Monday, August 5, 2013

Death in the Air [Clouds]: Review

Death in the Air (aka Death in the Clouds) is another fine Agatha Christie outing.  In this one, the murder takes place right under Hercule Poirot's airsick nose.  Yes, fortunately for the killer, Poirot's famous little grey cells were sleeping their way across the Channel in order that he might not be aware of his discomfort--fortunately for a little while, that is.  Because, of course, once Poirot is awake and realizes that a crime has been committed he's on the trail of the murderer.

The victim in this case is one Madame Giselle, a money-lender to the upper-class who uses a bit of judicious blackmail as security on her loans. She is found dead in her seat just prior to landing from what appears at first to be a wasp sting but soon proves to be from a dart tainted with an obscure snake venom.  A blowpipe is found stuffed down behind Poirot's seat--of all places!  There are a few of Poirot's fellow passengers who may fit the profile of Madame Giselle's clients, but it seems impossible that any of them could have used a blowpipe to kill her within the small confines of the plane.

It doesn't take long for Poirot to spot the essential clues--objects that were listed in the tally of each passenger's belongings.  But he is puzzled because the objects he expected are found on the wrong person.  He will make several trips to France and interview all of the passengers and the stewards before the final pieces fall in place.

It had been quite some time since my first reading of this particular Christie novel (a good 20 years, I'd say).  If I hadn't watched the production with David Suchet earlier this year (for the Book to Movie Challenge), I wouldn't have spotted the killer in this reading.  I believe I was distracted by the same darn red herring in my first reading and during the watched episode.  That's the beauty of Christie for me--if I go long enough between rereads it's quite possible for her to pull the wool over my eyes repeatedly.

I thoroughly enjoyed both the Suchet production and this reread.  It's always a treat to watch David Suchet play the quintessential Poirot.  And I also enjoy Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp.  One thing I did notice between the show and the book--Christie's novels have taken a lot of flack for some of her racial representations and stereotypes.  This time the production is a bigger culprit than Christie's original work.  The production has Inspector Japp working closely with his French counterpart--in France (the only contact in the book is in England)--and Japp treats him pretty shabbily, just because he's a "Frenchy."  The scenes in the novel show a much more collegial and respectful collaboration.  I'm wondering if the writers/producer decided to emphasize Japp's supposed mistrust of French investigations and investigations as a replacement for the few racial comments made by other characters in the book.

Overall, a fine performance in both print and onscreen. Four stars.

These detective story writers always making the police out to be fools and getting their procedure all wrong. Why, if I were to say the things to my super that their inspectors say to superintendents, I should be out on my ear. Set of ignorant scribblers! This is just the sort of fool murder that a scribbler of rubbish would think he could get away with. ~Inspector Japp (p. 31)

(about Poirot)
NG: What an extraordinarily rum little beggar. Calls himself a detective. I don't see how he could do much detecting. Any criminal could spot him a mile off. I don't see how he could disguise himself.
JG: Haven't you got a very old-fashioned idea of detectives? All the false-beard stuff is very out of date. Nowadays detectives just sit and think out a case psychologically. 
~Norman Gale; Jane Grey (p. 42)

I know by experience that most people are blind as bats, but there are limits. ~Inspector Japp (p. 54)

IJ: I don't think it's healthy for a man to be always brooding over crime and detective stories. Reading up all sorts of cases. It puts ideas into his head.
HP: It is certainly necessary for a writer to have ideas in his head.
~Inspector Japp; Hercule Poirot (p. 60)

Nothing can be so misleading as observation. ~Poirot (p. 70)

Listen, I will tell you something. In every case of a criminal nature one comes across the same phenomena when questioning witnesses. Everyone keeps something back. Sometimes--often, indeed--it is something quite harmless, something, perhaps, quite unconnected with the crime, but--I say it again--there is always something. ~Poirot (p. 78)


Gypsi said...

I went a few years in between readings and yes, I fell for the same red herring both times!

Do you ever listen to Christie mysteries on audio? Hugh Fraser does such an amazing job!

Bev Hankins said...

I've listened to a few of the audios. The library had a couple with David Suchet reading....

Becky said...

I enjoyed this one very much! I read it earlier this summer. Thanks for including quotes in your review, I always love seeing them.

Anonymous said...

Great choice Bev - I remember enjoying this book in particular for its claustrophobic setting, the limitation of which should have made it easier to spot the villain, but I still got it wrong! The TV version is great fun though I think I prefer MURDER ON THE LINKS of the cases set in France.

Ryan said...

I read this for the first time last year, and while I can't count it in my favorites, I really did enjoy it.

DoingDewey said...

I don't think I've read or watched this one, but I love David Suchet as Poirot :)

Rick Mills said...

If nothing else, this book demonstrates how air travel has deteriorated. Windows that open! Ordering a meal from the menu - and on a flight of less than one hour!

Bev Hankins said...

Rick: Yeah--and less people on the flight in general.