BYRC – Appointment with Death

August 26, 2012

I have read all of the Miss Marple books I could find and now I'm working my way through the Hercule Poirot series. It just so happened that the next book on my list was Appointment with Death, which was published in 1938, so it qualified for the Birth Year Reading Challenge. It's kind of cheating because the challenge is supposed to introduce us to books we wouldn't have otherwise read, and clearly I was about to read this one anyway. But, oh well.

The story itself is 178 pages on my Nook, and the Nook is generally comparable to actual books w/r/t the number of pages. The publisher fills up the rest of the 209 pages with a list of Poirot books, snippets about the books and an "essay" by Charles Osborne, which was actually a list of facts about the book and its subsequent appearances on stage and screen. It was taken from a biographical companion to the works of Agatha Christie. I realize that I put far too much of my personal reactions in book reviews that I write, but that was just entirely too dry. (It was a little informative, though.)

In this novel Christie incorporates a dominant matriarch who is actually a "mental sadist". This sort of character is commonplace now, especially in TV, but I don't know how common it was in 1938. I did deep, in-depth research on the subject (I read the Wikipedia article on the book) and I did not find any reference to this aspect one way or another, so I can't report how edgy Christie was in writing about dangerously deranged people. (I'm trying not to be offended that the sadist is American.)

As usual Poirot interviews the suspects, but this time I couldn't help wondering why they agreed to be interviewed. I mean, I wouldn't have answered his questions; I wouldn't even have answered his summons to the interview. He didn't have any authority. A couple of the girls looked at him with pleading eyes, but why would they plead with this person who was not an official detective, when the real detective wasn't even present? Why would they collectively agree to gather together in the end with him so that he could reveal who did it? I don't remember ever feeling this way with the other Poirot novels, so I suspect that Christie didn't do as good a job this time of justifying it.

Not only that, I didn't want him to find the answer. She did a good enough job of creating the dominant, sadistic mother/bitch that I wanted him to keep his Belgian nose and his luxurious moustaches out of the family's business. Even the ending didn't satisfy me in this respect; it did not justify – in my eyes – his interference.

Christie married an archæologist in 1930 and from what I understand her experiences with him led to this novel – its location, anyway. I enjoyed her description of Petra and it seems accepted that it is accurate. In the snippets of her Autobiography that I read she shows acute interest in archeology and a longing for the Middle East whenever she left it.

I also read that she learned to hate Poirot, but was faithful to her readers and kept writing about him as long as they kept enjoying him, which was all of her life. I much prefer Miss Marple, though there are far fewer of her novels than of M. Poirot. I think I'm okay with that. Her Marple novels seem much more involved, especially with regard to character development. Christie wrote her first Poirot novel (indeed her first novel) in 1916. (It was published in 1920.) Published in 1938, Appointment with Death is her 16th Poirot novel, which doesn't even count the 4 novellas and many short stories. I can't help feeling that she's tired of him by now.

I read this Novel basically in one day. I enjoyed it, partly because it was not too taxing while I lay on the sofa drinking coffee. I have no real love for Poirot, but I do have a love for Christie's writing style and the whodunit nature of her books. I enjoyed the scenery she paints, even if I wasn't as fond of these characters that she used to paint it.

Thus concludes my review of the first book I read on my Birth Year Reading Challenge. Next up, I believe, is Are You There, God? It's me, Margaret.

More later,