By this point, I have given up trying to play Guess The Culprit with Agatha Christie mysteries. It’s just not possible. She’s like a magician who tells an audience that she’s going to make a coin disappear and reappear. The coin disappears, and she tells you to watch her right hand. You, who have seen magic shows before, think “Aha! Misdirection! I’ll watch her left hand, and then I’ll see how the trick is done.” So you’re watching her left hand, and everyone else is watching her right hand, and then suddenly the coin appears out of nowhere and no one has any idea how she did that. Meanwhile the assistant, who you’ve completely forgotten about, has just transformed into a dog and then your brain explodes.
That’s what reading a good Agatha Christie book is like. This is one of the good ones. My favorite Christie stories are the ones where multiple people get murdered. A murder occurs, people start looking for the killer, and then BAM somebody else is found dead and you realize that whoever the killer is he/she is fucking nuts and you don’t know who’s going to die next. It adds a great deal of tension and urgency to the story, and I love it.
Now I have two complaints, one serious and one absurd, that contributed to this book’s four-instead-of-five star rating.
The serious: Miss Marple is more present in this book than she was in The Body in the Library, but she still keeps to the sidelines a lot and it’s frustrating. She’s not even mentioned by name until page 95, and I think it’d be nice if she could solve a mystery on her own instead of waiting for the police to invite her into their Boys Only Mystery Solving Clubhouse.
The absurd: Quotes like this, when the police are discussing the inhabitants of the village where the murder took place: “‘Nice old pussies and retired colonels. …Lord, I wish I had my own particular old pussy here. Wouldn’t she like to get her nice ladylike teeth into this?’
‘Who’s your own particular pussy, Henry? An aunt?'”
Okay. I understand that Agatha Christie’s definition of “pussy” is vastly different from my own. But this is like that part in Arrested Development where they actually got a character to call someone a pussy without it being censored, because they claimed it was a British term for a nice person. We all know what they’re really doing, and that’s delighting in being able to use that word freely on TV. (Speaking of Arrested Development, you should all be proud of me for resisting the urge to toss out an “It’s an illusion!” reference during that magician analogy I made up there. You’re welcome.)
Once would be understandable, and a sign that my dirty mind has gone too far, but then it happens again: “‘Ye gods and little fishes,’ said Sir Henry, ‘can it be? George, it’s my own particular, one and only, four-starred pussy. The super pussy of all old pussies.'”
Oh come on, Christie. Now you’re just messing with me.
Verdict: four out of five stars