The great thing about Agatha Christie is that she has so many damn books. This means that there are still plenty that I haven’t read yet, so I still get to experience them for the first time. As much as I love reading Christie again and again, there’s nothing like reading one you’ve never read before. So, it was about time that I picked up one of my unread Christie novels. I don’t think that I’ve actually read any of the Superintendent Battle books before but I’ve seen some of the adaptations. This book was adapted for ITV’s Marple but they changed the story pretty dramatically. I decided that I needed to find out how it really turned out.
Agatha Christie is a pretty reliable writer. She’s one of those writers that always brings me out of a slump because she has such a good understanding of how to construct a story. There’s a reason so many of her books are well-known and loved. Throughout her career, she was responsible for writing some of the best and timeless British murder mysteries. However, not all of her books were as successful as the rest. It’s just a consequence of having written such a vast catalogue of novels. I wouldn’t say that any of her crime novels were bad but some of them are unquestionably weaker. This is one of the weaker books. Murder is Easy is part of the Superintendent Battle series of books but the man himself only appears briefly towards the end.
One of the things that this book lack is a strong lead protagonist. Luke isn’t a terrible character but he just lacks the charm and personality of her other main characters. You just never engage with him in the same way that you do with Poirot or Miss Marple. He’s a bit bland and boring. So, it’s unfortunate that he’s the one who stumbles across the mysterious deaths plaguing the village of Wychwood. On a train to London, Luke shares a compartment with an elderly lady who has quite the tale to tell. Miss Pinkerton believes she knows the identity of a killer and knows who their next victim is going to be. She’s heading to Scotland Yard to let them know her suspicions. Initially, Luke doesn’t pay her any attention but then Miss Pinkerton ends up dead. Not just that but the person she named as victim also dies. Was the old lady actually onto something?
It’s safe to say that Luke is no Poirot. He is quite capable of engaging his little grey cells but they do tend to focus on the wrong thing. Instead of watching a master detective, we must instead watch a man make plenty of missteps. It doesn’t help that Luke is distracted by romance for much of the book. This definitely takes something away from the mystery and gives the book quite a repetitive feel. Whenever Luke seems to be making headway with the case, he’ll go right back to angrily flirting with his love interest. This whole novel just feels quite sluggish and slow. It drags along and there never seems to be any real tension. It’s as if nobody really cares about all of these dead people turning up and there’s certainly no race against time to prevent more. I did spend a lot of this novel just thinking “if Poirot were here, this would have been solved by now”.
Although, really the mystery isn’t a very complex one. It’s doesn’t take a lot to figure it out, which makes it even more perplexing that Luke doesn’t get it straight away. Christie is known for writing complex and nuanced characters but there’s a lack of depth here. None of the characters really stand out. Even the killer seems tame and not very memorable. This is one of her sillier endings. You have to accept so many odd things that don’t really make a lot of sense. If this really happened, I can’t really imagine certain people acting the way that they do here. Then there’s the fact that the ending is just a massive cliché and it feels disappointing. You’ve made it to the end of an underwhelming story only to be faced with an overused trope.
Still, even a bad Agatha Christie is a good book. There is plenty of decent writing and a lot of fun to be had here. It starts off very strong and sets up an interesting story. It’s a huge shame that it slowly starts to unravel a bit. Not one of her best but still worth a read. Just maybe not one to go back to time and again.