17 October 2009

Review: WHY DIDN'T THEY ASK EVANS?, Agatha Christie

Published in 1934, and then in the US as THE BOOMERANG CLUE.
The copy I read- in a Hamlyn Agatha Christie Crime Collection omnibus published 1969, pages 358 - 511.

Synopsis: While playing a round of golf, Bobby Jones slices his ball over the edge of a cliff. His ball is lost, but on the rocks below he finds the crumpled body of a dying man. With his final breath the man opens his eyes and says, ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’

WHY DIDN'T THEY ASK EVANS is an interesting exploration of the impact of class differences in English society, at the same time as being an absorbing murder mystery. The original title is self-explanatory, but the title THE BOOMERANG CLUE comes from the fact that the first clue to the identity of the murderer is in fact the one that, when understood, actually counts.

Bobby Jones is the fourth son of a clergyman, at a loose end and without prospects because he has recently left the Navy. His fellow "detective" is the Lady Francis Derwent, well above him in social class, but a friend from childhood, when social station made no difference to their friendship. Frankie is a woman of means, with the leisure to pursue mysteries, a car at her disposal, and able to move in the spheres of the wealthy, and able to winkle information out of people in a way that penurious Bobby never could.

One of the themes of this mystery has to be that personal opinions can cloud your judgement as both Bobby and Frankie believe in the innocence of the person who turns out to be the murderer. If you want to read a real spoiler, and learn more of this story than I am going to tell you here, then you can do that on Wikipedia. Another of the lessons must be that true sleuthing is largely a matter of luck, and that culprits are not always brought to justice.

WHY DIDN'T THEY ASK EVANS has stood the test of time well I think, and largely held my attention, although I got a bit impatient to be finished in the last 30 or so pages, where Christie rather pedantically led me through a recount of all the plot points (just in case I had missed anything). This is a technique that Christie tended to use in most of her novels.

My rating: 4.3

WHY DIDN'T THEY ASK EVANS was Agatha Christie's 15th novel (I read it for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge). It was published in September 1934, in the same year as MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. It came hot on the heels of 3 Poirot novels in 3 years. Her reading public had apparently been expecting another Poirot, but most of the critics said that her readers would like Bobby and Frankie and romantic element they would find in this novel.

I thought I'd point out an idea Christie sows in this novel.
Frankie says " We seem, somehow, to have got between the covers of a book. We're in the middle of someone else's story. It's a frightfully queer feeling."
"I know what you mean, " said Bobby. "There is something rather uncanny about it. I should call it a play rather than a book. It's as though we'd walked on to the stage in the middle of the second act and we haven't really got parts in the play at all, but we have to pretend, and what makes it so frightfully hard is that we haven't the faintest idea what the first act was about."
It is an interesting take on what crime detection is all about. Frankie goes on to say that the play may be further progressed than the second act, in fact they may be near the final curtain, which means they have to be quick in coming up with a solution.

Finally a discussion of this novel would not be complete without some discussion of what was done in the name of television entertainment recently. I commented on it in a post titled How Could They Do It? As I remarked earlier, the detectives in WHY DIDN'T THEY ASK EVANS were originally Bobby Jones and Frankie Derwent, amateurs, who solved the mystery almost by accident and with a great deal of luck.
In March 1980 there was a TV adaptation created which remained fairly true to the original story. Joan Hickson, who would later play a very definitive Miss Marple in other TV titles, was a minor character.

But in 2008 came the creation of some new Miss Marple mysteries and as I pointed out in How Could They Do It? the decision was taken to make Miss Marple the detective in WHY DIDN'T THEY ASK EVANS? The Wikipedia article says the plot was largely re-written to accommodate this, Bobby Jones gets re-named to Bobby Attfield, and there are characters who don't appear in the original, and others disappear altogether. My question: Is nothing sacred?


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Kerrie! You really get to the heart of the themes in that book, and you make astute observations. You make an interesting point, too, about the way that Christie usually goes over all of the major plot points and tells the reader exactly what the clues mean at the end of the book. It's certainly a strategy she used a lot.

Bernadette said...

I must admit that those re-hashes of all the plot points are one of the things that annoy me about Christie. It's probably a little unfair as she was one of the first to do it and my annoyance is based on the fact lots of other people do it but I can't help but get a bit bugged.

I agree though they really did make a mess of this with the recent tele movie.

Kerrie said...

Thanks Margot. The more I read Christie the more I see that I missed in my original readings - I really underestimated the depth of what she wrote about.

Kerrie said...

Bernadette, I think in some ways today's crime fiction writers demand more deduction in their readers - Christie I suspect is busily showing us how clever her plot construction was.

The Cozy Mystery Journal said...

This is one of my favorite Christies. Oh heck I think they are all my favorites but I really enjoyed this one.

I love looking at how the covers have changed over the years. My bookcase is littered mostly with the older editions.


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