The wonderfully titled Evil Under the Sun is the 24th outing for iconic detective Hercule Poirot and – I’m pleased to say – it’s a cracking one. Poirot has taken himself off on a little holiday to the exclusive, luxury Jolly Roger hotel on an island off the Devon coast. There, we meet a cast of characters that Agatha Christie can establish so well with just a few lines about each.
Opening sentence: ‘When Captain Roger Angmering built himself a house in the year 1782 on the island off Leathercombe Bay, it was thought the height of eccentricity on his part.’
No spoilers, please
It’s always tricky writing plot summaries for Agatha Christie novels as I don’t like to include spoilers in my reviews in general, but especially when it comes to murder mysteries. It always frustrates me when I read reviews that just give too much if the plot away. So I won’t. But I will tell you something about it…
There was an interesting structure to this story as it is quite clear from the beginning who the murder victim is going to be, but the actual murder doesn’t happen until a quarter of the way through. Agatha spends more time building up the suspense and character back-stories, which, for me, really pays off, as I was more invested in them. The scene was set really well too; I felt like another guest at The Jolly Roger hotel.
‘It is peaceful. The sun shines. The sea is blue. But you forget, Miss Brewster, there is evil everywhere under the sun.’Hercule Poirot
Classic Agatha Christie moves…
The more Agatha Christie I read, the clearer her signature moves are becoming. They are things that always bring a smile to my face when they crop up, as I’m now waiting for them. For example (all present and correct here and in many of her other novels): a South-West England setting, action taking place in a hotel, characters that love a game of bridge, policemen and detectives that use lists to recap suspects / sequence of events, subtle references to her other stories, characters and books and a knowing nod to other detective fiction:
Rosamund said with some exasperation:
‘I suppose this is the Sherlock Holmes touch!’
Hercule Poirot smiled.
For me, the reason why Evil Under the Sun works so well is the delicate balance of characters. From the loud Mrs. Gardener to the intriguing Redferns, independent woman Rosamund, Captain and the very glamorous Arlena Marshall, you’re left wondering if anyone is who they first seem. Also, enough characters have possible reasons and motives to commit the crime so, as a reader, you are brought down a few potential avenues before arriving at the clever reveal. Add in the sardonic tone of Poirot and Agatha’s funny lines and it’s a hit.
- First published by Collins Crime Club 1941;
- 288 pages;
- My rating: