27 September 2014

Review: POSTERN OF FATE, Agatha Christie

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 595 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1st edition (October 14, 2010)
  • first published 1973
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0046H95MW
  • Tommy & Tuppence #5
Synopsis (Amazon)

A poisoning many years ago may not have been accidental after all…

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford have just become the proud owners of an old house in an English village. Along with the property, they have inherited some worthless bric-a-brac, including a collection of antique books. While rustling through a copy of The Black Arrow, Tuppence comes upon a series of apparently random underlinings.

However, when she writes down the letters, they spell out a very disturbing message:
M a r y – J o r d a n – d i d – n o t – d i e – n a t u r a l l y…

And sixty years after their first murder, Mary Jordan's enemies are still ready to kill…

My Take

This is the last novel that Agatha Christie ever wrote. In previous titles, NEMESIS and ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER she had brought the careers of her other sleuths to a close, although the final novels published relating to Hercule Poirot (CURTAIN) and Miss Marple (SLEEPING MURDER) were both written in about 1940).

Tommy and Tuppence appear together in four full-length novels and one collection of short stories. The collection of short stories is Partners in Crime, (1929), the four novels are THE SECRET ADVERSARY (1922), N or M? (1941), BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS (1968); and POSTERN OF FATE (1973).

Unlike Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple the Beresfords actually age in real time, beginning in their early 20s in 1922 and in POSTERN OF FATE they are in their 70s.

Rather appropriately the mystery in this story begins with a code which Tuppence breaks with ease. While Tommy was the one who worked in Intelligence and then as a private detective, and Tuppence was the one who raised the children and kept the home fires burning, it always seemed to be it was Tuppence whom Christie favored.

This novel is also about memory. The house that the Beresfords have bought has changed hands many times since Mary Jordan died and, as in ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER, most of the knowledge about the "Frowline" is mixture of hearsay and innuendo. But the discovery of a gravestone in the local churchyard sets both Beresfords off on a hunt for the truth. Tuppence explores what elderly villagers remember while Tommy goes through more official channels. This is rather evocative of the strategy adopted by Hercule Poirot and Ariadne Oliver in ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER. I think it is also Christie exploring how her own memory works.
It turns out that the house that the Beresfords have bought has been "of interest" to British intelligence for decades as a possible hiding place for documents that the government would rather not see made publicly available.

In ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER there were references to cases that Poirot had solved, and there are similar passing references here to the previous novels in which the Beresfords featured.

Those who are looking in this novel for signs that Agatha Christie was "past it" or had Alzheimer's won't find it here. The novel is carefully plotted by a writer who still has something to say. However I think some of the episodes of dialogue between the Beresfords is a bit limp, nothing that I could imagine a husband and wife, even after about fifty years of married life, saying to each other. 
In addition some of the plot strands get confusing with informants not clearly explaining the information they are passing on.

I think the novel is also a little outdated in its writing style although it may not have been at time of publication. It reflects a belief Christie held for all her life: that there are some persistent forces of evil that regenerate from one generation to the next. Sometimes they are not at first seen for the malignancies that they are.

My rating:  3.8

I've read this as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, and now I have just two titles to go.
  • 1975, CURTAIN (Poirot's last case, written about 35 years earlier)
  • 1976, SLEEPING MURDER (Miss Marple's last case, written about 35 years earlier)


Margot Kinberg said...

Interesting, Kerrie, that you picked up that aspect of Christie's writing in this novel. I see that as one of the themes too. And this one's generally regarded as not Christie's best. Possibly it's got to do with the fact that it was at the end of her career (and presumably, her health?).

Margot Kinberg said...

Interesting that you saw that theme of evil in this novel, Kerrie. I've noted it too. As you know, this one's generally not regarded as Christie's best, and I think that shows in the plot and so on, as you mention. I wonder if that has to do with the fact that this was at the end of Christie's career (and presumably her health?).


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