12 June 2010

Review: DEATH IN THE CLOUDS, Agatha Christie

First published by Collins 1935
aka DEATH IN THE AIR
This edition  by Harper Collins 2001
ISBN 978-0-00-711933-2
333 pages

I read this as part of my journey  in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.

Blurb - courtesy of the Agatha Christie website
On a flight to London from Paris, a sleepy Hercule Poirot awakes to find fellow passenger Mme Giselle murdered by a poisoned dart. The murderer must be one of the ten passengers and two stewards aboard the flight, but when the facts lead Poirot nowhere fast, he realises that there is a real danger the case may never be solved.
In 1935, the year this novel was published, a regular London-Paris air service began – using converted bombers for the aircraft.

This is a fascinating novel from a number of points of view.
To start with, because of its setting, it is very obviously a "locked room" mystery. If Mme Giselle's death is murder then the murderer has to have been on the plane. Hercule Poirot, that inveterate sufferer from mal-de-mer, is concentrating on not being a victim of mal-de-air, and feels a great deal of chagrin that murder has taken place under his very nose, or to be more precise, under his closed eyes.

For air travellers amongst us, travel on this plane was very different, and much more in keeping with travelling by train or by steamer. To start with luggage, rugs and other paraphernalia are heaped rather untidily at the end of the cabin, which Agatha Christie keeps calling a "car".
At the front of the book is a diagram of the rear "car" of the plane Prometheus, which clearly shows that some of the seats are arranged in "facing" sets of 4.
And just a final point about this setting - the windows of the plane have little air vents, big enough to have passed a blow pipe through. They obviously didn't fly at 37,000 feet.

The investigation of the murder is jointly conducted by Poirot, the French detective Fournier and Inspector Japp from Scotland Yard, and each brings a different quality to its conduct. Poirot and Fournier are both interested in the psychology of crime.

In the following Poirot, Fournier and Japp are talking about perception, and how we interpret what happens in the light of other observations (or perhaps what we don't notice)

Fournier says .... when a lady dies suddenly of heart failure, if a man is to drop his handkerchief and stoop to pick it up, who will notice the action or think twice about it?

I really enjoyed the interaction between these 3.

Try yourself on this video:


Finally we see a further development of the romantic side of Hercule Poirot's character, when he lets a society lady off lightly and gives a young orphan a gentle push towards love.

My verdict: a very good read. My rating: 4.6

5 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - So glad you enjoyed this one! And a fine review, too! And thanks for the video, too : ). This is one of my favorites for so many reasons, not the least of which is the character of Mr. Clancy, the detective story writer. What a great parody : ).

Kerrie said...

You're so right Margot - there is a lot to enjoy in this one. The occasional picture Agatha Christie draws of fellow novelists is quite amusing - thinking of both Clancy and Ariadne Oliver. If there is a weakness in this novel it is the final explanation but who cares? the rest is so good.

Kay said...

This is one of my favorite Agatha Christie mysteries. I loved the hint of romance, the mystery writer, Clancy, and especially the glimpse of air travel in a time gone by. Ken Follett wrote a book called NIGHT OVER WATER which also has a setting of bygone air travel. Very luxurious in some ways, not so much in others.

Kerrie said...

I was left in some doubt about whether at that stage AC had actually travelled on such a plane Kay. The little ventilation holes in the windows threw me

Deb said...

I love how Christie offers a very obvious clue as to the killer's identity (I won't say any more--but I'm sure you know the one I mean), but (at least to me) she presents it so smoothly that it went right over my head (as always!). When I reached the end of DEATH IN THE CLOUDS and Poirot mentions that particular clue, I wa shaking my head, thinking, "Why didn't I see that?"

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