Saturday, November 12, 2016

Sitting at the Right Hand of the Evil Ouija Demons

Image result for the sittaford mysteryFor some reason, I find myself enjoying Christie’s non-series novels more than I think I will. I’m not sure why this is. Probably because I have a better track record with solving them.
The Sittaford Mystery is one of those non-series mysteries, taking place in the snowy countryside. A group of people have gathered at Sittaford House for a party. The guests include Major Burnaby, a well, major, and friend of the house's owner, Captain Trevelyan. Said captain is renting the place out to the Willetts, a mother-daughter pair from South Africa. The rent is confusing, as most of the characters can’t understand why people from a warm climate would chose to vacation in English winter, much less in an isolated house in a small village. Also attending the party would be Mr. Rycroft, who fancies himself an expert on criminology; Ronnie, a young man who’s (unsuccessfully) convince his aunt to leave him money; and the enigmatic Mr. Duke, whose identity is a minor plot point.
The party gets interesting in the Chinese sense when table-turning is brought up, and the Ouija board is pulled out. The result does not turn into Paranormal Activity 23, but does result in a disturbing message, namely that Captain Trevelyan has been murdered. This sets the group on edge, but everyone laughs it off...except for Major Burnaby, who sets out into the snow to his friend’s house. Three guesses who he finds bashed with a sandbag here, and the first two don’t count, nor does the third if you try to be clever.

Inspector Narracott is on scene, and Christie sets him up as the Great Detective(™) of the book, as he quickly sees through the set-up at the murder scene and deuces that it was not a burglary gone wrong, but a carefully planned murder. However, he’s soon led astray in favor of the most likely suspect in Trevelyan's murder. James Pearson is a weak-willed man who has committed embezzlement as his workplace, and needs money to cover it up. Money that was left to him by Trevelyan in his will. Combine this with the fact that he left town the night of the murder and lied about being there in the first place, and it doesn’t look good for him.
Enter Emily Trefusis, James’s fiancĂ© and the true detective of the novel. She knows that Jim isn’t a moral paragon, but he’s not capably of murder, and sets off to the village to prove his innocence. She is assisted by a local reporter, who quickly falls for her, giving Christie a chance to play with a love triangle. Credit where credit is due: While this set-up is a tad clichĂ©, Christie does play with expectations a little, and the result will either be pleasantly surprising or shockingly ridiculous, depending on what you think of the relationship's dynamics
The mystery, in and of itself, is decent, though marred by the book’s length. Most of the clues are delivered near the beginning, and after that, not a whole lot happens, mainly due to the amateur nature of the investigation. It still works, but that’s mainly due to Christie’s ability to handle prose that many current and wannabe authors (such as me!) would kill to be able to emulate. But it must be stated that there were a few times I was uncomfortable aware of the page count, and the interview happy nature of it does drag in places. Most of it, however, flies by quickly.
Back to the mystery, while it is fairly clued, most of it is near the beginning, as I said. The final “aha” moment is….weak. Mainly because I’m not sure how you can draw those conclusions based on this one thing. Still, the main “trick” at the center of the book is clever, and Christie's shows her talent for giving the reader insight into her character's thoughts and actions and still misleading you about why they’re doing it.
All in all, I liked it. Not top-tier Christie, but a pleasant read, though perhaps not the best book to start with. Recommended.
P.S. A possible flaw that only occurred to me after this was done, but when did the killer come up with their plan anyhow? The implication a that is was planned in advance, but they couldn't have set it up that way. Ah, I’m probably misreading.