AGATHA CHRISTIE’S THE PALE HORSE

“Of course I often have a master criminal in my stories – people like it – but really he gets harder and harder to do. So long as one doesn’t know who he is, I can keep him impressive. But when it all comes out, he seems, somehow, so inadequate. A kind of anticlimax. It’s much easier if you just have a bank manager who’s embezzled the funds, or a husband who wants to get rid of his wife and marry the children’s governess. So much more natural – if you know what I mean.”   Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, The Pale Horse

From 1961 to 1973, Christie wrote thirteen novels (a rather ominous number). Of those titles, I have a partiality for three and acknowledge that five of them work from beginning to end. But it was clear that Christie began to lose interest in, and control of, her writing during the ‘60’s, and many of these novels are, frankly, poor. For much of the period, she could still begin a novel well: the depiction of Bertram’s Hotel, the hook into Third Girl and Hallowe’en Party, the opening luncheon in Elephants Can Remember, the visit to Aunt Ada at the start of By the Pricking of My Thumbs – all of these have their charms, even as the novels which follow devolve into big messes. Then there are those that just don’t work: The Clocks, Passenger to Frankfurt, and Postern of Fate have to rank at the bottom of the pile on most readers’ lists.

Leaving Bertram’s aside, I think The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, A Caribbean Mystery and Nemesis form a poignant “golden years” trilogy for Miss Marple. Sadly, Hercule Poirot doesn’t fare nearly as well; After the Funeral (1953) is glorious, but all Poirot novels that follow begin a significant decline, even as the detective’s mustaches continue to flourish. As for the stand-alones of the last period, two of them have particular interest. I’m not sure when and how I can write about Endless Night because I don’t particularly like it. I’d rather have a debate about it with another Christie fan, and even then I will have to re-read it a third time, something I am not particularly excited to do. That brings us to The Pale Horse, the first novel of Christie’s final period and easily one of the best. I believe that this book stands out in the Christie oeuvre for a number of reasons, the significance of which I propose to discuss here. I ask readers to wary of spoilers ahead, both for this novel and for a couple of other titles that may crop up.

For those of you who have never read the novel, here’s a quick rundown of its plot, which is told through a divided narrative, something that Christie almost never did (the only other titles I can think of are The Man in the Brown Suit and The A.B.C. Murders), about a mysterious organization that murders people upon request. Most of the story is recounted by a writer named Mark Easterbrook, who stumbles into this bizarre conspiracy through a series of remarkable coincidences. The rest of the book is told in the omniscient third person, allowing Christie to relate events of importance that Mark did not witness, such as the inciting incident of a priest who is called upon to give confession to a dying woman. She entrusts Father Gorman with a list of names, and on the way home he is killed, apparently for that list. The rest of the novel involves the police and Mark trying to figure out how these names are connected and then trying to put a stop to a horrible crime spree that nimbly jumps back and forth from London to the countryside and might, just might, involve witchcraft! That’s all you need to know, and at this point you should stop reading this, go read the book, and then come back and find me. I’ll be waiting . . .

Are they gone? Okay, here we go . . .

 

One of the most charming aspects of this novel is the fact that, although it does not feature any of Christie’s series sleuths, it is the only stand-alone novel that clearly resides in the same universe as Poirot, Miss Marple and the Beresfords. Up till this point, nobody had ever intruded into anyone else’s sphere, except for one instance in Partners in Crime, where Tommy and Tuppence impersonated Poirot and Hastings. The odd thing about this occasion is the inference it made that the Beresfords were real people while Poirot was a character from detective fiction. The Pale Horse is the only occasion where Christie spliced characters from all her different worlds together, and the result is a charming treat for her real fans.

Part of the novel takes place in the village of Much Deeping where Mark’s cousin Rhoda lives with her husband, Colonel Despard. Rhoda and the Colonel (promoted from Major here) were major characters in the Poirot novel Cards on the Table (1936), and they figure here not as suspects but as aides to Mark’s investigation. Mark has brought the noted mystery novelist, Ariadne Oliver, herself a major part of the Poirot universe (having originated, however, as an employee of Mr. Parker Pyne) down to Much Deeping to open a fete, and a lot of humor is drawn from Mrs. Oliver’s apprehension at trying her hand at this sort of event after the last fete she took part in, during the Poirot mystery, Dead Man’s Folly (1956).

Meanwhile, the religious leadership of the village resides in the capable hands of the Reverend Dane Calthrop and his wife Maud. These two have made their way to Much Deeping after a thriving career in Lymstock, the village where mysterious anonymous letters led to murder in The Moving Finger (1942). That mystery was solved when Maud called in her old friend from St. Mary Mead, Miss Jane Marple.

