Dead Man's Folly, by Agatha Christie

>> Monday, December 03, 2012

TITLE: Dead Man's Folly
AUTHOR: Agatha Christie

PAGES: 240
PUBLISHER: William Morrow

SETTING: 1950s England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: None, really, other than being a Poirot novel

Sir George and Lady Stubbs, the hosts of a village fete, hit upon the novel idea of staging a mock murder mystery. In good faith, Ariadne Oliver, the well-known crime writer, agrees to organize their murder hunt.

Despite weeks of meticulous planning, at the last minute Ariadne calls her friend Hercule Poirot for his expert assistance. Instinctively, she senses that something sinister is about to happen...
Mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver is worried. She's been engaged to plot a "murder hunt" for the Nass house fĂȘte, coming up with a plot and clues the participants must follow to find a body and discover who the killer was. She's got it all plotted out, but she feels something is off, something she can't quite put her finger on. Clearly, the only thing she can do is call in her friend, Hercule Poirot.

By dint of mysterious hints and direct orders, she gets Poirot in, supposedly to hand out the prizes. And it turns out that Mrs. Oliver was right to be worried, because when they go during the fĂȘte to check on the young girl who's volunteered to play the part of of the victim, they find that the dead body really is a dead body. Not to mention, the lady of the house has disappeared.

This was definitely not Christie's best. I liked the premise and the first half or so of the book, and the mystery and characters did hold my attention, but there were flaws. The solution was ingenious, but it came out of left field a bit. Usually whatever happened kind of fits with the way Christie has build the characters, and felt natural, but that wasn't the case here, and the whole thing felt rather contrived. It simply stretched credulity.  I also found it disappointing that the whole premise of the murder hunt, which I thought was really cool, becomes completely irrelevant as the book goes on. As does Mrs. Oliver, actually, who is by far the most interesting, engaging character in the sections she's in.

There's also the fact that this is very much a book of its time. I almost always enjoy that about Christie's books, and appreciate the glimpse of a world long gone. However, this is a world with some very ugly attitudes. Sometimes I can easily let that slide completely and enjoy the book as what it is, and as simply reflecting the attitudes people would have had at the time. Sometimes it's harder, though, and this was one of those. The xenophobia is painful to read, as is the way everyone is constantly and cavalierly commenting on whether a particular character is simple / subnormal / dimwitted. I found that really shocking. And it was just as shocking to read the section where, when discussing whether the crime could have been committed by one of those newfangled "sex maniacs", the policemen dismiss the possibility, because the victim had been rather plain. Christie tends to have the worst prejudiced views voiced by unsympathetic characters, indicating these are not views she, herself, holds, but I still kept flinching as I read, and that wasn't fun.


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: The version I listened to was narrated by David Suchet. Suchet is a very good Poirot on the TV series, so I was thought I was in for a treat when I saw his name on the box. Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed. He did ok in the non-dialogue bits, but the dialogue was excrutiating. He hammed it up to a point where I wanted to scream. He basically made every single character, even Poirot, sound preposterous and ridiculous. I think what annoyed me the most was that he went far beyond what the text revealed about the characters who were speaking, inserting way too much of his interpretation into his reading.

I'm a bit worried, since a lot of the Poirot audiobooks my library holds are narrated by Suchet, but someone on Goodreads mentioned this was one of his earlier ones, and implied he did go on to get more comfortable with the format. So I guess I'll try another one and see. Otherwise, I guess I'll devote myself to Miss Marple for a while!


Mean Fat Old Bat 5 December 2012 at 04:01  

Recently I began to re-read many of my favorite Christie mysteries, some of them for the first time since the 1960s, and I was struck by the casual racism and superior attitudes. These things washed over me 50 years ago, but now - ugh. Even as a reflection of the time and place, it's still distasteful.

Rosario 5 December 2012 at 06:26  

And sometimes it's much more than casual. The Christie I listened to after this one (review due to post in a couple of days) was one of the most upsetting books I've read in ages. One more like that one, and my Christie reread might be over!

Mean Fat Old Bat 8 December 2012 at 13:10  

Oh dear. As I'm downsizing my library, it may be that I thank the ghost of Ms. Christie for past good times, and downsize that section of the bookshelves with no regrets.

It's probably worse in audiobooks. In a print book, a person's eye can skim over those parts, but when it's being read into your ears, there's really no escape. Bummer.

Rosario 9 December 2012 at 08:00  

Possibly, although some of hers are still fine. It's just hard to know which ones. With the really bad one I mentioned (The Body In The Library), I went to goodreads about half-way through to see if anyone was as shocked as I was, and even on the 2* reviews, people didn't mention the issues that bothered me.

And I think you're right about it being harder to gloss over things in audiobooks. Violence, especially, can be a bit much.

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