Thursday, January 01, 2009

Dead Man's Folly, by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie novels are kind of like potato chips--it's nearly impossible to stop at one.

This was also an audiobook, narrated by David Suchet, who has played Poirot in a number of BBC series. A truly great audio narrator is able to the opposite sex without falling into camp or parody, and Suchet does AMAZING women's voices. Truly a joy to listen to, and now I'm hungry for more.

Christie's novels seem to exist in a mythical, unchanging England. There are references to "the War" and the "difficulty of finding good servants," --the only thing that guarantees it is more recent that 1850 is that there are trains and buses. Otherwise, Christie seems to write about an Eternal England like Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse. Dead Man's Folly makes glancing references to WWII, and there is a youth hostel with numerous visiting foreigners, but otherwise, there is nothing to distinguish this as 1956 rather than 1923.

So, imagine how odd it is to Google this novel and find comtemporary reviews! I've never thought about the 1956 Michiko Kakutani actually reviewing Agatha Christie--if I'd thought about this at all, I kind of thought of these books as just spontaneously appearing on bookshelves and in libraries. I never thought of them as being released, and then reviewed, as if a review of an Agatha Christie book would ever change your mind about whether to read it or not.

Sure, a reviewer probably needs to point out that Christie's characters are rather two-dimentional, but is character development the point? People are moved around like puzzle pieces? Of course they are! This is an Agatha Christie novel! If we wanted realism, we'd read John Updike or something.

So, what happens in this book? The Old Country Manor had to be sold to pay the exhorbitant death duties, and was purchased by New Money rich man from The City, and his exotically beautiful and mentally limited wife. The new gentry are holding a Garden Fete, and have hired Ariadne Oliver (Christie's self-parody of a mystery writer) to stage a "murder hunt"--she constructed a mystery, and created clues for participants to try to solve to find the "body," played by a local 14 year old. Mrs. Oliver is unsettled, however, feeling that she has been pushed into making some decisions that weren't really her ideas, and she fears something horrible is going to happen. So she calls her old friend Hercule Poirot to come out and figure out what is going to happen and prevent it if possible.

Poirot arrives, meets all the participants, and surprise! The "body" turns up actually dead, and the Beautiful and Mentally Limited Wife disappears. The police can't understand why this nobody of a girl has been killed, and the mysterious disappearance of the Wife seems to be linked somehow. Of course, it takes Poirot to figure out the solution. Of course, for the practiced reader of mysteries, some of the elements are clear. The Wife disappears after putting in an appearance in a vivid pink dress, dripping with diamonds, in 4 inch heels, heavy makeup and a huge black coolie hat. Hard to miss, right? That's the point--take off all the obvious furnishings, and who knows what she looks like?

There is a scene where Mr. New Money is yelling at someone out the window, then turns back in saying "what did you say, dear?" Do you think his wife is really inside at that moment? I don't! So I know I've read this book before--sometime in the last 30 years--but who can remember exactly what happens in a Christie novel, am I right? But who wants to remember? It's like potato chips--sure, you've had them before, but that doesn't mean you won't eat them again at the first opportunity.

(See what I did there? Returned to the theme from the first paragraph! That's literary merit, that is!)

So, in a departure from my usual reviews here, I'm not going to say what the solution is--because I'm going to want to listen to this book again. Definitely an audio book worth owning, since it's re-usable.

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