And just to make things even more interesting, back in London Mark goes on a date and ends up having a fascinating discussion on the nature of evil with an old friend. The friend illustrates how the most chilling wickedness can take on the most deceiving forms, citing a visit he made to a mental home where a kindly old woman sat beside him drinking milk . . .

“ . . . and then suddenly she leaned forward and asked in a low voice: ‘Is it your poor child who’s buried there behind the fireplace?’

“And then she nodded her head and said, ‘Twenty-ten exactly. It’s always at the same time every day. Pretend you don’t notice the blood.’”

 

This anecdote forms the basis of the late novel By the Pricking of My Thumbs, a Tommy and Tuppence Beresford mystery. The title is a quotation from Act 4, Scene 1 of Macbeth, uttered by the Second Witch. Coincidentally, in The Pale Horse, Mark has this conversation immediately after he and a girlfriend have attended a production of Macbeth at the Old Vic.

Now, one could say that Christie was simply trotting out an idea that she wasn’t ready to use. Or perhaps, this woman that Mark’s friend David met was the same Mrs. Lancaster that Tuppence would encounter in the later novel.

It gets even better, though: this same anecdote is mentioned in a much earlier novel featuring none other than Miss MarpleSleeping Murder. Although this is the final published novel featuring the elderly spinster, its creation predates both the other books by perhaps twenty years, having been written by Christie during World War II with the intention of having them published posthumously. Whatever the case, it is fascinating that the same creepy anecdote is found in three potentially separate parts of the Christie universe spanning nearly thirty years of her career.

 

The plot of The Pale Horse places it squarely in that sub-category of Christie novel, the conspiracy thriller. As a rule, these rank among my least favorite of her books, largely due to their highly dubious dabblings into political intrigue. Christie was no Le Carre or Ian Fleming, not even a Robert Ludlum. Her spies were ridiculous, her international villains even more so. Virulent British conservatism and rank racism tended to permeate her depiction of the bad guys in these thrillers, nearly all of whom were ruled by a secret leader (Mr. Brown, Number One, the Marquis, etc. etc.), who was inevitably unmasked as a traitorous member of the British ruling class. It was almost impossible not to guess the leader’s identity, as it tended to be the person who would elicit the loudest gasp of betrayal from our heroine (Tuppence Beresford, Hilary Craven, Victoria Jones, etc.) at the reveal.

In two of her conspiracy books, Christie trades politics for crime, and the result is far better. The first is The Seven Dials Mystery, (which deserves a re-reading by me), a charming romp with a really nice surprise at the end. The other is The Pale Horse, the one conspiracy thriller Christie wrote which actually works. I cannot say that the identity of the master criminal is a big surprise here, but at least it is not a reworking of the same old idea. Everything feels fresh here and, sadly, quite possible. In fact, a particularly horrible real life serial killer used the method found in Christie’s novel. Whether or not he learned it from reading The Pale Horse is open to speculation; his crime spree started the same year the novel was punished, when the killer was only 14 years old. (Read the story here, but only after you have read the book, since it basically gives the murder method away.

While the solution to the crime is rooted very much in present day matters, it is artfully disguised as something much older and darker – witchcraft. Christie works hard to lend credence to the idea that witchcraft could, at the very least, have a deleterious effect on the most suggestible souls. Early on in the novel, the discussion of Macbeth leads to a discourse by Mark’s friend David on witchcraft:

“There’s still a witch in every village in rural England. Old Mrs. Black, in the third cottage up the hill. Little boys are told not to annoy her, and she’s given presents of eggs and home-baked cake now and again. Because, if you annoy her, your cows will stop giving milk, your potato crop will fail, or little Johnnie will twist his ankle. You must keep on the right side of old Mrs. Black. Nobody says so outright, but they all know!”

Christie, like many Golden Age writers, often introduced the supernatural into her tales and exposed these ghosts, witches and evil spirits as frauds. I find the inclusion of these ceremonies a fascinating aspect to the conspiracy. You’d think nobody in his right mind could possibly believe that a killing “curse” is what actually dispatches the victims. Then why is the ceremony a part of the killing contract? Could it have something to do with alleviating the strong sense of guilt that might come over those who paid to have a death occur? Is Christie exposing a “modern” society that still possesses a healthy respect for the occult? Later in the book, Mrs. Dane Calthrop echoes David’s description when Mark asks her if she really does believe in witchcraft:

“But of course! There’s nothing mysterious or secretive about it. It’s all quite matter-of-fact. It’s a family asset that you inherit. Children are told not to tease your cat, and people give you cottage cheese or a pot of home-made jam from time to time.”

