Towards Zero by Agatha Christie: Superintendent Battle Book Five (Read Christie 2023 May)
Publication Date: June 1944
Length: 257 pages
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
I did not intend to read this book during the month of May but was unable to get a hard or digital copy of the current Read Christie book, Unfinished Portrait. This book was one of their suggestions for an alternate that was in keeping with the theme of betrayal. I am glad now that I chose it as the other book didn't appeal to me much. This is book five with Superintendent Battle as the investigator and I don't know much about him. So a good choice for me I'd say.
As is common in Christie books, our story opens with an array of characters and events, seemingly unrelated and a bit confusing. There is a prologue where a group of lawyers are gathered around discussing hypothetical situations, the first chapter showcases a man who has attempted suicide, and then it moves to the main detective, Superintendent Battle, rescuing his daughter from a stressful situation at her boarding school.
We continue to be introduced to the remaining characters, who will soon be guests at Gull's Point, a seaside home of one Lady Tressilian, widow and matriarch who is confined to her bed. There are Nevile and Kay Strange, Nevile's ex-wife, Audrey Strange, family friend Thomas Royde, Ted Latimer, a friend of Kay's, and Mr. Treves, one of the lawyers introduced in the prologue. While Latimer and Treves are staying at a nearby hotel, the others are at Gull's Point in what is an awkward and tense atmosphere. Nevile has decided that in order to make peace with himself he must try to bring his current wife and ex-wife together and so has chosen a September weekend normally reserved for Audrey's visit, to foster harmony between them all. It does not go as planned and soon all the guests coming and going realize the idea is a grave mistake.
It is clear that Kay and Audrey have no love lost between them and Nevile seems conflicted about his choice to create a new life with Kay. She is spoiled and shallow and we start to see regret in him for his decision. Meanwhile, Audrey is seen as the sad victim of their affair and is loved from afar by Thomas. Kay's friend Ted clearly has feelings for Kay and everyone sees the tension building, including Lady Tressilian, who is partial to Audrey and has no use for Kay. Her will states that Nevile and his wife will receive an inheritance upon her death, as her former husband took Nevile under his wing and raised him from a young man. When Lady Tressilain is found murdered, suspicion falls upon him, among others and Superintendent Battle, who is staying nearby on a vacation of his own, is called in to investigate. What seems a clear case of murder with a certain weapon soon becomes muddled when initial clues don't add up, and Battle finds it difficult to untangle the web he's been given.
The first half of the book is spent delving deeply into the relationships between Nevile, Kay, and Audrey. Much of the time we are privy to the hurt and pain caused by the divorce and remarriage of the guilty parties and how it has affected everyone involved. Audrey is presented as an introverted, depressed, scorned wife and Kay as an unfeeling and selfish, younger replacement. Nevile is irritatingly regretful about what he has done and spends time trying to convince Audrey he might have been wrong all along and should return to her. Thomas and Ted play the part of enamored would be suitors to Audrey and Kay respectively but get little recognition as the ladies are too caught up in the drama between the sad love triangle. When the murder occurs, things come to an explosive head and dark secrets and fears begin to surface.
I thought the story was compelling and the ending really detailed and original. So this story definitely deserves four stars. There was a lot that was hidden from the reader until the very end and what was interesting was that the murderer seemed obvious, yet the way things unfolded I'd never have guessed where it was going at all.
The reason I gave it four stars instead of five is because I thought the first half started to repeat and drag a bit. The same feelings were rehashed and could've been shortened some. I also felt absolutely no connection to Superintendent Battle. It was odd that he referred to Poirot several times and in another review I read I agreed with the blogger who said why didn't Christie just go ahead and make this book a Poirot case? For this reason I'm not chomping at the bit to start another Battle book but I wouldn't rule it out entirely. This is a great plot line, just not my favorite so far.
I've just read Unfinished Portrait for the challenge, although I haven't had time to post my review yet. It's very different from her mysteries! I read Towards Zero years ago and can't remember it very well, but I agree that Superintendent Battle isn't a very strong character compared to her other detectives.ReplyDelete
It was so weird....I don't know if it was a thing just here in the states but Unfinished Portrait wasn't very readily available. I'd have had to buy a copy and wait for it. No Kindle, Libby, nothing. Not on sale anywhere either. So I just chose another one. Hope you enjoyed it and I'll be looking for your review :)Delete