Book Review – Appointment with Death

Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie {Poirot no. 17}

Among the towering red cliffs of Petra, like some monstrous swollen Buddha, sat the corpse of Mrs Boynton. A tiny puncture mark on her wrist was the only sign of the fatal injection that had killed her.

With only 24 hours available to solve the mystery, Hercule Poirot recalled a chance remark he’d overheard back in Jerusalem: ‘You see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?’ Mrs Boynton was, indeed, the most detestable woman he’d ever met.

I am writing this post from my phone on a dog walk. The wind is blowing over Minchinhampton Common with an icy ferocity and I’m hoping my fingers will last for the entire post.

I will admit, ashamedly, that Appointment with Death is the first Agatha Christie I have ever read. For years I have wanted to start working my way through the legacy of the most famous crime author, and now that I have started I am addicted. It can be nerve-wracking when introducing yourself to a new author. Will you like their writing style, their story telling? Will you be able to relate to the characters, and will the story captivate you page after page?

Agatha Christie has a way of drawing the reader into the world of her characters. There is no over-the-top action, gratuitous violence or fantastical events that make you want to read on, but you become involved in the crime, and guessing the assailant becomes a game. One that Christie inevitably wins. Christie clearly lays out the crime in each novel, cleverly directing the reader to assuming the guilt of this character, and then maybe that one, before at the end a reveal is made; bringing together the evidence dotted throughout the novel in a surprising, genius, twist. The writing is intelligent and well thought-out, but easy to follow. Knowing that there will be a surprise does not spoil the reading of Christie’s books. In fact, it makes you all the more convinced to read every word carefully, desperately trying to see what Monsieur Hercule Poirot sees that gives him such confidence in the innocence or guilt of a character. Christie expertly guides you to one character, then another. In Appointment with Death there are a myriad of obvious suspects, the worn down family, the would-be heroin, or someone we never suspected?

The most brilliant aspect of Christie’s detective stories are that all the evidence is there, as Poirot says, “It is a profound belief of mine that if you can induce a person to talk to you for long enough, on any subject whatever! Sooner or later they will give themselves away.” It is the great frustration of the reader that, once all is revealed, you can see all the pieces of the jigsaw come together and they were right in front of your eyes the whole time.

Appointment with Death is an interesting read because it focuses very much on the morality of murder. The victim is one Mrs Boynton, a despicable old bat who revels in the emotional torture of her family. We spend a few chapters viewing the effect Mrs Boynton’s controlling and narcissistic personality has on those around her. Her family, worn down, all adults who are emotionally bound to serve the great shadowy mass that hangs over them, begin to taste freedom. Outsiders, who are both inclined to help the family find a life beyond the tyrannical rule of Mrs Boynton, and intrigued by the unusual family dynamic, play a key role throughout the events of the book. It is safe to say by the time the old lady meets her fate everyone, reader included, is relieved that the world became that bit nicer.

Poirot, however, is driven by his morality to investigate the death, especially after it appears that old Boynton’s demise was not natural. Through meticulous psychological analysis of all parties present, Poirot accomplishes his task and unmasks the murderer. I will allow you to discover the murderer for yourself, but I will say, prepare to be surprised.

Happy reading!

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