 

Finally, one has to mention the biggest treat in this novel: the presence of Ariadne Oliver. One always gets a sense that, quite possibly, Christie is revealing something of her own practices and frustrations with the profession when she includes this character. In the beginning, Mark visits the author to ask her to sign books for a country fete and discovers her in the throes of creative suffering over a knotty problem that many a mystery author must face: a witness has seen something that must be revealed in order to solve the murder. Yet, as soon as this fact is revealed, the mystery will end, so how does one stall this fact from coming out too early in the book? In other words, how do you keep a reliable witness from spilling the beans? This evolves into a discussion between the two authors where Mrs. Oliver discusses the artificiality that lies at the heart of the genre:

“Say what you like, it’s not natural for five or six people to be on the spot when B is murdered and all to have a motive for killing B – unless, that is, B is absolutely madly unpleasant and in that case nobody will mind whether he’s been killed or not, and doesn’t care in the least who’s done it.”

Here, Christie is speaking about something she and her fellow GAD writers have long been criticized over, by folks as lofty as Raymond Chandler! Christie is owning up to this “flaw” in her style of mystery – something we smarter people know is anything but a flaw – and it is to her enormous credit as a mystery writer that she makes this artificiality more than easy to swallow in the great majority of her novels, including this one.

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57 thoughts on “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S THE PALE HORSE

  1. “Virulent British conservatism and rank racism” – there was no need to qualify them. We know conservatism and racism are bad. (Love The Pale Horse – also The Clocks!)

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    1. I think I was trying to be a little flip there. Obviously, it didn’t work. Sorry. Sorry, too, for The Clocks, but it really feels like a mess. The espionage part is sort of interesting but underdone, while the domestic mystery is peopled with half-realized characters, most of whom don’t matter at all. As for the clocks themselves . . . ? Pffft! I do enjoy Poirot’s lecture on crime fiction, but how much more fun would it have been if Christie had let him talk about real authors?

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      1. Yeah I get you mean, as most of the books afterwards aren’t my most favourite Christie reads, though I do like Nemesis, Sleeping Murder, Endless Night (mainly because I got fooled again!) and Curtain (although of course two of those were written much earlier). Passenger to Frankfurt though was sooooooooooooo bad and makes you wish Doctor Who was real so you could time travel and just tell Christie to not write it.

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  2. I’ve read this fairly recently and enjoyed it, but it is a bit of a crosroads novel, isn’t it? The impossibility of the crimes is a nice touch that’s never quite hammered home, and the solution – clever, no doubt – is also a touch disappointing. It felt somewhat broader in scope than she would have managed if she’d written it earlier (typically she had a much tighter focus) and I loved how she expanded her range quite appreciably with the occult stuff, so I’m hoping there remain some gems in the books og hers I’ve yet to get to.

    And I read The Clocks most recently, and agree with you in that it is rather a mess. Two brilliantly-hidden clues – I don’t care how closely you read it, I defy anyone to spot them – and some very very clever scheming, but really something of a coincidence-fest in a way that would make Ariadne Oliver herself blanche!

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      1. Fourteen, from A Caribbean Mystery to Miss Marple’s Final Cases; will be done in about two years. Thankfully plenty of others waiting to rush in and fill the void!

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  3. JJ, let me help! You know so much more about so many writers than I do, but I DO know my Christie. Give me some AC titles you have not gotten to, and I can advise whether you should:

    a) drop EVERYTHING and read it NOW,
    b) put it as near the top of your TBR pile as you dare,
    c) relax! It’ll be there when you’re ready for it,
    d) I bit the bullet for you in that one, so enter at your own risk

    I assume you’ve read most of the (a) list, and there are almost none I would consider for the (d) list! But, like Kate above, I am curious as to which titles you have NOT read.

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    1. I do appreciate the offer, Brad – I really do – but I’m going to read them all anyway; I’ve been working through Christie chronologically for a few years now and have read everything up to and including The Clocks, and then the two posthumous short story collections at the other end. By my reckoning I have 14 books left, and I know some of them are supposed to be terrible, but I retain such love for her as an author that I’m going to muscle through.

      It is one of the great frustrations of my life that, following the screening of the final David Suchet episodes (I’m not a fan of the TV series, so didn’t see them) someone who knows I’m a huge fan and reading them in order spoiled Curtain for me. And by “spoiled” I mean “told me who the killer is”. The idiot.

