It’s been a while since I’ve read an Agatha Christie book, so it’s very fortunate that The Pale Horse is a good one. The Pale Horse came to my attention as I heard that it’s one of the only Agatha novels that dabbles in witchcraft and the supernatural. Even better, it features one of my favourite Christie characters, enigmatic novelist, Ariadne Oliver.
Opening sentence: There are two methods, it seems to me, of approaching this strange business of the Pale Horse.
What happens at the Pale Horse?
This is a standalone novel in the sense it doesn’t feature Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. Our main narrator is Mark Easterbrook, an historian who finds himself caught up in an intriguing mystery. In the quaint little English village of Much Deeping, there is a very old house that used to be a pub called the Pale Horse.
‘Sooner or later,’ said Ginger, ‘someone has got to find out exactly what happens at the Pale Horse.’
Over in London, when Father Gorman is murdered after hearing the last rites of a woman, a list of names is discovered on his person. This list seem to have something in common… they’re all dead, and there’s a connection to the Pale Horse.
Good vs Evil
Some expert plotting comes into play, foreshadowing references to Macbeth are followed by us being told that three ladies, including their ringleader Thyrza Grey, who claim to practice witchcraft now live in the building once known as the Pale Horse… the three witches. Are they really murdering people through witchcraft?
I understood that I was being reassured. Murder committed by occult powers was not murder in an English court of law.
This story looks at good vs evil, people’s perception of it, the history of witchcraft and the way the world is changing. Agatha captures this theme very well and it feels very forward thinking:
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘The supernatural seems supernatural. But the science of tomorrow is the supernatural of today.
Such an enjoyable read
Ariadne Oliver is Agatha Christie’s fictional alter-ego. She’s not actually in the novel much but when she does appear she takes the time to bemoan the chore of writing murder mysteries, so always brings a wry smile to my face as Agatha’s knowing nod is running through these pages.
Another reason this was an interesting read is that it’s one of the later Christie novels (published in 1961) so for the characters to be talking about the tube and Espresso machines seemed crazy to me. Agatha captures the vibe of the swinging 60s pretty well too, it’s just not an era I associate with her, so actually it was refreshing to read from that angle.
I devoured this clever, perfectly placed murder mystery and I’m definitely in the mood for more Agatha now. Which one shall I read next?
- Get your copy of The Pale Horse here;
- First published 1961. This edition HarperCollins 2017;
- 259 pages;
- My rating: