64. Dead Man's Folly - an Hercule Poirot mystery
by Agatha Christie
Kindle book, 41
first book for R.I.P. VI challenge
I decided I would include this as one of my choices for the R.I.P. VI challenge,
because other than Ten Little Indians, I think this is the darkest Agatha Christie I have read thus far. I chose it because Ariadne Oliver, the mystery author is in the story. I so enjoyed reading about her in Cards On The Table that I wanted to spend some more reading time in her company. She has been asked to create a mock murder entertainment at a village fête. It should have been a fun endeavor but she has the oddest feeling that she is being manoeuvred in her plans. She calls Poirot and begs, rather demands, that he come to Nasse House, Nassecombe. She can't tell him much on the phone, but the concern in her voice is enough to make him go there immediately. When he arrives, he finds Ariadne eating an apple, as always:
'I knew you'd come,' said Mrs. Oliver cheerfully.She tells him that she has been hired to 'arrange a murder' - a Murder Hunt as a change from the more familiar Treasure Hunt. She tells Poirot,
'You could not possibly have known,' said Poirot severely.
'Oh, yes, I did.'
'I still ask myself why I am here.'
'Well, I know the answer. Curiosity.'
Poirot looked at her and his eyes twinkled a little. 'Your famous woman's intuition,' he said, 'has, perhaps, for once not led you too far astray.'
'... I think there's something wrong. ... I've felt - more and more - that I was being - oh! - engineered...jockeyed along...Call me a fool if you like, but I can only say that if there was to be a real murder tomorrow instead of a fake one, I shouldn't be surprised.'Poirot immediately understands just what she means - that 'the small minor alteration is really the objective.'
'If you know anything at all about writers, you'll know that they can't stand suggestions.'
'That sort of silly suggestion has been made, and then I've flared up, and they've given in, but have just slipped in some quite minor trivial suggestion and because I've made such a stand over the other, I've accepted the triviality without noticing much.'
Mrs. Oliver introduces Poirot (and the readers) to all the characters, and tells him all about the clues and solution to the Murder Hunt. The weapons are laid out upon a table: 'a small pistol, a piece of lead piping with a rusty sinister stain on it, a blue bottle labeled Poison, a length of clothesline and a hypodermic syringe,' just as pictured on the above cover of the first American edition of Dead Man's Folly!
On the day of the fête, the somewhat simple-minded wife of the estate owner goes missing, and the pretend murder victim is found literally so. In my reading of Christie's work, this is the first time I have seen a child as a murder victim. Though you may think this a spoiler, it really isn't. Although the death doesn't occur for a while in the book, I think we readers realize right from the start that fiction is going to equal reality in this Murder Hunt. This death is the beginning of why the book is so dark. I wonder if Agatha ever had a child die in any other book. This is a particularly grim aspect as is the missing wife. There is another character whose life story is utterly heartbreaking. Poirot and Oliver cannot lighten the tale. There is no Hastings to bring a sense of sweetness.
The mystery itself was mildly interesting to me, though quite complicated and convoluted. I had to work to keep the names straight. But I believe that every book, every word Agatha Christie wrote is worth reading. And even though this particular story was not my favorite, I did so enjoy the setting. It is a particularly fine one - a big house on 65 acres of woods and fields and water. After I had finished, I read the locale was actually Agatha's beloved Greenway. And coincidentally (?) I just received the book I ordered about her homes, called Agatha Christie At Home by Hilary Macaskill.
This is deserving of its own future book report but for now I will say that if you love Agatha Christie's work, you will love this book. A few people had recommended it to me, and I'm most grateful. I will read it, refer to it, and look through it over and over. Another 'companion' to add to these books I've mentioned so often.
In Agatha Christie At Home I learned that
Greenway had made an appearance in Agatha's fiction before, as Alderbury in Five Little Pigs, but Dead Man's Folly could act as a guidebook for the estate. The surroundings of Nasse House (which even Poirot approves of) described in this book mirror exactly those of Greenway, from the beautiful river view with 'hills of a misty blue in the distance,' which Poirot is invited to admire, to the position of the neighboring youth hostel.And here is the scene of the crime!