I started the month of very badly in terms of reading. Until this week, I was genuinely scared that I would finish one book this month. Thankfully, in the past week, I have finished 3 audiobooks and am nearly finished with the physical book I’m reading. That one has taken me ages but I’m going to push on. It just feels as though I’ve put too much time into it now to leave it unfinished. As it’s now October, it’s been a year since I officially started rereading as many Agatha Christie novels as I could. I lost steam partway through, so I decided to start the month off with a Christie. I might try and fit in a few of her spookier books for Halloween but we’ll have to see how I go for the rest of the month. For now, I’d better review the one I’ve actually read.
A house, a bedridden old woman, a group of guests and murder. This might be a familiar-sounding premise for an Agatha Christie novel but Towards Zero isn’t just a carbon copy of her other novels. Of course, there is the typical Christie characterisations and some great twists and turns along the way. However, this novel has a different overall feel. We spent most of our time moving towards murder and trying to understand the dynamics of the household. There is something in the air and everyone can feel it. It is up to the reader to figure out where the story is going as well as who is responsible for it. To quote the book itself:
When you read the account of a murder – or, say, a fiction story based on murder – you usually begin with the murder itself. That’s all wrong. The murder begins a long time beforehand. Murder is the culmination of a lot of different circumstances, all converging at a given moment at a given point.
So, in keeping with that idea, we see a story where the murder is the culmination of a lot of work. We don’t start with a body but see the events that have been organised to get to murder. We must understand why each of these characters appears when they do and what their purpose is. Who is using who and who is working against the rest? It’s an interesting approach that Christie uses in other novels but it is more obvious here. Of course, the problem with this approach is that there is a lot of build-up to the exciting part. It takes a while to get going and there are a lot of subplots that don’t necessarily fit or go anywhere special. A lot of storylines end up being a little inconsequential but it’s all in good fun I suppose.
After all, a good detective needs to be able to wade through all of the nonsense to get to the important issues. The biggest being the characters themselves. As I always say, Christie is a writer who knows people and how they operate. She seems to understand human behaviour in a way that few other writers do. There is an interesting dynamic in this novel thanks to tennis pro, Nevile Strange and his two wives. After bumping into his former wife Audrey, Nevile decides that he should encourage a friendship between his ex and his new wife, Kay. In a huge scandal, Nevile left Audrey for the younger Kay after the latter pursued him. The venue for this summit is the home of Lady Tressilian. Amongst the other guests are Lady Tressilian’s companion, Mary, Audrey’s lovelorn cousin and Kay’s young male companion. A mysterious and varied group to be sure.
When the inevitable murder occurs, we find ourselves in the capable hands of Superintendent Battle who is on holiday in the area. Poirot fans can also rejoice that, even though he doesn’t crop up, the Belgian detective looms over this story. There’s a lot to enjoy about this story and I think it definitely has quite an interesting outcome. There is plenty of the story that I think is possible a little unnecessary but that’s mostly the romantic elements. I’ve never been a huge fan of Agatha trying to give her characters a happy ending. The actual murder mystery is actually pretty captivating and clever. It’s not the most iconic of her stories but it will surely please any discerning Christie fan. Even if the ending is a little bit too saccharine for my tastes, there is a fantastic power dynamic at play throughout this novel which gives the narrative a fantastic tension. It’s one of those Christie mysteries that really does stick out from the rest. Perhaps one of the reasons why the writer listed it amongst her own favourites?