24 May 2013

Review: ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE, Agatha Christie

  • Originally published in 1958
  • This edition part of the Hamlyn AC crime Collection, published in 1970
  • 176 pages
  • I own the book
Synopsis (Wikipedia)

While serving a sentence for killing Rachel Argyle his foster mother – a crime he insisted he didn't commit – Jacko Argyle dies in prison. Two years later, the man who could have supported Jacko's alibi suddenly turns up; and the family must come to terms with the fact not only that one of them is the real murderer, but also that suspicion falls upon each of them. Christie's focus in this novel is upon the psychology of innocence, as the family members struggle with their suspicions of one another

My Take

There is something quite theatrical about this novel, almost as it was written for the stage with a voice-over.
The two voices we mainly hear are those of Dr Calgary who arrives with the tidings that Jacko must have been innocent, and Mr Marshall, the lawyer who provides legal advice. We see the Argyle family/household through their eyes as they assess each member for their possible guilt or innocence. Others assess each of the family members too.

ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE appears to be a version of a locked room mystery, that is, one of those people with entry to the house must be the murderer. This person need not have been obviously present in the house, but could have been admitted freely by the victim, without the others knowing he/she was there. Jacko, the black sheep of the family, was such a convenient culprit because he was such a conniving and unpleasant character and because therefore the real murderer could regard himself/herself as safe from suspicion.

Once Jacko is cleared posthumously then it becomes clear that another family member is guilty and so the innocence of all is tainted. No-one is free from suspicion as in a sense they all alibi each other.
As Jacko has died in prison two years earlier this is now a "cold case" and almost every member of the Argyle family wishes that the case had not been re-opened. Members of the family wish the whole thing would go away and the effective investigation is carried on independently by three outsiders: the police inspector Huish, Phillip who is Mary's husband, and Dr. Calgary.

What I really liked about ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE was the ending. After some dramatic events, Dr. Calgary finishes what he started. The final denouement is very similar to Poirot's method of pulling the threads together.

Originally published in 1958 as a book, it was also serialised in both UK and the US.

ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE was originally a stand alone, but in 2007, with the script changed heavily from the original novel, it became a "Miss Marple" in the British ITV series, with Geraldine McEwan playing the leading role.

My rating:  4.5

I read ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge. It is my 51st novel.


Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - I like this one too. I think one of the things that has remained with me is the effect on the family members of having the whole business raked up again. That feeling that someone is a murderer is done quite well. And so is your review.

Clothes In Books said...

I like this one too, I think it's clever and well-worked-out, and she has some very interesting things to say about adoption. It's sad about the boy who wished he'd been left with his real family in poverty, rather than moved to riches. But it's not a book I love or re-read like some of the others, it's quite cold-hearted.

Ryan said...

I haven't gotten to this one yet, but I can say I'm really looking forward to it now.


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