      Have you completed her catalogue? And if you had to pick a top 5 not-Poirot-or-Marple (to make it a bit easier), what would they be? Be interesting to see how much our tastes overlap…

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      1. Oh, I completed her catalogue a long time ago, JJ, and have re-read all but two of them many times. Your “friend” who spoiled Curtain for you . . . well, that situation calls for some re-analysis, shall we say? And you do have some treats in store through the last 14, but it might be rough going there.

        As for my personal top five non-series Christies, well, any list I make of “top” Christies changes almost hourly, but at this moment – 10:23AM, Pacific Daylight Time in rainy California – I would list them like so, in order of preference:

        1) And Then There Were None
        2) Crooked House
        3) Towards Zero
        4) Murder Is Easy
        5) The Sittaford Mystery/The Pale Horse – a tie, which I know is cheating, so if you hold me to it, I’ll stick with Sittaford for Golden Age period pleasure

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      2. Much like you, mine change. At present, and again in no particular order:

        1) Murder is Easy (agreed – it’s awesome)
        2) AttWN (agreed – it’s beyond awesome)
        3) Crooked House (agreed – it’s just so very brutal!)
        4) The Seven Dials Mystery
        5) Death Comes as the End

        I want to say The Moving Finger, too, because it’s not a proper Marple, really, is it? But I’ll stick to the rules…

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      3. What sort of person would do that? Revealing that kind of spoiler is just all kinds of wrong. Are you still on speaking terms with this person? I think in the 18th century you would have been required to challenge that person to a duel such is the offence. Just to hop into your question on Top Non Poirot and Miss Marple Novels I would say my favourites are Crooked House, And Then There Were None, Endless Night, Towards Zero and The Seven Dials Mystery. Though I have only read them the once so I do wonder if on re-reading Christie my opinions would change.

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      4. There’s a fairly hefty overlap here with the three of us, even on so short a list Admittedly it’s a smaller pool, but there’s still all the Battle, all the T&T, and a good dose of very good books there; I find this interesting… I do love Seven Dials; it reverses that core expectation perfectly, and it’s such a brilliant moment when it’s revealed.

        And, alas, there’s too great a history to just brush them off so callously. A far slower and more refined punishement is required.

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  4. Since Dr. Who DID take credit for Death in the Clouds . . . I agree, Kate, and the same goes for Postern of Fate. Perhaps instead we could take the Tardis to her editor’s office and either destroy the manuscripts or, better yet, force her editor to actually EDIT them!!!

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    1. Not sure any amount of editing could make Passenger to Frankfurt a good book, without writing a completely different story. So I think if we just accidently dropped the manuscript into a fire or paper shredder the Christie canon would be much better.

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  5. Kate, I definitely owe The Seven Dials Mystery a re-read. The “bright young things” that populate it tend to annoy me, but the central conceit is so clever that I should really get over my annoyance! I wish I could find a softer spot for Endless Night, however. But that’s one that you simply can’t discuss without spoiling, so I’ll save it for another time.

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      1. I can safely say that I’ve never binge-read anyone or any series. I just can’t read too much of one author in a row…many people can, and good luck to them, but I need to vary my series and authors and styles (and even genres…I pack away a fair amount of SF between crime novels). Reading Rupert Penny’s The Talkative Policeman I was getting flashbacks to all kinds of books – Edmund Crispin’s Buried for Pleasure, Norman Berrow’s The Bishop’s Sword, a couple of Carrs – and too much of the same author would likely confuse me even further!

        I’m a simple soul, it turns out. I’ll be out back, muttering to myself about these young people and their newfangled ways, if anyone needs me…

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  6. A wild and crazy murder plot, but gripping from the time we meet Father Gorman on that dark, rainy night, until the denouement. The Pale Horse was much more interesting than another stab ‘n slab murder. Much romance. The televised version on Marple was horrible (Marple wasn’t even in the story) and JJ Field is far too young for the Osborne role.

    The Clocks was a good old fashioned murder for profit but boy what a merry chase Christie led her readers as we look for a huge conspiracy that never quite gels. More romance. The BBC Poirot’s version was very good and true, more or less, to the original materials. Anna Massey was a plus.

    Crooked House was just twisted and there is no way to portray this story happily in any respect. Gladly it’s never been televised. Let’s just leave well alone.

    I would much rather see a true to book version of N or M? It was my fervent hope that Annis and Warwick would take up the mantle again when they got old enough to be “middle aged.” The recent “Partners in Crime” defly demonstrates why original material should be adapted with as few changes as possible, and given only to seasoned writers who edit with a scalpel instead of a hatchet.

