Peril at End House (by Agatha Christie)

We have a large number of Agatha Christie books, but when I see another one at a church book sale or charity shop, I tend to buy them. That was the case with ‘Peril at End House’, which I acquired at the end of October, and have just finished reading. 

This is a novel featuring Hercule Poirot, after his theoretical retirement. But rather than being called in to a tricky case, he’s there at the beginning. He and his friend Hastings, who is the first person narrator of the book, are on holiday at a place called St Loo. Apparently it was based on Torquay, but as I’ve never been there I don’t know how realistic it might have been.

They get chatting to a young girl called Nick, who comments that she’s plagued by wasps. Poirot becomes concerned when he realises that her hat has a hold, and there’s a bullet on the ground. It would appear that someone shot at her. With the noise of boats nearby, it could well have gone undetected. 

Nick is having lunch with some friends, but Poirot manages to speak to her alone, and learns that she’s had three rather worrying incidents in the past week or so. A heavy picture fell onto her bed, a boulder nearly hit her when it was dislodged, and there was a problem with her car, which could have been fatal. She doesn’t seem too worried, putting everything down to coincidence. She insists that she has no enemies, but Poirot tries to persuade her that her life may be in danger. 

The book is more character-based than some of Christie’s crime novels. It seems clear that whoever has been attempting to kill Nick must be someone close to her, and Poirot eventually makes a list. Her housekeeper and gardener are there, as well as an Australian couple who are renting part of Nick’s property. There’s her rather flaky friend Frederica, who seems vague and temperamental, an art dealer who is in love with Frederica, and a jaunty sailor who’s rather keen on Nick.  

Then there’s Nick’s cousin Charles, who is her next of kin and also her lawyer. He’s a bit formal and uninteresting, and is well aware that her house, though large, is in need of substantial repairs. So there’s very little to inherit. But he seems to have the most motivation, and also the opportunity…

As with most of Agatha Christie’s novels, the plot is very clever, leaving a gentle trail of clues, some of them red herrings, throughout the book. I had figured out one or two of the details that are eventually revealed, but had not begun to realise the actual - and very ingenious - way everything happened, although once Poirot had explained, it was quite believable.

Set in the 1930s, it’s inevitably dated and some of the content (particularly related to drug usage) is somewhat shocking. The people are perhaps a little caricatured, but that doesn’t matter too much; it makes them easier to distinguish. And I have always liked Hercule Poirot. He’s very arrogant, and extremely stereotyped, but quite amusing at times. His dialogue with Hastings provides some light relief in what would otherwise be quite a tense novel.

All in all, I thought this was a good example of a light crime fiction book, and would recommend it to anyone who likes the genre.

Review copyright 2020 Sue's Book Reviews

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