Who is the best author to go to when you’re falling behind in your monthly reading challenge? Agatha Christie is definitely one of the best writers for getting me back on track. I always enjoy her books and they’re usually really quick reads. Meaning I can cross off a couple of letters in a matter of days and stop stressing about it so much. So, I picked up a quick standalone novel. I realise that in my re-readings, I tend to focus more on the Poirot or Miss Marple novels. Well, apart from And Then There Were None which I never stop banging on about. But this is definitely one of her best. There’s a reason why it was included on my suggestions for where to start reading Christie books.
Crooked House has everything you need from a good standalone Agatha Christie novel. It’s set in a big house, an elderly patriarch is poisoned and his family are all potential suspects. He has a young wife, a vast fortune, and slightly difficult relationships with his offspring. Add to that the nursery rhyme reference in the title and you can see why the writer liked this book so much. In her own words, ” I found a study of a certain family interesting to explore.” If you like character studies that focus on familial connections, then this is something you’ll enjoy. Even if you’re worried that you’ll miss having Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, or Tommy and Tuppence guiding you through the mystery.
Instead of those familiar faces, we find ourselves in the safe hand of Charles Hayward, a recently returned soldier who is planning on marrying his sweetheart, Sophia. Upon his return to Britain, Charles discovers that Sophia’s grandfather, Aristide Leonides, has died. The autopsy reveals that he was poisoned and, as all of his family were currently living with him, everyone in the house is a suspect. The family home is Three Gables or the crooked house of the title. The crookedness referring to the interdependent and unhealthy relationships that it contains. Everyone is overly reliant on Aristide and he keeps a strict rule over the household. But could any of them really have killed them? Charles, whose father works at Scotland Yard, agrees to help investigate the incident.
This is such an interesting story and one that really digs deep into a complex family. Christie has always been great at creating nuanced and realistic characters and this novel is no exception. All of the characters are well-written and have a depth to them. She has a natural instinct for understanding killers and the reasons why people turn to such extremes. Christie has always said that anyone could become a killer and she definitely runs with it here. I can’t say that it’s the most surprising twist of her novels but it’s certainly memorable. Memorable and credible. It might not be a complete shock but there are certainly plenty of red herrings along the way. It’s a great mystery to get your teeth into.
All of Christie’s books have a dark undercurrent to them but that is even more evident here. The household is so creepy that you won’t enjoy spending time with them. This is a book that has a lot of fun portraying this wealthy family and their eccentric ways. Sophia’s mother is a flamboyant actress and one of the most entertaining characters of all. There is a certain amount of social commentary to find here and it adds a lot to the story. Something that, in my opinion, the romance between Charles and Sophia fails to do. If anything it’s a massive distraction. There’s not enough development between the pair for it to make a difference and it just ends up being a little too cheesy.
Although, it doesn’t make much of a difference. This is one of Christie’s best novels and it still stands up. Yes, her more well-known classics get more attention but this is so well-crafted. It’s an ideal quick read and as much fun as her other books.