Evil Under the Sun (1941) by Agatha Christie
Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, an exclusive resort on the Devon coast. And, despite his emphasis to his fellow residents that he is definitely not on a case, he finds that murder has decided to holiday on the coast as well.
Arlena Marshall, a beautiful former actress, is seen by the other guests as a femme fatale. Her long-suffering husband, Captain Marshall, must stand by as men fall over themselves to get close to her. Her latest conquest is Patrick Redfern, a handsome young man with a rather mousy little wife. Poirot observes that Redfern is really quite in love with his wife and that may be so, but the young man seemingly can't resist the siren's call.
One morning, Arlena asks Poirot to help her launch her little boat--insisting that she wants to be alone for once and that he should tell no one where she's gone. It's obvious to the detective that she has an assignation, but when Redfern appears on the beach and looks about helplessly it would seem that the beautiful Arlena is meeting someone besides the ardent young man. Redfern later goes out rowing with Emily Brewster, a rather athletic young woman who always goes rowing in the mornings, and he just "happens" to row in the direction Arlena had taken. They spot her sunbathing with a large green hat over her face and Redfern insists on going onto the beach and surprising the sunbather. But it's he who gets the surprise...a rather nasty one. He shouts to Emily that Arlena is dead, strangled. He volunteers to stay with the body and sends Emily for help.
Soon Poirot is setting aside his holiday in order to help the local police get to the bottom of the case. Naturally, the local inspector is looking at the most likely suspect--the betrayed husband. But the husband seems to have a perfectly good alibi. There are others who may have wanted Arlena out of the way--from her stepdaughter, Linda Marshall, to Rosamund Darnley, an old friend of Captain Marshall's who perhaps would like to be more than friends. There's also the Reverend Lane who is a bit of a fanatic and may have been pushed over the edge by what he calls a scarlet woman. When a cache of drugs is found in a little cave at the beach where Arlena was murdered, it begins to look like she may have run afoul of drug smugglers. But Poirot is focused on the most likely suspect--a suspect even more likely than the betrayed husband. He'll have to figure out what a thrown bottle, a mid-day bath, some candles and green bits of cardboard, a wristwatch, and an older murder case have to do with Arlena's death before he will be ready to present his case to Inspector Colgate and the Chief Constable, Colonel Weston.
Another great mystery from Dame Agatha. I enjoy the way it seems everyone has an alibi and Poirot manages to figure out how someone who "couldn't possibly have done it" did. It had been so long since I actually read this (junior high school, I believe). I've watched the filmed versions several times since then and it was interesting to see what had been changed for the two films--with Peter Ustinov as Poirot in 1982 and David Suchet in 2001. Ustinov's version is a bit more camp while Suchet's is a bit darker and changes Marshall's daughter into a son (for some unknown reason), but each follows the plot very closely. ★★★★
First line: When Captain Roger Angmering built himself a house in the year 1782 on the island off Leathercombe Bay, it was thought the height of eccentricity on his part.
And Rosamund hadn't treated Linda as though she thought LInda a fool. In fact she'd treated Linda as though she were a real human being. Linda so seldom felt like a real human being that she was deeply grateful when any one appeared to consider her one. (p. 21)
Last lines: "Oh, my dear, I've wanted to live in the country with you all my life. Now--it's going to come true..."
Deaths = 3 (two strangled; one poisoned [mentioned in passing--but named])