Wednesday, October 30, 2013

After the Funeral

Agatha Christie can still get me.  I've read most of her books now, and even when I read a "new" one, I can guess the murderer, or at least narrow it down to a small group that includes the culprit.  Not this time - I'd identified three suspects and completely missed the murderer.

After the Funeral begins after Richard Abernathie's funeral.  A widowed septuagenarian mourning the death of his only son, his own death was not unexpected.  After his solicitor, Mr. Entwhistle, reads the will to the heirs, Abernathie's surviving sister says, "But he was murdered, wasn't he?"  No one takes her seriously - Cora had always been, well, a bit off, and she'd been estranged from the family since her marriage to an artist decades before.  Then (because this is an Agatha Christie novel), someone murders Cora, hacks her to death with a hatchet while she slept.  Does this mean that Cora was right?

Mr. Entwhistle isn't sure, so he calls on his old friend, Hercule Poirot.  Disguising himself as the representative of a refugee organization, Poirot invites the survivors - two grand-nieces and their 'unsuitable' husbands, a grand-nephew involved in questionable financial deals (doesn't every Christie novel have a young man cooking the books?), Richard Abernathie's "invalid" brother and his wife, Richard's favorite sister-in-law Helen, and Cora's paid companion - to Abernathie's home which he says his organization is buying..  A somewhat estranged family, visiting the about-to-be-sold family estate and bickering over the inheritance…so of course someone is attacked.  With one suspect hospitalized with a concussion, Poirot again gathers the family and accuses…the last person I would ever suspect.  And yet, once revealed, the murder's identity is completely obvious.

Christie tired of her most popular detective long before the public did.  She couldn't retire Poirot, but his appearances became less frequent as time went by.  It may not just have been weariness with the Belgian detective, though.  I've always though of Poirot as belonging to the era between World Wars (and Miss Marple, in her sleepy village where electricity and cars may replace candles and horses but nothing else changes, belongs to the post-war era).  Seeing Poirot in the 1950s and talking about death duties and societal changes, well, it just doesn't fit.  He was always more of a caricature than a character, but so were the Bright Young Things and the characters which populated screwball comedies.  The 1950s were more subdued, and Poirot was just a bit too unreal.

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