31/05/2004

The Hollow (by Agatha Christie)

Light crime fiction by Agatha Christie.

This book is set in 'The Hollow', a large upper-class country home, in the 1940s. Lucy, Lady Angkatell, is introduced as a vague but generous hostess, worried about her forthcoming weekend visitors. She describes them to her young cousin Midge, in a way that left me a little overwhelmed by the details - but as the book then switches to the points of view some of the guests as they prepare to drive to The Hollow, the cast soon fell into place in my mind.

Most of the guests are relatives of Lucy's, so they know or know of each other. The main focus is on David, a brilliant doctor, and Gerda, his rather plain wife who worries a great deal about him. Also introduced early in the book is Henrietta, an artist who is different in almost every respect from Gerda, and who is clearly very important to David too.

Lucy is planning a lunch party on the Sunday, to which she has invited her neighbour Hercule Poirot, who is probably the best-known of Agatha Christie's detectives. Inevitably there's going to be a murder; sure enough, one of the characters meets an untimely end just as Poirot is escorted to the poolside for pre-lunch drinks. At first he thinks it has been staged for his benefit - an actor with red paint dripping from his limbs, someone else holding a gun - then he realises with shock that someone has actually been shot.

Thereafter the book follows the investigations of the crime, starting with the most obvious suspect and then gradually moving to each of the other guests in turn. Prior to the murder, we saw into the minds of each of them to such an extent that I felt any of them could have been motivated to commit the crime; the question is, which one did? None of them is by character an obvious murderer. Poirot and the police ask questions, follow clues, and inevitably Poirot reveals 'who did it' in his usual masterly fashion.

I first read 'The Hollow' about two years ago, and thought it was quite cleverly done, although not one of Agatha Christie's best. I hadn't spotted most of the clues, nor had I worked out who the murderer was, but it all fell into place in the end.

Recently I picked the book up again to skim through, not remembering how recently I had read it, and to my surprise I had totally forgotten who had committed the crime. Usually with this type of book I can work out who the guilty person is at least a chapter before all is revealed, but this time I was as much in the dark as I was the first time, until a couple of pages before the denouement, by which time it was fairly obvious. Even then I had forgotten what happened at the end.

I don't think this is entirely due to my poor memory, nor to the fact that I didn't find the book all that exciting the first time I read it. Certainly I found that I remembered much of the plot; I even recalled some of the false trails that were followed in the solving of the problem, spotting considerably more clues than I did first time around. However I couldn't remember at all which ones were relevant and which were simply red herrings.

On the other hand, I found some of the early chapters a bit rambling. Agatha Christie's style can be crisp and fast-paced, but in this book I felt as if she wasn't quite sure where she was going at the beginning. I felt it could have been condensed somewhat.

Still, all in all a good light read without much gore! Seems to be continually in print, in both USA and UK.

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