Agatha Christie is always a reliable read. Whenever I don’t know what to read or don’t have enough time to browse through books, I always pick up one of hers. Her books and storylines are generally very solid and decently interesting. This book was pretty much the same. Yet even then, I wasn’t particularly fond or happy when I finished the book.
Basically, the book is a Hercule Poirot mystery. For those of you unaware, Hercule Poirot is Agatha Christie’s famous french detective with wits rivalling those of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve actually reviewed another Hercule Poirot book, Peril at End House, on this blog before. In that review, I talked about my dislike of Poirot — how I found him arrogant and annoying. Surprisingly in this book, there was none of that! If anything, I found myself drawn to Hercule Poirot portions of the books and missed him when he wasn’t there. It was a little odd. He actually came across as incredibly gentle and well mannered. I think the difference was the fact that we didn’t have a Hastings around for Poirot to bounce things off or criticize. Either way, I found him quite pleasant in this outing. However, the same cannot be said for this book.
The book revolves around the murder of an actress, Arlena Stuart Marshall. Arlena, her husband Ken Marshall, and her step-daughter Linda arrive at the Jolly Roger Hotel to enjoy some time in the sun. However, a few days after their arrival, Arlena is found dead — strangled to death on a covered beach. As the Jolly Roger Hotel is secluded and not very large, there’s only a number of guests there when the murder happens and so consequently, all of them are suspects. There’s the young Patrick Redfern, who is newly married but besotted with and having an affair with Arlena. There’s Christine, Patrick’s desperate young wife. There’s Rosamund Darnley, a famous dressmaker and childhood friend of Ken Marshall who disapproves of Arlena. Alongside them there’s also an older American couple, Mr and Mrs Gardener, a spinster named Emily Brewster, a retired army officer Barry, a woman hating reverend Stephen Lane, and finally, a suspicious “self-made” man Horace Blatt who boasts too much. Conveniently enough, Poirot is also vacationing there, so he’s available to help solve the mystery of Arlena’s murder. None of the woman are very fond of Arlena, so when she dies, they see it as something sad but inevitable. Despite being a star, Arlena was seen as a seductress, gold-digger who liked breaking up marriages (aka her affair with Patrick). Whereas the men have differing reactions – but mostly agree that it’s a shame that someone as beautiful as Arlena died so young.
The novel revolves around figuring out the mystery of her death. Arlena is found dead at a secluded beach, all alone with strangulation marks. The last person to see her alive was Poirot himself, but she gave him instructions not to tell anyone where she was going (he helped her put her boat in the ocean to get to the secluded beach). She is discovered dead by Patrick and Emily — when they go on an excursion around Jolly Roger Hotel (it’s a large house converted into a hotel on an island). When the police and Poirot investigate, it appears that most of the suspects have solid alibi’s. The reveal of her murderer is definitely an interesting one and Poirot’s logic, is as always, fascinating to read. There’s quite a few lines/ items that help point to some red herrings but also to the actual killer. That said, I didn’t find the book a very enjoyable read.
I just found it very middle of the road. Not very good. Not very bad. Not very interesting. Not very boring. Just there. I felt like this book was very formulaic — there was a murder, there were some red herrings, and the killer turned out to be someone surprising with clues that only the main character picked up. Most mystery/ thrillers follow this formula — as do most of Agatha Christie’s book. Hell, one of my favourites, Murder on the Orient Express, did too. But I find that some new elements or distinguishing characteristics or even a new style of writing can make the formula appear fresh. But for some reason, I didn’t get any of that in this book. It just felt so typical. I’m not sure what it is.
That said, there were positives to this book. Firstly, the writing as always is clear and easy to understand. Second, Hercule Poirot’s character and mystery solving skills were on best display here. Thirdly, I liked how the book sort of subverted its misconceptions about Arlena. Throughout the book, Arlena is seen quite spitefully by the other characters. People call her a gold digger, man seducer, woman with no brains whose only asset is her beauty. Basically, she’s seen as an antagonist. It reminded me a lot of the usual criticisms that are hurled at women. However, the book sort of subverts it, by making her into a victim instead of the antagonist. Poirot criticizes how everyone was so quick to blame Arlena for her relationships, but don’t consider the fact that maybe it wasn’t that she attracted man, but that men attracted her. He mentions how she willingly gave money to the men she liked/loved to help them out — aka she wasn’t always taking advantage of men. Poirot instead evokes pity for her. However, that said, it’s also important to note that this is just a minor thing. Poirot and others still insult Arlena by calling her brainless with nothing to offer. So her subversion doesn’t really go that far and isn’t super substantial. Nonetheless, it was surprising and kind of nice to read.
Yet even all those nice things don’t make the book great for me or uplift it. It stays very middle of the road.
My rating: read it if you want, but honestly, you can skip it — it’s nothing super new or great.