Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sad Cypress

Back when I started buying Agatha Christie novels, I wonder if I tended to buy those I wanted to read immediately new and "filled in the gaps" at The Book Swap.  I've read a few of the bought used volumes multiple times, but when I pick up a never-read Christie, it's almost always one I bought used. My copy of Sad Cypress was twice-used - not only is there a stamp from The Book Swap, but also one from used book store in Muncie.  The book itself is a bit of a time capsule.  Not only is there a somewhat lurid cover (with a syringe, a tea cup, and blood stained finger sandwiches next to a medical bag with a knife and a rose poking out), but there are cigarette ads between pages 112 and 113 (and evidence of torn-out ads between pages 136 and 137).  Clearly, this book was printed to be displayed on a drugstore rack, back in the days before big box stores and when places like Clover (which was kind of like Target, only smaller and local to the Philadelphia area) had tiny book sections with an odd array which may or may not include best sellers.

Sad Cypress doesn't feel like a typical Christie, and I was surprised when I saw that it was written during her peak years.  It's a "murder in retrospect" but not quite, and a Poirot novel in which the detective doesn't appear until late in the book.  Christie starts the book during the accused's murder trial.    Elinor Carlistle pleads not guilty to the murder of Mary Gerrard, her rival for the affection of her cousin-by-marriage whom their recently deceased wealthy Aunt Laura Welman had always assumed she'd marry.  Mary was the daughter of the aunt's steward, not quite a lady but educated above her class thanks to Mrs. Welman.  When Mrs. Welman dies intestate, her estate goes to Elinor, who breaks her engagement to Roddy Welman and gives L2,000 to Mary who intends to take a massage course.  Then Mary dies after eating sandwiches prepared by Elinor, so the combination of flimsy motive and strong opportunity put Mary on trial.   The local doctor, who'd been in love with Elinor, hires Hercule Poirot to exonerate her - whether she's innocent or not.  Well, since this is a Christie novel, of course she's innocent, and the real murderer is someone whom I'd never suspect.  Christie plays a bit with the structure, melding a straightforward courtroom drama with a cozy village murder mystery, and I enjoyed it.  I'm sorry I didn't read it 28 or 30 years ago, when I first bought my twice-used copy.

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