Monday, June 23, 2014

The Pale Horse: Review

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him... (Revelation 6:8)

It seems rather hard to believe that I had never read Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse (1961) before. After all, Dame Agatha is one of my favorites and I spent a great deal of time reading her books when I was younger--but I did not have this one logged and I did not own a copy until I picked up one of my beloved pocket-size editions in May of 2012, so I'm just going to accept that I somehow missed this one.

Christie's only novel in which Ariadne Oliver makes an appearance without Hercule Poirot is a twist on the plot device used by Philip MacDonald in The List of Adrian Messenger two years previously. The story begins with Father Gorman, a Catholic priest called to the deathbed of a woman apparently dying of flu. She tells him that there is "Wickedness...such wickedness...Stopped...It must be stopped...You will..." And the priest assures her that he will do what is necessary. But before he can do anything about what he has heard, he is murdered on his way home. The police find a list of names in his shoe--a list of names of people who seem to have nothing in common. Except when historian Mark Easterbrook is brought into the investigation through the passing of his godmother (whose name, incidentally, appears on the list), he discovers that the names do have something in common....death.

Christie also dabbles in a bit of apparent black magic in this one. The Pale Horse of the title is an old inn, now inhabited by three women who have a reputation for witchcraft. Seances and secret rituals involving white cocks and modern death rays are rumored to occur. Easterbrook, being a modern man, scoffs at the idea of voo-doo or death-wishes, but as each name on the list winds up dead he begins to wonder if there isn't really such a thing as murder by remote control....

This is one of the better Christie stand-alone novels. There is a fine sense of atmosphere from the coffee shops of Chelsea to the country village and mystic Pale Horse. She does her usual excellent job of misdirection--making me completely misidentify the culprit. I should have know better, I really should have--but like Mark Easterbrook I was thoroughly taken in. Mrs. Oliver makes cameo appearances, adding just the right amount of her general dottiness...and helping Easterbrook spot the method of murder even if he does make a mistake in fingering the villain. The romance is also a nice touch--given enough limelight to make events believable, but not too much attention to distract from the business of tracking down the murder. Good classic Christie fun. ★★★

This fulfills the "Animal in the Title" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.


J F Norris said...

Decades ago in my high school years when my best friend and I read nearly every Agatha Christie (Well, he actually did it, I bombed out at #75 or so) THE PALE HORSE was one of my all time favorite Christie mysteries. I'll always remember the diabolical method of murder in this one. Also, I remember a news item in the 1970s about a nurse who was reading this book and recognized similar symptoms in one of her patients and urged doctors to test for the poison and managed to the patient's life.

Bev Hankins said...

John: I read about that 70s case on this site: There was also a second case that involved the same method.

fredamans said...

I think the magic elements in this one I'd like a lot. Great review!

Ryan said...

I'm looking forward to reading this one!