>> Monday, December 03, 2012
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.Mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver is worried. She's been engaged to plot a "murder hunt" for the Nass house fête, 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.
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...
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 fête 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.
MY GRADE: A C+.
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!