Like most book people, Autumn is my favourite time of year. Knitwear weather is starting but we’re still not in the potentially icy period. The leaves are starting to change, the nights are getting darker and socially acceptable to stay inside all the time. It is also the perfect time to read a whole bunch of Agatha Christie. I know people like to use the term “cosy crime” as a pejorative but it’s nothing of the sort. It is, however, cosy. There’s nothing I love more than settling down with a cup of tea and a murder mystery. I have several books that I want to get through this year but I decided to start with this one. Some may think it’s the wrong time of year for a crime thriller set in a Summer holiday resort but why not?
For a woman to truly count, she must have goodness or brains. Agatha Christie was clearly a writer with an endless supply of brains. That is why her books continue to wow readers 130 years after she was born. Unfortunately, sometimes she is perhaps a little too clever and books like Evil Under the Sun are good examples of that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fabulous read and she will always be entertaining. It’s just there is something about this book that prevents it from being in the top 10. The plot just feels a bit too clever. A bit too contrived. There are so many possible slip-ups along the way that it can be difficult to believe that the killer actually pulled it off.
So unbelievable that it might, at least, increase the chances that you don’t guess the outcome. It also helps that there are plenty of red herrings thrown into the mix. Arlena Marshall is a woman without many fans. When she, her husband, and stepdaughter, arrive at a secluded hotel in Devon, she soon finds herself at the centre of plenty of gossip. As a former actress, she is used to stealing focus and particularly revels in the attention of men. Something that doesn’t sit well with most of her fellow guests. Arlena has set her sights on the Patrick Redfern, a young married man, and his wife, Christine, is less than impressed.
One morning, Arlena leaves the hotel early and misses an appointment with Patrick. Her absence is quickly explained when she is discovered on a secluded beach having been strangled to death. With all of the guest having seemingly unbreakable alibis, the police start to think that an outsider was responsible. However, everyone’s favourite Belgian, Hercule Poirot, has other ideas. He has also been staying at the hotel and has already witnessed several things that are guiding his personal investigation. Can he uncover the killer? And what other mysteries is this idyllic setting hiding?
Evil Under the Sun is an interesting read but there’s maybe too much going on. The plot is so intricate and clever but it lacks the human touch that normally makes her novels so memorable. It’s not my favourite reveal but, as usual, watching Poirot putting the puzzle pieces together is a joy. He’s such a brilliant character. You can’t exactly like him but he draws you in. He’s at his best when his ego is left to run wild.. Especially when he is surrounded by such a great mix of supporting characters. There is such a wide array of personalities here and you are bound to fall in love with several of them. Agatha Christie understands people and she understands their motives.
This is also a pretty personal novel for Christie. The ghost of her first marriage haunts the pages and you can feel the emotional fallout that remains. The passages in which she discusses married men being distracted by younger women have a depth and realism to them. There are some absolutely fascinating passages here that cry out for deeper study. As are her ruminations on evil. Are some people just born evil? If they are, are they destined to meet a grizzly end? If anyone can help figure it out then its Monsieur Poirot.