18 May 2009

Review: THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY, Agatha Christie

The copy of THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY I read was an Agatha Christie Signature Edition published in 2002. ISBN 0-00-713684-6, 348 pages.
The original was published in 1931. The cover of the book I read was a lot tamer than the one I have used here.

THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY was actually first published in the US under the title of THE MURDER AT HAZELMOOR.

Christmas is approaching. Snow has fallen in England over the last four days and the landscape on the fringe of Dartmoor at Sittaford House is several feet deep in snow. To all intents and purposes the tiny village of Sittaford is almost completely cut off.
The winter tenants of Sittaford House, Mrs Willett and her daughter Violet, are entertaining the residents of the nearby estate cottages to afternoon tea. To pass the time the group tries a spot of table turning. When the table spells out the message "Captain Trevelyan ... dead... murder", one of the party, Trevelyan's lifelong friend Major Burnaby decides to make the six mile trek into the village on foot, just to check his friend's welfare.

Christie still appears to be searching for a protagonist, although by this time, her 11th novel, Hercule Poirot has appeared 5 times, Superintendent Battle twice, and Miss Marple made her debut in the previous novel THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE.
I don't think the new protagonist, Inspector Narracott is a success. In fact we never really get to know him. He is rather colourless, uninspiring, as well as secretive, and Christie only lets him loose once more, many years later in a play.

Narracott shares the limelight of the investigation with Emily Trefusis, engaged to be married to young man accused of Captain Trevelyan's murder, and a journalist by the name of Charles Enderby. This couple are much more interesting and through them Christie brings in a romantic element, to add to the rather supernatural one of the table turning.

All of the people who were in Sittaford House that afternoon have something to hide, and so the story is rather liberally sprinkled with red herrings, and with sub-plots, including a breakout from a nearby prison on Dartmoor which reminded me a bit of the plot from Dickens' GREAT EXPECTATIONS. There is a basic assumption that the murderer had either to be from Sittaford House itself or from one of the cottages. Christie plays a little with the reader through the dual investigations, and it means that we don't actually have all of the facts at our disposal.

My rating: 4.3

I read this as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, in which I am aiming to read the Agatha Christie novels in the order of publication.


Margaret said...

This seems familiar - maybe I saw it on TV?

Do you have an explanation of your rating system somewhere on the blog - I couldn't see it after a quick look? I take it 5 is your top rating?

Dorte H said...

I liked bits and pieces of this story, but didn´t take to the protagonist either.
Good of you to share an interesting cover with us :)

Martin Edwards said...

I thought this was a fun book, and so I was dismayed by the recent TV adaptation, which really hammed it up. A clever murder motive, although not very heavily clued.

Belle said...

I agree with your assessment of Inspector Narracott - just a little bland and uninspiring. I recently heard the BBC Radio production of this, which was quite eerie and enjoyable.

Intergalatic Bookworm said...

I forgot if I signed up for your Agatha Christie Reading Carnival or not. I would like to join.

Judy/Intergalatic Bookworm


Kerrie said...

My rating system is at http://paradise-mysteries.blogspot.com/2009/04/book-reviews-my-policy-and-guidelines.html Margaret

Kerrie said...

It is an interesting read Dorte, and I thought it did reasonably well despite the fact that Narracott wasn't a success as a character. At leasy he wasn't really a plod either.

Kerrie said...

I haven't seen the TV version Nartin but I can imagine there would be bits that would really lend themselves to ham. You are right though - how the murder happened was clever.

Kerrie said...

I see Narracott as part of a stream of Christie exploring possibilities for a really good protag. He really just lacked depth of character but there was potential there if she had stuck with him - he really becomes a bit of a sideshow to Emily, she is the one who works out how it is done

Kerrie said...

Judy just join in - set yourself the challenge - read a book, write a review, and then submit it to the carnival. You do it at your own pace. Feel free to use the logo on on your own reviews.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin