3 August 2011

Review: EVIL UNDER THE SUN, Agatha Christie

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 416 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; Masterpiece ed edition (October 14, 2010) Originally published 1941
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0046H95QS
  • Source: I bought it
Publisher's blurb (Amazon)

Agatha Christie’s exotic seaside mystery thriller.
It was not unusual to find the beautiful bronzed body of the sun-loving Arlena Stuart stretched out on a beach, face down. Only, on this occasion, there was no sun… she had been strangled.
Ever since Arlena’s arrival at the resort, Hercule Poirot had detected sexual tension in the seaside air. But could this apparent ‘crime of passion’ have been something more evil and premeditated altogether?

My take

Is EVIL UNDER THE SUN the perfect holiday read? Or will it make you look askance as your fellow holiday makers? Certainly the Jolly Roger Hotel, Smugglers’ Island, Leathercombe Bay sounds attractive and the setting exudes a feeling of summer.
    Captain Roger Angmering had only one great love, the sea. So he built his house—a sturdy house too, as it needed to be, on the little windswept gull-haunted promontory—cut off from land at each high tide. 
    The sturdy house was added to and embellished. A concrete causeway was laid down from the mainland to the island. ‘Walks’ and ‘Nooks’ were cut and devised all round the island. There were two tennis courts, sun-terraces leading down to a little bay embellished with rafts and diving boards. The Jolly Roger Hotel, Smugglers’ Island, Leathercombe Bay, came triumphantly into being. And from June till September (with a short season at Easter) the Jolly Roger Hotel was usually packed to the attics. It was enlarged and improved in 1934 by the addition of a cocktail bar, a bigger dining-room and some extra bathrooms. The prices went up. People said: ‘Ever been to Leathercombe Bay? Awfully jolly hotel there, on a sort of island. Very comfortable and no trippers or charabancs. Good cooking and all that. You ought to go.’ And people did go.
Several of the holiday makers recognise Hercule Poirot. (who wouldn't?)
    resplendent in a white duck suit, with a panama hat tilted over his eyes, his moustaches magnificently befurled, lay back in an improved type of deck-chair and surveyed the bathing beach.
and go as far as to ask if he is there on "business". He replies:
    let me assure you, Madame, that I am here simply in the same way that you are here yourselves—to enjoy myself—to spend the holiday. I do not think of crime even.

There is some discussion about whether crime could ever happen in such an idyllic spot:
    ‘No, I don’t believe even Mrs Gardener would have believed in a crime staged here. This isn’t the sort of place you’d get a body!’
    Hercule Poirot stirred a little in his chair. He protested. He said: ‘But why not, Mademoiselle? Why should there not be what you call a “body” here on Smugglers’ Island?’ 
    Emily Brewster said: ‘I don’t know. I suppose some places are more unlikely than others. This isn’t the kind of spot—’ She broke off, finding it difficult to explain her meaning. 
    ‘It is romantic, yes,’ agreed Hercule Poirot. ‘It is peaceful. The sun shines. The sea is blue. But you forget, Miss Brewster, there is evil everywhere under the sun.’
Some even privately express a belief (a murderer amongst them) that if a crime does occur Poirot is probably "past it".
    He’s Hercule Poirot. You must have heard of him.’ Mr Blatt said: ‘Didn’t catch his name properly. Oh yes, I’ve heard of him. But I thought he was dead. Dash it, he ought to be dead. What’s he after down here?’
    ‘He’s pretty old. Probably more or less ga ga.’
Well, the reader knows from the beginning (because of the publisher's blurb) that a murder will occur. Poirot knows it will too but can't see how he can prevent it. And we readers even know who the victim will be. What we don't know is when, how, and why.

One of Poirot's problems is that, although he is pretty sure who one of the murderers is, he likes her. She has qualities he appreciates in the 'modern' young woman - plenty of resolution, courage and good sense - and so he is reluctant to place her in the picture until he gets irrefutable evidence of an earlier crime and then the penny drops. It is a dilemma that often crops up for Poirot - feminine wiles can get the better of him.

For those who need it in their holiday reading, there is also romance, and a young life saved.

EVIL UNDER THE SUN is an enjoyable read, well constructed, fairly complex plot, but I think quite a way from Christie's best. I was particularly exasperated by the final chapter in which Poirot lays everything out before us. This was one case where perhaps Christie could have left it to the reader to put it all together. (Kindle tells me the chapter is 5% of the total book.) Perhaps Christie could have finished when the murderer lunged to get his hands around Poirot's throat. The explanations of chapter 13 got a bit tedious.

My rating: 4.3

Check another review: Miss Lemon's Mysteries


Anonymous said...

Kerrie - Thanks very much as ever for your review. It's interesting you would mention the way Poirot lays out the case at the end of this novel. You're not the only who's told me they weren't really keen on that chapter. I think you're quite right that this novel really evokes summer and holiday time. In that sense, it is an excellent choice for a holiday read. On the other hand, one doesn't look at one's fellow hotel guests in the same way afterward ;-). Still, I really like that old-fashioned "holiday-by-the-sea" feel of it.

Bernadette said...

Not one of my favourites I must admit, I think the denoument borders on the absurd.

Anonymous said...

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