Reviews

‘an intriguing read . . . keeps the reader guessing . . . a lot to enjoy in this romp through the Cambridge Commons . . . a strong sense of place and a narrative style that is both energetic and engaging.’ [Dead Letters]

- Margaret Murphy, SHERLOCK

Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse: funny AND scary

The_Pale_Horse_First_Edition_Cover_1961Mark Easterbrook goes to see his writer friend, Mrs Oliver, to ask her to open a church fête. Mrs Oliver “in a state apparently bordering on insanity, was prowling around the room, muttering to herself . . .

‘But why,’ demanded Mrs Oliver of the universe, ‘why doesn’t the idiot say at once that he saw the cockatoo? Why shouldn’t he? He couldn’t have helped seeing it! But if he does mention it, it ruins everything. There must be a way . . . there must be . . .’

She groaned, ran her fingers through her short grey hair and clutched it with a frenzied hand. Then, looking at me with suddenly focused eyes, she said, ‘Hallo, Mark. I’m going mad,’ and resumed her complaint.'”

Feeling in need of comfort reading the other evening, I chose an Agatha Christie that I hadn’t read for a while. It’s definitely one of my favourites among her later novels: a feisty heroine, a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, superlative plotting – and it’s funny too. One of the things I so much like about Christie is her ability to laugh at herself. That’s always engaging. For Mrs Ariadne Oliver (brilliant name!) is a thinly disguised version of Agatha Christie (with a tiresome Finn instead of a Belgian as her fictional detective). And what amused me so much is that Mrs Oliver’s struggle to make her plot work is all too familiar to us lesser mortals toiling in the field of crime fiction.

By the end of Mark’s visit he has quite by accident happened to make a remark that offers Mrs Oliver a solution to her problem. And VERY SMALL SPOILER ALERT, she  in her turn has shed light on the plot of the novel. It’s beautifully done. Chapeau, Dame Agatha! There is no-one quite like you.

 

8 Comments

  1. Margot Kinberg
    April 20, 2017

    This really is a good ‘un, isn’t it? I think what I like about it is that Christie shows that she can create a sense of foreboding and atmosphere. She doesn’t do that in all of her books; it’s good to remember that she had the skill.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      April 20, 2017

      Good to hear from you. Yes, I like that about it, too. The shiver up the spine . . . I also get the impression that though she took her writing very seriously, she didn’t take herself seriously, and that is always attractive.

      Reply
  2. moira @ClothesInBooks
    April 22, 2017

    I’ve never thought of this as one of my favourite Christies (though moderate Christie is better than most people’s best…) but now of course you have made me want to re-read it. Murder, violence, wickedness and hatred – what could make for a better comfort read… ?

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      April 23, 2017

      Yes, indeed! What’s not to like, Moira? I enjoyed rereading and although I remembered how the murders were committed, I had forgotten who the villain was. Also liked Mrs Dane Calthorp and I always like the dying-words-to-a-priest trope.

      Reply
  3. Susan D
    April 25, 2017

    Oh good. Another one to pick up. I’ve recently been reading some of her lesser known ones, that I’ve read perhaps only once in the past. I’d forgotten Mrs. Oliver was in this, so a double treat in store for me.

    I’m currently rereading her memoir of an archeological dig in Syria, Come Tell Me How You Live, and enjoying it hugely. I have to put myself firmly in the 1930s when it took place. Still, of course, it makes me weep for the people of the present day.

    I think Agatha Christie is pretty much underrated as a humourous writer. It certainly comes out in this memoir, and in so many of her delightfully drawn characters.

    Reply

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