I’ve now plowed through about one third of Agatha Christie’s detective oeuvre (only three more years to go before I finish them all, going by the current pace… wheee), but I’ve only now stumbled on a novel that features and is narrated by Hercule Poirot’s own faithful Watson, Arthur Hastings. I say stumbled because, while the details of the story gradually floated back into my memory the longer I read, especially the undeniably clever ending, this novel had kinda faded from my brain. Though maybe not the most memorable Poirot mystery ever, it’s not without its charms, not the least of which is the friendship between Poirot and Hastings. Everyone likes a bickering couple!
Hercule Poirot takes a midday flight from Paris to London, but thanks to acute motion sickness, can’t take time to observe the ten fellow passengers in his section of the plane. The diverse bunch includes a crime novel writer, a countess with a secret cocaine habit, father and son archaeologists, a Harley Street doctor, a young hairdresser back from a holiday and an attractive dentist in the opposite seat who she’s crushing on. As the plane nears its destination, the stewards make a shocking discovery: one of the passengers, an elderly French lady, is found slumped and dead in her seat.
A peculiar blend of historical fiction and supernatural horror, The Terror is a chilling speculation on the fate of the doomed 19th-century polar expedition led by Sir John Franklin. I read almost half of it in a long marathon session while sick in bed, and by the evening I could almost hear the groaning of the ice and the howling arctic wind. Though it’s not an easy breezy read at over 900 pages long, it’s a meticulously researched, deeply absorbing and deeply nightmarish tour de force.
This stand-alone mystery was one of the first Christie novels I’ve ever read, and for that reason I’ve always had a soft spot for it even though the best compliment I can give the book is “solid”. Many other Christie novels have more memorable settings and ingenious twists, this one simply has classic crime ingredients – a small group of suspects, poison and red herrings galore – that come together for a cracking good read.
This stand-alone mystery is one of Christie’s oddest crime novels, which is probably why it’s one of her books that stuck in my memory the most. I don’t necessarily think it’s an example of Christie at her best; the non-linear plot meanders somewhat and the resolution is far too abrupt. But it’s certainly one of her most interesting books, with some unusual elements that I can’t remember seeing anywhere else in Christie’s oeuvre.
I’ve already watched the mostly excellent HBO adaptation with Amy Adams before reading Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, but having read her other books I think I’d have had a fair idea of what to expect anyway. As her musical namesake Gillian Welch sings, You know some girls are bright as the morning / And some have a dark turn of mind.
One of the best things about my Agatha Christie challenge has been learning all sorts of trivia about the books I’ve loved for many many years. I never realised that Dead Man’s Folly was actually written around a real, specific location, namely Greenway House in South Devon. Once the beloved holiday home of Agatha Christie, the estate is now apparently open to the visitors, and if I’m ever in that part of the UK I’ll be sure to look it up.