Crooked House (by Agatha Christie)

We have quite a collection of Agatha Christie novels. Some of them belonged to one of my sons, but were left here to add to my own; I only started reading her classic crime fiction about fifteen years ago, and find they make good light reading, rather different from the family sagas, contemporary fiction or historical novels which I most often read.

‘Crooked House’ is one that I had not previously read. It’s narrated by a young man called Charles who wants to marry a girl called Sophia. They met abroad, and she hasn’t spoken much about her family; but on arriving back in the UK, after an assignment elsewhere, he discovers her caught up in a murder enquiry.

I found the family involved to be rather interesting, as they’re supposed to be a typical Greek origin family. The patriarch is Aristide Leonides, who had lost several children but keeps his two living ones in his rather oddly designed spacious manor house. Sophie is the oldest of his grandchildren; she has a younger brother and sister who are both also living at home, educated by a live-in tutor for various reasons.

Charles’ father is a police officer, so he finds himself interested in the case from both perspectives: as an outsider, and also as someone wanting to become part of the family, yet unable to do so until the crime is solved. He’s a friendly person and soon gets to know the different family members.

Inevitably there are caricatures: Sophia’s mother Magda is an actress who spends most of her life imagining herself in some dramatic role. Sophia’s uncle Roger is a likeable, but rather clueless person who tries hard to please everyone, and ends up annoying them all. There’s a maiden aunt who mostly raised the grandchildren, a large and benevolent ‘nannie’, a morose teenage boy, and a talkative girl who wants to be a detective…

As with most of Christie’s novels, there are many people who could have committed the crime, yet at first none of them appear to have any motive. Red herrings are gently strewn around, putting suspicion first on one person and then on another. I had my own suspicions from fairly early in the book, and although I started to wonder, part way through, if I could possibly be right, I was pleased to discover that I was.

It’s not usual for me to spot ‘whodunit’ in Agatha Christie’s books; she usually focuses more on plot than character, and I get lost with the twists and turns. However in this book character turns out to be very important, and from that point of view it wasn’t at all difficult.

I thought the ending rather morbid, albeit mostly off-stage (as are the crimes themselves, most of the time) but this was first published in 1949 when the UK still had the death penalty, so perhaps it wasn’t unreasonable.

Inevitably this is very dated, but conversation and story move at a reasonable pace, and it’s a well-told tale.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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