Appointment With Death, by Agatha Christie

>> Thursday, November 13, 2014

TITLE: Appointment With Death
AUTHOR: Agatha Christie

PAGES: 256
PUBLISHER: William Morrow

SETTING: 1930s Jordan
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: An Hercule Poirot mystery

A tyrannical old martinet, a mental sadist and the incarnation of evil. These were only three of the character descriptions levelled at Mrs. Boynton, the matriarch who kept her family totally dependent on her. But did she really deserve to die on the excursion to beautiful Petra? Hercule Poirot hears about the murder and feels compelled to investigate-despite the family's request not to do so. Do they have something to hide and, if so, can they keep it hidden from this master sleuth?

I chose this one as my next Christie when I realised part of it is set in Jordan. After my visit last year, I find myself fascinated by the place.

The plot centres around a very disfunctional family, the Boyntons. Old Mr. Boynton passed away years ago and left control of the family finances to his second wife. Since then, she has kept an iron grip on both the finances and the family members themselves. There are two sons and a daughter from Mr. Boynton's first marriage, as well as a daughter of his and the second Mrs. Boynton. All four are seemingly in thrall to the woman and unable to break free of her domination. The eldest son is married, and his wife is desperate for them to move away from her influence, but he can't manage it.

And then, on a family trip to Petra, Mrs. Boynton dies. It looks like an accident, but Hercule Poirot is also on holiday in the area, and he suspects someone in her family finally had enough of her psychological torture. Because when he first met the Boyntons in Jerusalem, he overheard one of them say to another: “You see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?”.

I had a bit of an issue with this one, which I'm not sure I would have had if I'd read it at the time it came out. No matter how much I tried to rationalise it (it's the 1930s and the economy is awful, Mrs. Boynton made sure none of the children got a useful education, why should they walk away from the fortune that should belong to them by rights?), I just couldn't buy that these people would not have had enough long before. It would have been more believable if Christie had written them as brainwashed or otherwise psychologically damaged, but as soon as Mrs. Boynton dies, they're all perfectly fine. Plus, the old woman herself didn't seem to be as monstrous as we're told she is... as the blurb puts it: "a mental sadist and the incarnation of evil". She's pretty horrid, but in a much more normal way.

The mechanics of the plot are fun, though. There are some good red herrings, and Poirot is on form. Also, I particularly enjoyed the setting. It's not a travelogue, but quite a good picture emerges of what Jordan would have been like at the time.

Not Christie's best, but a good read, nonetheless.



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