort of shocking and daring high-concept solution that marks Christie’s most popular novels, but for me it’s simply a great example of the Queen of Crime excelling at her craft.
“But he was murdered, wasn’t he?”
. . .
Every large family has an embarrassing relative with no filter, who blurts out whatever is on their mind with zero regard for how their words might be taken by others. For the Abernethie clan who gather at the vast Enderby Hall to farewell Richard Abernethie, this person is Cora, Richard’s eccentric younger sister, who shocks everyone with a casual suggestion that his sudden death wasn’t natural.
Sheer awkwardness of the moment aside, a few of those present are secretly disturbed by the knowledge that Cora’s outrageous gaffes have always been about her voicing uncomfortable truths with the directness of a child. Still, everyone brushes off Cora’s remark and thinks nothing of it… until she’s found dead the next day by her housekeeper, brutally murdered with a hatchet in her sleep.
Old Mr Entwhistle, Richard Abernethie’s solicitor and friend, is deeply troubled by the possible connection between Cora’s careless remark and her violent death, and the idea that someone in the family might be responsible for two murders. Being familiar with the will, he’s well aware that Richard’s remaining siblings, nephews, nieces and in-laws all stand to gain from the death of their rich relative. Luckily for Mr Entwhistle, he counts a certain Belgian detective with an egg-shaped head and a superb set of little grey cells among his acquaintances.
Poirot’s appearance in the novel is ultimately limited, with most of the perspective split between Mr Entwhistle and Susan Banks, one of Cora’s nieces, who travels to the scene of the crime to sort out her aunt’s possessions. We’re taken systematically through the rest of the family members and potential suspects, who despite being somewhat stereotypical still make for one of Christie’s most memorable and entertaining dysfunctional families. The younger generation especially provide a commentary on Britain’s changing social order post World War II, where great estates, once the scenes of privileged family life, were sold to be converted into hotels or charity headquarters, and the notions of suitable marriage were no longer held in the same esteem, much to the dismay of the older generation.
After the Funeral is a polished, well-executed mystery from a writer who at this point knows her craft inside out, which is not at all to suggest that it feels routine. Though the original English title didn’t prod my memory, all the details came flooding back as soon as I began reading, and I had an enjoyable time admiring Dame Agatha’s carefully placed clues and red herrings.
There’s one particular well-worn detective trope that might have alerted me to the murderer have I been reading the novel for the first time, but there’s no denying that the resolution is audacious and clever. Without spoiling anything, I think that the identity of the culprit and their highly individual, non-transferable motive is a huge part of why I count After the Funeral among my favourites.