    Endless night was another weird story I never quite liked. The whole architect thing was weird. HE was weird. The husband was weird. So was the lover and frankly I didn’t like the wife all that much. Too little exposition and character development, too much reliance on weird. Once was made into a cinematic film with Haley Mills, horrible film. Ick.

    Passenger to Frankfurt — This story is one that actually NEEDS rewriting and desperately.

    7 Dials — what’s not to like? Inspector Battle and Bundle! NTM Bill. I always liked this book and was happy to revisit Chimneys. BTW Chimneys is another good one-off

    The Boomerang Clue aka Why Didn’t They Ask Evans – hands down my favorite of the non-series stories. Wonderful plot hook, this merry romp leads Frankie and Bobbie up and down the coast as they try to answer a dying man’s enigmatic question. The TV play with Annis/Warwick/Lawson was exceptionally good and faithful to this awesome story.

    Sorry Brad for writing a novel here. JUST discovered your blog and can’t get enuf.

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    1. No, no, write away! You’re making me take a trip down memory lane with my own blog! I definitely need to reread Evans, but the most recent TV adaptation did some rather horrible meddling with the plot. I like 7 Dials much more than Chimneys, but again the new Marple series decided that Christie’s original intent was not worthy and created something . . . else!

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      1. That’s the problem with the new Miss Marple series — the writers think they can create something BETTER than what Christie wrote. Seeing the atrocity these writers did with stories like Nemesis, Sleeping Murder and . . . .well, the whole series in general, in comparison to what Christie wrote, these screenwriters looks like amateurs just starting out in their career. I’m glad they ended the series but I fear that another atrocious Miss Marple series will be in the works at some later point. I’ll stick with the Joan HIckson portrayal. Those films retained Christie’s ingenious plots and though there are some flaws in that series, I’ll take those flaws versus the disaster of the new Marple films.

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    2. Marblex, speaking of the Tommy & Tuppence stories, I wish Annis and Warwick would return and adapt the remaining 3 stories (N or M?, By The Pricking Of My Thumbs, and Postern Of Fate). It’s about time for those two to come back and show us a true picture of what Tommy & Tuppence is like because the recent adaptation of the Partners In Crime series was atrocious and I couldn’t stomach it. It’s been so long since we have a true, accurate picture of Tommy & Tuppence, it’s about time to bring it back again. And I agree with you, “original material should be adapted with as few changes as possible”. In recent years these screenwriters veer way off course from Christie’s work, inserting scenes that are so un-Christie you wonder if they even read the whole book and I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t. I like what you said about seasoned writing editing with a “scalpel” instead of a hatchet — very clever way of putting it. I think we needed writers who admire and respect Christie’s work and will work hard to remain faithful to Christie’s work, while at the same time taking consideration of the fact that TV is a different medium than books.

      You said that Passenger to Frankfurt needs a lot of rewriting and seeing that it’s one of Christie’s later works, how do you feel about them in general?

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      1. Agree completely about Annis and Warwick. The recent “Partners in Crime” was so bad it was unwatchable. The horrid “Marple” series also was stomach-churning. Of the 70 Poirot films, only a handful really sucked — the dreadful “Cards on the Table” comes to mind– one of her best stories, RUINED, butchered, completely retold including the literal switching of two characters and the elimination of what in the book was the critical murder … gaah. Other bad entries in the Poirot series include “Mystery of the Blue Train – horribly miscast, writing abominable, feh! and “Taken by the Flood” — horrible rewrite that completely (and I do mean completely) missed the entire point of the title line. Finally I loathed MOTOE Suchet style, too dark, foreboding, creepy, unlikable and since when has Poirot been a devout Catholic? I DON’T THINK SO (see Curtain). Ok I am done venting, at this time anyway 😀

        As far as Christie’s later books, in addition to the oft-confusing and confused Passenger to Frankfurt, Ordeal by Innocence and Postern of Fate I thought were weak entries. Of the two Ordeal seems to garner the most support from critics and moviemakers (I understand it’s slated for BBC treatment). Postern was a rambling story that seemed to combine many elements/scenarios from prior works.

        Overall I can’t quibble too much with the queen of crime. She was a genius and frankly, even her worst, weakest later effort outshines the awful TV scripts that have been penned in her name.

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  7. Brad, speaking of “Nemesis” which you referred to in your post, I would love to read a full blog post reviewing the book and your take of how it stands in comparison to Christie’s earlier books, later books and to the Miss Marple canon.

