Crooked House (Agatha Christie Collection S.) ペーパーバック – 1996/5/7
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The Leonides are one big happy family living in a sprawling, ramshackle mansion. That is until the head of the household, Aristide, is murdered with a fatal barbiturate injection.
It's a book about families and family relationships. By the time of its writing, Christie had lived through two world wars. She had been married twice and divorced once. She had raised a daughter and was enjoying being a grandmother. And she was (like all good writers) an observer. In her autobiography she says, "Now that I am older and have seen more and know more about men and women...."
The plot of this book revolves around the quirks of human nature as seen by a shrewd woman with decades of experience. The characters are believable because the reader senses that they were all based on people that the author had known. Christie knew that there are different kinds of ruthlessness and that most of us are capable of being ruthless (perhaps even to the point of committing murder) if the stakes are high enough. There are three murders and one suicide in this book and all occurred because someone found them necessary.
This is one of Christie's "stand-alone" mysteries. No Miss Marple. No Hercule Poirot. The narrator is a man whose young adult life has been consumed by WWII. He's familiar with crime because his father is Commissioner of Police and he's in love with the granddaughter of the first victim. He knows that when a murder goes unsolved, the innocent suffer as much (if not more) than the guilty and he's determined that his Sophia won't spend the rest of her life under a cloud of suspicion.
It's a good mystery with a horrifying, but inevitable conclusion. And it makes you think. I can see why Christie was proud of it.
“Crooked House” take place in the English countryside shortly after World War II. A wealthy octogenarian businessman dies as a result of someone switching some eye drops for his insulin shortly before he received his daily injection. The man had a second wife some 50 years his junior, who quickly becomes the prime suspect, along with her boyfriend, and he also had a bunch of other relatives who all conveniently lived in the same house with him and who all possibly had financial and other motives to wish his demise sooner rather than later. Further, everyone in the house knew about and had access to the victim’s medications and that switching them could be fatal.
Despite Christie’s love for the book, “Crooked House” isn’t nearly as well known as many of her works, such as “Murder on the Orient Express.” The reason for this relative obscurity may well be that “Crooked House” does not feature either of Christie’s two famous detectives, Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple. Instead, the narrator is Charles Hayward a diplomat who spent the war overseas and has just rekindled his romance with Sophia, the granddaughter of the dead businessman. Because Hayward’s father is a police officer, he is asked to stay at the house for a while and talk to the various witnesses in hopes of finding a clue.
Unlike many Christie novels, the solution to “Crooked House” does not depend on unraveling a lot of tiny bits of physical evidence to determine that Colonel Mustard was the only person who had access to the conservatory at the right moment. Instead, the clues are primarily psychological, and figuring out the killer requires figuring out which of the suspects has the temperament of a killer since pretty much everybody could have easily done it. Fortunately, Charles has one or two good scenes with each suspect, so he can make observations as to their guilty behavior or lack thereof.
With the clues primarily being psychological, “Crooked House” resembles one of those optical illusions that is impossible to spot unless you happen to look at it in just the right way. A number of people do figure out the killer’s identity, as judged by the reviews, while others it near impossible. No matter how adept the reader is, one thing is sure; like “Orient Express,” once readers finish “Crooked House,” it’s one they are almost sure to remember.
My admiration for the puzzle in “Crooked House” is tempered a bit by the book’s shortcomings as a novel. Charles is the epitome of the dull narrator—no exercising the little gray cells here—and his romance with Sophia, which other writers might take advantage to ratchet up the suspense is curiously tepid. The only function Charles serves is to provide the narration and give the suspects a shoulder to cry upon. And, although the characters are a bit quirky, readers never lose sight of the fact that “Crooked House” is essentially a book-length puzzle with characters that are given only as much development as needed to support the storyline.
“Crooked House” may only be a puzzle, but it’s a very good one, and one that readers will remember. Having read a number of Christie books over the years, I disagree with the author’s assessment that it’s the best of her work, but it’s still an enjoyable read for mystery fans.
It is truly one of a kind and if you like her writing you should get ready to see a particularly dark corner of her mind.