13 January 2012

Review: TOWARDS ZERO, Agatha Christie

  • This edition part of the Hamlyn Agatha Christie Crime Collection
  • dedicated to Robert Graves
  • 144 pages
  • first published in 1944
  • Superintendent Battle
Synopsis (from Christie.com)

What is the connection between a failed suicide attempt, a wrongful accusation of theft against a schoolgirl, and the romantic life of a tennis player?  To the casual observer, apparently nothing. When a houseparty gathers at Gull's Point, the seaside home of an elderly widow, earlier events come to a dramatic head.
Robert Graves, author of I Claudius, was a neighbour of Agatha Christie’s in Devon during the Second World War and the two became friends.  Christie dedicated this book to Graves.

My take

The last time Superintendent Battle made an appearance was in 1939 in MURDER IS EASY (aka EASY TO KILL).

TOWARDS ZERO opens with a Prologue which introduces the concept of characters converging towards Zero Hour.

The book is broken up into sections, a feature that the reader barely notices.
'OPEN THE DOOR AND HERE ARE THE PEOPLE'  introduces the cast of characters: Angus MacWhirter in hospital after attempting to throw himself off a cliff and failing; an unknown person plotting a murder; Superintendent Battle called to his daughter's school because she has admitted to pilfering, Nevile Strange, his wife Kay and his ex-wife Audrey; Lady Tressilian and Mary Aldin at Gull's Point which all the Stranges will visit for two weeks in September; Thomas Royde returning home to Gull's Point from Malaya; Mr Treves (whom we met in the Prologue) looking for somewhere to spend his holidays; and Ted Latimer, a friend of the Kay Strange.

The novel progresses, bringing the characters together at Salt Creek, closer and closer to Zero Hour.
And then two murders take place and Superintendent Battle staying with his nephew Jim Leach is pulled into the investigation.

Superintendent Battle comes over as a pretty stodgy sort of policeman who does things by the book. In fact I think Agatha Christie fans may well have been disappointed that the author didn't choose one of her other sleuths for the role. (The Agatha Christie site reveals that it was adapted for TV in 2007 with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple.)
Battle's plodding methods and determination to get irrefutable evidence win the day and eventually the right person is apprehended.

For much of the book TOWARDS ZERO feels rather like a romance, with eternal triangles, jealousies, and thwarted desires. And then it gathers pace, with only twenty or so pages to go, and we hear a point made before, by Treves and then by Battle, who makes a statement worthy of Poirot himself:
    When you read the account of a murder - or say, a fiction story based on murder, you usually begin with the murder itself. That's all wrong. The murder begins a long time beforehand. A murder is the culmination of a lot of different circumstances, all converging into it from different parts of the globe and unforeseen reasons..... The murder itself is the end of the story. It's Zero Hour.
And then Battle goes on to nail the murderer and prevent another murder. The plot of the book is quite a clever one, but there were a couple of things that hung: Angus MacWhirter's role for instance: it almost felt as if Christie wanted to include another element of romance. Mr Treves' story of a child who kills another with an bow and arrow is never fully explained which was frustrating. The murder that takes place at Gull's Point has a clumsy explanation depending on the difference in left and right hand swings and I had great difficulty in imagining the murder weapon.

This is the last novel in which Superintendent Battle makes an appearance. With Inspector Japp as a foil in many of the Poirot titles Superintendent Battle outlived his usefulness.

He appeared in
My rating: 4.2


    Anonymous said...

    Kerrie - A fine review - thanks. And I think you've hit on the reason that, I have to admit, this isn't my favourite of Christie's work; still, as a devoted fan and all, I have to say I liked it.

    bibliolathas said...

    It's an odd one, isn't it? Tho' not as odd as Endless Night! I couldn't visualise the whole L/R thing at all. But it is ages since I've read it and your great review inspires me to read it again - thank you!

    Les Blatt said...

    Kerrie, an interesting side-note on Inspector Battle comes from John Curran's newly-published second volume based on Agatha Christie's notebooks ("Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making"): he cites another reference book which quotes Christie as confirming that Colin Lamb, the hero of "The Clocks," is actually Superintendent Battle's son. Keeping it all in the family, I suppose... !!

    Nan said...

    I'm always so excited when I read of an AC I've not yet read, or even heard of. This one sounds very good. I've read only one of the Superintendent Battles - Cards on the Table. How I love AC's work.
    PS the word verification was 'readr'


    Blog Widget by LinkWithin