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  8. It’s funny, but with Cards on the Table, I objected less to Dr. Roberts’ flipped sexuality – who WAS that put in for? younger viewers? as if! – than with the flip of Rhoda and Meredith’s natures. That was so unnecessary and self-centered on the part of the writers/producers, as if they felt they could “improve” upon the original story. Blue Train isn’t a very good story to begin with, and Taken at the Flood is . . . well, complicated. The French series also completely ignored WWII and its influence on that plot. I’m less upset than you about MOTOE. Poirot WAS a good Catholic, although we see it rarely (One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.) And yes, he gave that all up for Curtain, which makes NO sense for Suchet, given the moral journey down which he took his version of Poirot.

    I am in disagreement with you on Ordeal by Innocence, which has yet to receive a really good adaptation. (And what are the chances the BBC will get it right? 40%) The psychology of the characters, especially the victim, is fascinating, and Christie got it right making this one a stand-alone, so that the adaptation including Miss Marple is especially stupid. (But not as stupid as The Sittaford Mystery, which changed the murderer’s identity completely, Endless Night, which asks us to believe that Marple would make friends with that guy!, and Murder Is Easy and By the Pricking of My Thumbs, both of which were sheer butchery of Christie by a greedy estate.

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    1. I think we agree on COTT, my main objection is in the book, Poirot cleverly traps the murderer into confessing to Lattimer’s murder, which in the TV production, NEVER HAPPENED. Also switching Ann and Rhoda around was DUMB, particularly as Rhoda marries Col. Despard (romance!) and appears in later stories as same 😀

      I loved the book Blue Train so I disagree with you on that. Taken at the Flood was a sad, dark story and even the ending (Lynne and Rowley marry a very flat romance if you ask me) is dreary. My objection to the Poirot episode of the same name is that SPOILERS

      David admits he planted the bomb that killed the Cloades.

      NO!

      Taken at the Flood (from Julius Caesar) refers to an opportunity created by chance, upon which one might capitalize, while another may suffer. In Christie’s story, David Hunter capitalizes on an opportunity created by the gas explosion. He didn’t cause it.

      I don’t care for Ordeal by Innocence, I merely note that it is one stand alone story that has received cinematic attention (the Donald Sutherland production was meh). I never cared for the story because I frankly, don’t like any of the characters. I agree with you in whole, that the Marple series productions of the 12 Miss Marple stories were god-awful enough. Injecting Marple into a series of stories in which she never appeared and didn’t belong was the straw that broke my camel’s back.

      And while we’re discussing By The Pricking Of My Thumbs, making Tuppence Beresford an unhappy middle-aged drunk made me gag out loud. Forcing Marple (and did I mention I thought both McEwan AND MacKenzie SUCKED in the role?) into this story and stealing the Beresford’s thunder, changed the entire dynamic of the story. It truly was barfworthy.

      The awful, disjointed, dark, wet and loathsome Sittiford Mystery, both in print and film, is just terribad. I try never to think of it.

      Murder is Easy is a fun one-off, a bit creepy. The 1980s production with Bill Bixby was meh, although it was reasonably faithful to the book (and Olivia). The Marple production? Incest? Really? Why was SHE in the story? GAAH terrible.

      Endless Night is a weird story and I never cared for it. Haven’t seen a good production yet, though the 1960s production with Haley Mills and Britt Eklund was superior, by orders of magnitude, to the unwatchable Marple entry of the same name. Again, why was SHE in the story?

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      1. I don’t know whose idea it was to make Tuppence Beresford a middle-aged drunk, but did they think they could inject better characterization than Christie could?! There wasn’t really a point in making Tuppence a drunk and it didn’t add anything to the plot, whereas in the 1987 Joan Hickson version of Nemesis, making Mrs. Brent, the mother of Nora Brent (actually Broad in the book) a drunk makes more sense. She’s a woman who has given herself over to drinking since the disappearance of her daughter and that makes sense. She doesn’t know how else to cope with her daughter’s disappearance. This adds an extra dimension to Mrs. Brent’s character and on top of that we get a poignant scene when Professor Wanstead speaks to her. We see Mrs. Brent drinking, we see her tearing up and holding them back, we get a shot of a picture of Nora Brent, we hear the pain and tension in the mother’s voice — interesting fact: the scene was shot in one take. None of this was in the book so hearing from Mrs. Brent herself and adding to her character made sense and it brought more of a point to the whole situation of the mystery. But Tuppence as a drunk adds nothing at all.

