After the Funeral (by Agatha Christie)

We have quite a large collection of crime fiction novels by Agatha Christie. Some belonged to my older son when he lived at home, but he left them here, as he could easily find replacements inexpensively in UK charity shops. Crime fiction isn’t my favourite genre, but I quite like the occasional foray into Christie’s works - they’re usually non-gory, with crimes committed off-page, and the focus on the solution of some complex puzzles.

‘After the Funeral’ is a book I hadn’t previously read, so I picked it up a week or so back, feeling like a change from modern women’s fiction. As with all this author’s books, it’s set in the middle of the 20th century. As with many, it features an upper middle class family whom we meet as they gather after the funeral of the family head, Richard Abernethie.

Richard’s younger sister Cora is known to be outspoken, and not considered particularly intelligent. Yet she has a certain astuteness that her contemporaries take seriously, although the younger generation write her off as weird. So when Cora makes a passing comment about her brother having been murdered, nobody believes her… and yet a seed is planted in their minds.

Everyone goes home, after the reading of a not particularly inspiring will, and the book follows several of them as they return to their daily lives. The younger generation include a lawyer, an actor and his wife, and a potential businesswoman who is married to rather a weird young man.

Then another dramatic and unexpected event happens, which brings to mind Cora’s comments, and is the catalyst for an ongoing investigation. The family lawyer - who was an old friend of Richard Abernethie - eventually calls in Hercule Poirot…

Agatha Christie isn’t known for her characterisation, but she creates a believable selection of people in this novel, any of whom could potentially have committed either or both of the crimes. Her skill was always in the gentle trail of red herrings and clues, leading the reader to being quite certain that the wrong person was the perpetrator. She does that brilliantly in this book. At some point in the story, I was almost certain that each of the main characters must be guilty… all except for the one who is eventually revealed.

There’s no cheating in Christie’s books. All the evidence is there to see, if only I had added everything up correctly. When Poirot makes his denouement in the final chapters, I was nodding and agreeing that this is, in fact, the only satisfactory solution.

The book is quite long, with a tad too much detail and rambling conversation for my tastes. Yet it’s in the details that the clues are planted, and the crime, eventually, solved. This one was particularly well plotted, in my opinion, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes this kind of mid-century light crime novel,

First published in 1953, 'After the Funeral' has been almost continually in print in many versions. It can also be found fairly easily in second-hand and charity shops.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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