Publication Date: May 2, 1938
Length: 256 pages
This was the Read Christie choice for September and I am getting it read and reviewed in the nick of time. It features Hercule Poirot as the lead investigator and as he is my favorite of Christie's characters, I was glad to dive into this book.
The story caught my attention from the first as Poirot, on vacation in Jerusalem, overhears a man and a woman talking. The man says to her, "You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?" Raymond Boynton and his sister Carol are at their wits end with their domineering, evil stepmother, Mrs. Boynton, a former prison warden, who delights in making everyone in the family miserable. She is controlling and nasty and seems to take real pleasure in the misery of others. For years she has orchestrated her own little fiefdom in which she dictates all the decisions of her deceased husband's children and her own child, Ginny Boynton, and attempts to do the same with her stepson Lennox's wife Nadine, who resists her. When Mrs. Boynton is found dead later in the story on a family outing to the ruins of Petra, Poirot believes he can solve the case in 24 hours and sets out to follow the clues.
Sarah King, a female doctor and Dr. Gerard, a psychologist staying at the same hotel as the other characters play an important role in the story. They are fascinated with the obvious dysfunction on display in the Boynton family. From the start of the book they are found discussing what they perceive to be the hold Mrs. Boynton has over the family. Sarah seems to be romantically interested in Raymond as well and feels almost a duty to save him from his stepmother's influence. When she confronts Mrs. Boynton at one point and bravely tells her what she thinks of her, she is met with a chilling response: "I've never forgotten anything- not an action, not a name, not a face." Later, these words will have great significance in the resolution of the crime and the identity of the murderer.
Also factoring into the story is Jefferson Cope, a friend of the family who is in love with Carol, Colonel Carbury, a local official who spends time with Poirot on the case, and Lady Westholme, a member of Parliament and important figure in society.
My favorite part of this book was the first half when Christie spent time focusing on the psychology of the Boyntons. I found it very insightful and relevant to today when thinking of those who seem to have a natural inclination toward dictating to others and controlling others simply because they can. Christie was writing this during the 1930's when psychological studies were still relatively novel and so I thought she did an amazing job of describing the reasons behind the victim's personality. The way she was able to control her family without lifting a finger to physically harm them was disturbing and creepy and made you glad to see her go.
As is usual for me, I love Christie until the sequence of chapters where each clue is given the once over. I realize that a lot of her readers love this part of the book but I think it can drag and get tedious when Poirot starts painstakingly going through them all. I now know it's just part of the style though and so I accept it and use it as a time to reflect and see if I can sift through them and guess who the culprit is. I confess I didn't win this round! It was clever and hidden and unexpected, at least for me. But believable and I thought the ending was a great one. This was one of my favorites so far and I look forward to the November Read Christie book. I have already read and reviewed the October selection, Murder On the Orient Express, so I'll be skipping that month. It's funny that I read it and didn't even realize it was the October choice!