        So if something is going to be added to the story or to the character, the screenwriter needs to ask him/herself “is there a point in adding this” and if so “what point is this addition making”.

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      2. I really like The Sittaford Mystery. It was one of the few Christies that this (young) reader figured out. Making the hero the villain in the adaptation was . . . well, it was stupid. I LOVE Murder Is Easy, the novel. The villagers aren’t the most compelling red herrings, but the central crime – and the way Christie pulls the wool over our eyes – is lovely. I have sorely been tempted to name a cat “Wonkie Poo.” It is such a good story that the idea that it had to be decimated to work makes no sense to anybody. It’s like they were TRYING to get cancelled!

        Totally agree with you about the irreparable damage done to Tuppence Beresford in that travesty of BTPOMT. If you don’t like a plot, DON’T DRAMATIZE IT! I do think McEwan did a better job with the character in the first season. She’s quite charming in A Murder Is Announced and the idea that she might have had a lost love in WWI is very sweet if totally out of character. But all other actresses pale beside Joan Hickson. And Julia Mackenzie, an actress I have long admired, actually went down a peg in my estimation for the work she did as Miss Marple. But, in all fairness, by then she was being given the worst dreck, with the most shameless assaults on REAL Christie, so what chance did she have??? At the end of Endless Night, Mackenzie shows deep emotional sorrow over the revelation of the killer. The REAL Miss Marple would have had that murderer pegged from the start and pointed out at least ten resemblances to people she knew from St. Mary Mead. She would have been prepared for the revelation, totally unsurprised by it. In order for Mackenzie’s emotional arc to happen, they had to Make Marple Stupid! That is unforgivable!!!!!!!

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    2. What are the chances that the BBC will get an adaptation of Ordeal By Innocence right? I wouldn’t even put it at 40%, probably 1%, lol! I don’t have faith that the BBC will get any of Agatha Christie’s stories right — not anymore. I believe the days of faithful adaptations of Christie’s stories are over. And with the current crop of films that hit the screen, it’s an indication a faithful adaptation is out of the question. When Christie’s daughter Rosalind was alive she cared about her mother’s work and wanted her legacy to be treated with respect on the screen. When she died all that was thrown out of the window. It gets worse each passing year. There are plenty of early Christie adaptations to enjoy and I will stick with those, not the mess that is made today.

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    3. @Brad LOL at your wanting to name a cat Wonkie-Poo.

      Joan Hickson was the definitive Marple. All others are pale imitations. McEwen seemed like a tired housemaid; MacKenzie plays her like a twinkle-eyed bag lady (god those dreary hats).

      I could never imagine Miss Marple having pre-marital sex, much less with a married man. That story arc seemed a bridge too far.

      Unless they clone Joan, I think we’ve seen the best Marple renditions there will ever be.

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  9. Of the later Poirot films with Suchet the best were Sad Cypress, The Hollow, After The Funeral, Five Little Pigs. The honorable mentions would be Halloween Party and Three Act Tragedy. And I agree with you, Cards On The Table was indeed ruined and butchered and it could have been one of the best of the later Poirot films. For Nick Dear who wrote such a great script for The Hollow would write such unnecessary changes for COTT surprises me. The Mystery of the Blue Train was indeed miscast though I think the actress who portrayed Katherine Grey was appropriate. Mirelle . . . totally miscast! What happened to her exoticness? They thought they could write a better Mirelle than Christie did?!?! David Suchet’s version of MOTOE was atrocious! I hated it! The 1978 stands heads and shoulders above the Suchet version, actually all of the MOTOE adaptations made so far and I think the original film will stand up against any upcoming adaptations made in the future. The problem with the Suchet version is they tried too hard to ram the “justice” theme down the audience’s throats. Let the audience think for themselves, they don’t need to be rammed over the head. I believe if MOTOE was made in the early run of the Poirot series, it would have been faithful and would have been one of the best episodes in the canon, along with The ABC Murders. Marblex, do you know that the BBC is going to adapt The ABC Murders? I think they should leave that story alone because we already have, in my mind, the definitive version and I believe that’s as faithful to the book as you’re going to get.

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    1. I thought they made a dog’s breakfast out of Murder on the Blue Train and I agree with your comments on that.

      I think After the Funeral is an excellent example of superior adaptation. In fact, I believe the story was much improved from the dead weight in the book (though ATF is one of my very favorite stories). I really didn’t understand Cora’s husband’s name and nationality change, it seemed silly. Monica Dolan was brilliant.

