19/06/2013

Taken at the Flood (by Agatha Christie)

While I’m not a fan of thrillers and crime fiction in general, I do like reading the occasional Agatha Christie. Written in the early and middle of the 20th century, her stories reflect a calmer, politer way of life than we are used to, where violent crime stands out as a mystery to be solved. Christie’s people are not the most well developed, but then these are not primarily character-based novels; instead, they are puzzles for which she cleverly lays both clues and red herrings.

It was only when I had finished reading ‘Taken at the Flood’, and was entering the information into one of the online book sites that I realised that I had previously read it, in an edition confusingly titled ‘There is a Tide’. It was only seven years ago, so I am astounded and a little shocked, since I had no memory at all of having read it before... (see note below)

In this story, the first victim is Gordon Cloade, a wealthy man who is tragically killed in a bomb attack in London. Gordon had been in the habit of funding his various impecunious relatives, and had half promised that they would share his fortune after he had passed away. However, shortly before his demise, he had married Rosaleen, a young widow. As the story starts, Rosaleen is understood to be living in Gordon’s family home with her somewhat overbearing brother.

We get a good picture of Gordon’s family members, although I found myself sometimes forgetting who was whom as there were so many of them. Some are quite sympathetic towards the young Rosaleen, when they finally meet her; others are more hostile. Some of them are keen to ask her for money, and she comes across as quite kind-hearted if a bit weak-willed; her brother evidently rules the roost.

A stranger arrives in the village, asking questions about Rosaleen’s first husband, who supposedly died in South Africa.. or did he?

Naturally Gordon is not the only victim in this story; there is no mystery surrounding his death, just a great deal of tension and argument amongst his loved ones. But someone else dies, and clues seem to point in one direction... except that they are perhaps a bit too obvious. The police are uncertain, and Hercule Poirot, who is called in to investigate, feels that the whole ‘shape’ of the apparent crime is wrong.

As always with Agatha Christie’s novels, there’s a great deal of talking. This is really where her books fall down, as she didn’t write the most believable conversations. Nor does she really distinguish between Gordon’s various surviving relatives; other than some of their interests, I found them all somewhat bland. I had my suspicions about who might have ‘dunnit’, but was - as so often - quite wrong. Poirot solves everything in the end, unsurprisingly, and it all makes sense.

I didn’t feel that the plot was as clear-cut or well-planned as some of the author’s other books, and found the final few pages particularly unsatisfying. Not a bad story, but not one of my favourites, nor one I would particularly recommend to anyone new to Agatha Christie or light crime fiction.

Note: according to Wikipedia's page on this book, 'Taken at the Flood' was the author's title for this book, but the US publishers chose 'There is a Tide' for their first edition in 1948. Both phrases are taken from a speech in Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar'.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 19th June 2013

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