When the wealthiest man in a small English village is violently murdered, the local doctor is inadvertently enlisted to help retired detective Hercule Poirot make sense of the various subplots and uncover the identity of the killer.
If you haven’t ever read this book (or, like me, you read it decades ago and forgot the plot), avoid reading anything about it online. I had started reading it because I was listening to an episode of the You’re Dead to Me podcast about Agatha Christie, which was being so circumspect about spoiling it that it spoiled it. Then, while doing a search on Goodreads, I saw a spoiler right in the description for a related book. Plus the Wikipedia entry doesn’t even bother with spoiler warnings. It’s all fair enough, since the book is almost 100 years old at this point, but still requires some caution.
- The back-and-forth between the narrator Doctor Sheppard and his sister Caroline is extremely charming, perfectly capturing two characters who have great affection for each other while still being extremely irritated with each other.
- As I’ve been reading or re-reading Agatha Christie’s mysteries recently, I’ve been repeatedly surprised by how contemporary they feel, despite being a century old. They’re filled with quaint British mannerisms, and signs of a class hierarchy that probably doesn’t exist in the same way anymore. But otherwise, this book feels as if it could be transported into the 21st century with barely an edit required.
- Kind of like And Then There Were None, it feels as if Agatha Christie constructed the mystery mostly to prove that she could do it.
- Feels more experimental and challenging than many contemporary mysteries, while still being more accessible and charming.
- Christie “proves her work” at the end of the novel, explaining to the reader exactly how the clues were presented and why they were presented that way. But there are still some deductions that depend on off-screen revelations or deductions that the reader couldn’t possibly have guessed.
- Related to the above: the book gives ample clues that Poirot is off gathering information, but it doesn’t share enough about what he found out. The mystery works best when we have the exact same information as Poirot does, but we’re just not as good at making sense of it.
Just remarkable. I’m glad I’m re-reading Agatha Christie’s books now, because I wasn’t able to appreciate just how impressive they were when I was younger and had no frame of reference. The characters are charming and relatable, and the plot is clever, experimental, and constructed in such a way that it feels as if Christie was challenging herself to make something new. This is deservedly a classic, even if you already know the ending.