Book Review – The Last Séance: Tales of the Supernatural by Agatha Christie

books, reviews

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

In my review of Hallowe’en Party, I suggested that people first went into the book expecting it to be a spooky and supernatural read. There are a couple of weird moments but it’s not exactly a going to cater for your Halloween mood. So, some bright spark of a publisher decided to create this collection. It brings together her previous published stories into one scary anthology. The draw being that one of the stories was unpublished but only in America. Just imagine you can see my eyes rolling as I type that. As I’m going through an Agatha Christie moment, I decided to go through this collection. I’ve never been a huge fan of her short stories but I was ready to be converted.

The Last Séance is a collection that brings together some of Agatha Christie’s spookiest short stories. Together there are 20 tales that all have a ghostly or macabre side to them. Aside from one story not published in America, it isn’t offering anything new but that’s not a big problem. We get a couple of obligatory visits from Christie staples Poirot and Miss Marple but this is more than her typical cosy crime offerings. These tales deal with the occult, psychic visions, ghostly figures, and unexplained mysteries. Although I’ll be honest, not very many of them are actually paranormal tales. The majority of the stories in this book can be explained by simple logic and, as such, aren’t actually that chilling.

As with most short story collections, there are highs and lows but there will be something for everyone to enjoy. In my opinion, neither of the two Poirot stories are anything to write home about but the Miss Marple stories are a little more exciting. Of course, when it comes to actually spooky tales, there aren’t many on offer. I guess The Dressmaker’s Doll is the best in terms of creepiness as it offers an unexplained supernatural situation. It’s one of the few stories here that I would have liked to see a continuation of. I guess it has to be remembered that these stories were written during a different age and at a time when people had witnessed the aftermath of war. The idea of horror would be skewed compared to modern standards.

There is also the difference in good taste and what a woman of Agatha’s standing would be able to and willing to publish. You can see the hints of darkness here but she will always be a writer who is more concerned with real evil than imagined. I actually enjoy the stories that offered a logical explanation for the paranormal events but someone hoping for big scares might come away disappointed. I also don’t necessarily think that Christie was ever at her best in the short story format. She still manages to do a decent job of fleshing out her characters but a longer format gives her more chance to explore humanity. Some of these stories have slightly rushed endings.

Although, this is still great writing and this is a very readable collection. There is nothing here that doesn’t work at all but it’s expected with these anthologies that not everything will be a hit. I also think it is a disappointment as a collection of macabre tales. She was never a writer who explored the supernatural very frequently so it doesn’t fully deliver on the promise of its title. However, she is willing on occasion and, when she does, there are some unsettling tales here. Christie’s books have a timeless quality to them but I don’t think horror ages as well as crime. Unfortunately, her spooky stories lack the punch that modern readers are used to. I can see plenty of them being updated into pretty spooky tales in the hands of the right person.

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