Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Review: ‘Crooked House’ by Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis

In the sprawling, half-timbered mansion in the affluent suburb of Swinly Dean, Aristide Leonides lies dead from barbiturate poisoning. An accident? Not likely. In fact, suspicion has already fallen on his luscious widow, a cunning beauty fifty years his junior, set to inherit a sizeable fortune, and rumored to be carrying on with a strapping young tutor comfortably ensconced in the family estate. But criminologist Charles Hayward is casting his own doubts on the innocence of the entire Leonides brood. He knows them intimately. And he’s certain that in a crooked house such as Three Gables, no one’s on the level…


Review

I think I spoilt myself when  I started my foray into Christie’s work with And Then There Were None (review here).  It was one of my favourite books of last year and sparked a fondness for ‘vintage’ mysteries that I might otherwise have missed out on.  When I visit the library, I actually now look through the ‘Crime’ section, where previously I might have sort of looked at it on my way past without paying much close attention to the authors or titles on offer.  On one such visit, I spotted this and didn’t hesitate in taking it home with me.  I didn’t expect it to be as amazing as And Then There Were None but I hoped that it at least wouldn’t damage my fledgling love of retro crime.

Did I love it as much as And Then There Were None?  Unsurprisingly, no BUT I did really enjoy it!

The Leonides family are an eclectic bunch and a perfect cast for a murder mystery.  The sheer volume of family members makes the beginning a little slow while they’re all introduced.  It took me a while to get the names, relationships and personalities straight but, by the time I had, I was irretrievably invested in the story and puzzling through every odd phrase and sinister happening right alongside Charles.  Personal favourites of mine were Magda (Aristides’ daughter-in-law), a temperamental actress that sees the family’s tragedy as an opportunity to work on her amateur dramatics, Clemency (Aristides’ other daughter-in-law), a perpetually logical scientist who earns extra ‘likeabillity’ points for being married to the insipid Roger without hitting him every time he whines talks and Josephine, for reminding me of Nancy Drew and all the times I played ‘Detective’ with my younger sister as a child.  When you’ve done getting to know them all, there’s also plenty of sniping between family members to keep you entertained whenever you’re taking a break from sleuthing.

Helpfully, the story is told by Charles, the want-to-be-fiance of Sophia (Aristides’ granddaughter – see how confusing it can get?!) who is asked by his Scotland Yard Commissioner father to loiter around the house, get to know the family and do some unofficial detective work.  I’m not convinced about the legality of the whole arrangement but it works for this story, particularly seeing as at the outset Charles also only knows Sophia.  Meeting the family along with Charles helps the many introductions flow better than they otherwise could have done and he’s obviously more objective than Sophia herself, for example, could ever have been (for a man that wants to absolve his fiancé of suspicion...).

To legitimise the investigation, there are some odd moments when Charles pops off to meet up with his father and the actual police to chat through his most recent observations and theories.  Some of these interludes had some handy re-caps of characters’ comments, motives or mannerisms but as many were unusual segments where Charles’ professional parent gives him tips on policing etiquette and investigates techniques.  They weren’t frequent enough to ruin the story but they did jar a bit and did cause my attention to wander a touch.

I had plenty of ideas about who I thought was responsible for Aristide’s demise that were all way off the “truth”.  Much though it doesn’t serve to boost my ego or heighten my confidence in my skills of deduction, I prefer it that way!  I love that moment where the murderer is revealed and you get to go, “Oh my goodness! Of course! How clever…”.  I definitely didn’t see this particular ending coming.  As it happens, the revelation was slightly tainted by a melodramatic twist but not enough to tar my impressions of the book as a whole.  


Overall:  I think I might be a little bit in love with Agatha Christie.  Murder of a restaurant moghul in his quirky mansion while surrounded by his equally quirky family members, most of whom have a legitimate motive for murdering him – what’s not to love?!


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Date finished:  12 April 2012
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Borrowed from my local library
Genre:  Mystery; Crime
Originally Published: 1949