      The Hollow is imho a mediocre story but if anyone could throw it in your face and make you doubt your lyin’ eyes, it’s Dame Agatha. The TV production was exceptionally good, with Sarah Miles and Edward Fox scene stealing at every turn.

      “Aunt Laura, do you think love is ever a happy thing?”

      These words resonate and immediately bring tears to the eyes. Sad Cypress was just about perfect as a story and as a TV production. Elanor and Roddy…what a mismatched pair. How Christie eloquently expressed what it is to love another passionately so that it hurts, when in fact, the best love is the kind that doesn’t. I loved the Poirot production, Elizabeth Dermot-Walsh and Diana Quick were outstanding. Beautiful production, although Hunterby was a bit dark.

      Agree FLP was awesome and other than the name change (Carla to Lucy) I loved it completely. Rachel Stirling was haunting.

      How on EARTH can they possibly do better than Poirot’s ABC Murders? Donald Sumpter was brilliant and the story was perfect.

      As to MOTOE you will have to go a long damn way to top Lumet’s version and (do not throw things at me please) I always loved Finney’s Poirot (even a skosh more than Suchet) and was deeply bummed that he never repeated the role.

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      1. I felt the sex scene towards the end of “The Hollow” with John Christow and Veronica Cray in the pavilion was unnecessary. There’s no explanation in the book as to what they did in there so I guess the screenwriter decided to go with the extreme case and run with that. But I believe Gerda worshiped John so much, I think just her seeing John kiss another woman would have been enough to set her off. But other than that scene, The Hollow is a beautiful adaptation, with a great cast to portray the characters, gorgeous autumn scenery, David Suchet as Poirot is superb, and Christopher Gunning’s music is stunning and tragic. I wish he went on to create more music for the later episodes but after Season 9, he left the show.

        @Marblex, I think you may find The Hollow a mediocre story due to the mystery not standing out as some of Christie’s others, but what makes The Hollow so good is the in-depth characterization — more than your typical Agatha Christie mystery. And the characterization is right up there with Sad Cypress and Five Little Pigs. Another element that makes The Hollow stand out is the murder setup– the scene when everyone gathers around the swimming pool is what sticks out in my mind — how could one forget it?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I thought the sex scene was ok and it provided a stronger motive for viewers than readers would have required. Difficult to express interior monologues and feelings as well on film.

        I still think The Hollow is a fairly weak mystery, regardless of how strong the characterizations. It would have made a good Columbo episode. I doubt any other writer could successfully lead you away from such an obvious conclusion so in that regard, it is an artful story. Still meh imho compared to her many other, better works.

        I still maintain that Sarah Miles and Edward Fox stole the show.

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    1. One of my favorite lines from the book and the film is when Poirot says to Henrietta, “Your place is with the living. I will remain here with the dead.”

      The scene with the tarot cards in the book (it wasn’t in the film) was a nice bit of foreshadowing of what is to come. I know Agatha Christie said the book could have done better without Poirot in it but I’m glad that he showed up, whereas in the play he doesn’t which was probably a good idea for the stage. But I wonder what The Hollow would have been like as a Mary Westmacott book without a detective involved at all?

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      1. I have directed the play. Poirot is not missed, but the detective who replaces him is a dull stock character. So your idea for a Westmacott where the characters figure things out themselves, would have worked for me. If there is going to be a detective, it might as well be Poirot!

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  10. Spoilers for Seven Dials Mystery are following:

    I need to reread the Pale Horse. I remember the general idea, but I can’t remember much of the details.

    But I happen to really like Seven Dials Mystery and think it’s a very underrated Christie book. It’s my favourite of her thrillers, in which she almost makes fun of the worn-out idea.

    It has an unexpected solution and it’s fairly clued. Battle is right, the biting marks at the glove really point to one particular character. (Not that I didn’t get it at my first reading.)

    And at her big reveal at the end she really turned almost everything around, even regarding some of the minor characters. Aside from Bundle, there are two other young female characters in this book, who mirror each other perfectly. One is a ruthless and greedy adventureress, and one is a young woman, who lost someone close to her and wants to help catching the culprit. In the end, this is still true, but the roles of these two women have been completely reversed.

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    1. As an addition: IMO, “Seven Dials” biggest flaw is, that Bundle doesn’t achieve much. She never comes close to solving the case and trusts the wrong persons until the very end. Sittaford’s Emily Trefusis is laughing at her. But it’s honestly the only reason why Seven Dial’s is not in my Top 15 Christie books. It definitely Top 30, which means a lot given how many good books Christie wrote.

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