Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: Crooked House by Agatha Christie

Crooked HouseWhen Aristide Leonides dies and it is determined that he was poisoned the entire family is under suspicion and it is up to Charles to find the murderer if he wants to marry Aristide's granddaughter, Sophia.

Usually when I read an Agatha Christie mystery my mind is fully occupied. I suspect everyone and try to figure out if a clue is a red herring or not. Her books are usually more logic for me than human interaction and I tend to not become very invested in the characters or the plot. They’re a great way to unwind and recharge and have fun playing detective. Imagine my surprise when I put down Crooked House and sat there pretty much stunned for a while. Better yet, imagine my surprise when I caught myself coming back to the story and the characters days later. Even now, quite a while after reading the book all it took is a brief synopsis and a description of characters to bring it back.
The first thing that made it stand out is how non-formulaic the setup is. There is no uninvolved detective at the helm for whom the whole affair is little more than a challenging riddle – the amateur detective here must solve the crime if he wants to marry the woman he loves. The parties involved are not strangers thrown together by chance but members of the same family living under one roof. None of the characters are particularly ordinary at all; they are all curious personalities, sometimes as outlandish as the house they live in (the scientist and the actress alone are reason enough to read the book). The second thing that impressed me is how the characters are even less what they seem than usual. The whole idea of a stereotype is upended and the result is very engaging. Then of course there was the ending. I can’t tell you who was behind the tragic events but the unraveling of the mystery left me speechless. Finally, and possibly my favorite thing about this story, is that it’s not all logic and categorization of characters and motives and traits that might or might not make them the murderer. There’s a social issue deeper and bigger than money or jealousy or the desire to hide a shady past, and Christie shines a light on it in such a way that rouses emotion even now, when sometimes I think I’ve seen it all between the hours of 8 and 12 PM on network television.
It is rumored that Agatha Christie said that Crooked House is one of her two favorite books out of all that she’s written. I can see why. It has more heart and soul than almost any other book of hers that I’ve read so far. I highly recommend that you read it, even if mystery isn’t really your cup of tea.

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