Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Crooked House by Agatha Christie

published 1949  chapter 15


[Sophia] stood by my side looking out at the garden. It looked bleak and grey now with the half-denuded trees swaying in the wind.

Sophia echoed my thoughts as she said: “how desolate it looks…”

As we watched, a figure, and then presently another came through the yew hedge from the rock garden. They both looked grey and unsubstantial in the fading light.

Brenda Leonides was the first. She was wrapped in a grey chinchilla coat and there was something catlike and stealthy in the way she moved. She slipped through the twilight with a kind of eerie grace.

I saw her face as she passed the window. There was a half-smile on it, the curving crooked smile I had noticed upstairs.




observations: Poor old Brenda – everyone looks down on her, because she is common and wears too much make-up and her hair is too elaborate. Christie has a go at making her human and real, but even her champion – narrator Charles – gives up on her in the end. She is repeatedly compared to Edith Thompson,* a real person who was executed in 1923 for the murder of her husband, but who was probably innocent. Brenda in the book is the young wife of aging patriarch Aristide Leonides, and when he is murdered she is the obvious suspect.

This was Christie’s own favourite among her books, and interestingly it doesn’t feature any of her regular detectives. It has also resisted TV adaptation, though apparently is in the works for a film – it would give some great opportunities for actors. Christie did love to place her murders in weird families and among strange married couples, and this is a particularly full example. The diva-ish mother Magda – at one point being stage managed by her daughter during a police interview – is particularly good, and rather underused in the book. She is reminiscent of blog favourite Julia from W Somerset Maugham’s splendid book Theatre, and Georgia from Margery Allingham's Fashion in Shrouds.

Some Christies you could re-read after a while and not at all remember whodunit, and have no clue how it was going to end (looking at you, The Clocks) – but it is fair to say that this one is of a different calibre: it has a memorable and clever solution.

There are an unusual number (for Christie) of references to the outside world – as well as Edith Thompson, above, the book features paintings by John Sargent and Augustus John, the play Arsenic and Old Lace, the radio programme the Brains Trust.

* In Love in a Cold Climate, source of many a blog entry, one of the unnamed rich women is very upset to lose her lucky charm bracelet, because she has just ‘managed to get a bit of hangman’s rope, Mrs Thompson too, did I tell you? Roly will never win the National now, poor sweet.’ There’s nothing really to say about that.

That is a chinchilla coat in the picture above, it is exactly that fur giving the very un-posh-looking stripey effect– and although the photo is from Vogue, via the Dovima is Devine photostream, the model certainly has the look of a Brenda.

A chinchilla coat also features in the wonderful book My Search for Warren G Harding by Robert Plunket and the blog entry showed this picture:



16 comments:

  1. Moira - An excellent post (as ever), for which thanks. I think you're spot on about Christie creating some very odd sorts of families. And the 'young widow nobody likes much' is another feature I've seen elsewhere in Christie's work (Yes, Taken at the Flood, I mean you.). I do like the psychological aspects of this novel and as far as the plot goes, I can see why Christie thought it her favourite. It is memorable.

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    1. One can't say too much without spoilering, but we both know what makes this one stand out. And very good call on the 'unpopular widow' trope - I hadn't made the connection with Taken at the Flood, but of course you're absolutely right.

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  2. Do they still wear fur coats in Milan?

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    1. I don't know, but someone in her late 20s told me recently that at a wedding recently a surprising number of her contemporaries were in fur, and completely unapologetic about it... Would bear investigation.

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  3. Crooked House is my favorite Christy so far. In my re-reading of her books (not that I know which ones I read before and which I did not), I have only read 10 or 11 (I am guessing). So plenty to go. I think I missed the references to Edith Thompson entirely.

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    1. Definitely a good one. I think I am unnaturally attuned to the Thompson case, I read a book about it at an impressionable age and have been fascinated ever since....

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    2. Actually, I retract. Either I like Murder on the Orient Express better or they are tied. Not sure. But I have been very happy with all of her books I have read, so it doesn't matter.

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    3. It might be an ever-changing top 5 as you work your way through them....

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    4. That is what I will do then, have a list of 5 ... and as you say, subject to change. But I will wait until I have read at least 15...

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    5. I have read them all, several times, over many many years, and my top 5 changes frequently!

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    6. That sounds like me and the Rex Stout books. I haven't even tried to figure out a top 5 for those.

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  4. Sounds a good book, though I probably should reserve judgement until I have finished my current Jane Marple thriller! I'm not ruling it out just yet.

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    1. Have you got the bit where Miss Marple goes on a drug-crazed vigilante rampage and turns her axe on a load of killers? Oh sorry, haven't spoilered it have I?

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  5. Not yet - she's just stabbed her vicar, you know the one who is also her pimp and has taken off on her Harley......we may be talking different books....

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  6. My absolute favourite Christie. It shows the slight cynicism the writer has towards romantic love ;-)

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    1. Yes - people accuse Christie of being shallow with cardboard characters, but I think some of her couples, marriages and love affairs are extremely well done and perceptive.

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