Saturday, 21 March 2015

The Pale Horse - Agatha Christie

As detective novels go, this one stands out a long way - sinister, well crafted and very surprising, this has to be one of the most interesting Christie novels I've read so far.

A priest is called to the bedside of a dying woman in London, and comes away with a list of names scrawled on a scrap of paper. He is later found clubbed to death, and the mysterious list is the only clue the police have to solve the puzzle. Mark Easterbrook, an academic struggling for inspiration, gets involved tracking down the killer when his recently deceased godmother proves to be one of the names scribbled down. Every name on the list turns out to have recently died of apparently natural causes.

With his accomplice, a spirited young woman named Ginger, Easterbrook is led to a converted inn called the Pale Horse in a small country village, now the home of three women claiming to have occult powers.

Appearing as a supporting character is Mrs Oliver, a wonderfully satirical self-portrait by Christie of an abstracted, rambling mystery novelist, who lends the story a much-needed light-hearted aspect.

Rather than simply attempting to solve a murder, The Pale Horse plays with ideas of the supernatural and discusses fascinating psychological or psychosomatic concepts. Not only that, but the novel is very cleverly constructed, with oblique hints throughout and layers within layers hiding the answer. Very much recommended!

Next up: The Big Four by Agatha Christie

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