You know you’ve made a cultural impact if you inspire an episode of Doctor Who, right? Season 4 is one of my favourite seasons because I think Donna is the best companion in modern Who. It also has some fun episodes. Most importantly for this post is The Unicorn and the Wasp. An episode in which Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance is connected with an alien murder mystery involving a giant wasp. Death in the Clouds is referenced towards the end of the episode as evidence that the encounter stayed with her subconsciously. I do wonder how many Who fans picked up the book following the episode. Maybe hoping for something fantastical and extraterrestrial? The giant wasp on the cover of my copy might certainly suggest something rather more sinister to anyone who hasn’t already read it.
Death in the Clouds is one of those Christie books that sits in the middle of the pack. I wouldn’t say that it was underrated necessarily but it isn’t often discussed as being one of her best works. I can see why but this is still a top read. So, it doesn’t offer the same groundbreaking twists of Roger Ackroyd, the terror of And Then There Were None, or be as memorable as Murder on the Orient Express. What is does is give us another version of a locked room mystery. She wasn’t the first writer to imagine a murder being carried out on a plane but she certainly gave it the classic Christie spin here. Luckily for everyone involved, Hercule Poirot (who does about as well on a plane as he does on a boat) is on hand to connect the dots.
Imagine coming to the end of your flight from Paris to Croydon and the air steward discovering a fellow passenger is dead. One of the eleven people travelling back on the Midday flight doesn’t make it to their final destination. Madame Giselle, a French moneylender is discovered with a small puncture wound in her neck. With a pesky wasp having been spotted in the cabin a few moments, it seems as though the answer is obvious. That is until the great Belgian detective discovers a poison dart laying at the dead woman’s feet. With only nine potential murder suspects, Poirot must simply cross them off one by one until he ends up with the murderer.
And what suspects they are. Death in the Clouds features a fantastic range of classes and personalities for us to get the measure of. The 9 potential murderers include a mystery writer, a hairdresser’s assistant, a dentist, a doctor, a father/son archaeology team, a businessman, and a Countess and her society friend. There are some fantastic characters among the group and plenty of suspect individuals who seem very capable of murder. But how could any of them have carried out the killing without anybody seeing them? after all, using a blow dart isn’t exactly the most subtle thing. Of course, Poirot has it all figured out pretty quickly.
Once again, Agatha Christie has written a whodunnit that will keep you guessing. I won’t say that the final reveal is the most exciting but it might very well keep you guessing for a bit. I do feel as though the ending is a bit rushed. I know that this happens a lot in Christie but it the final act of this story just races by. The rest of the novel was fairly indulgent and a little slower, so it might just be a bit more noticeable. It’s not as if it lessens my enjoyment of this novel, of course. The joy with Poirot stories is just watching him work. This is a novel full of his detective skills and it’s wonderful.