Monday, February 26, 2024

The Hollow/Murder After Hours

 The Hollow/Murder After Hours (1946) by Agatha Christie

 Agatha Christie gives us a nice little country house murder. Lady Lucy Angkatell invites a group of friends and relatives that is sure to cause tension somewhere...and it mostly revolves around Dr. John Christow. Christow is a brilliant doctor with a terrific manner with patients and some innovative ideas about a cure for a deadly disease. But he's not really any good with personal relations. His wife Gerda worships him and is exactly what he thought he wanted yet he treats her poorly. Henrietta Savernake, a sculptor, is his mistress--because she's more vital and intelligent than Gerda, but he wants her to focus only on him (and not her art) Gerda does. Edward Angkatell has always loved Henrietta and hates Christow because Henrietta won't agree to marry him. Others at the house party include Midge Hardcastle, poor relation who must work for her living, who is in love with Edward; David Angkatell, a young intellectual, who feels like an outsider in the family and seems to hate everyone--including Christow. Thrown into the mix is Veronica Cray--Christow's first love who wanted him to give up his life's work as a doctor and come with her to America while she became a Hollywood star. He told her no. She's back in England and determined to get him back. She isn't pleased when he tells her no again.

And then...after he spends a late night at Cray's nearby cottage and then is summoned back in the morning--where he tells her that there most definitely isn't anything doing...he's found dead by the swimming pool, shot to death. And his wife Gerda is standing over him with a gun in her hand. Just at that moment, Hercule Poirot (also staying in another nearby cottage and who has been invited to lunch) comes to the scene...a scene that he initially feels has been staged (as a little joke) for the "great detective" and, as the investigation unfolds, still feels staged, though he's not quite certain by whom and to what purpose. But once the little grey cells have the chance to ponder all of the clues--both real and red herrings--he is able to resolve the question.

I enjoyed this one more for the characters than for the mystery (I spotted what was going on quite early--long before Poirot makes any indication that he knows the culprit, even if he can't prove it yet). Not that the mystery isn't interesting--it is. Christie does some interesting things with the plot and clue placement. But anyone who thinks Christie only does cardboard cutouts and her characters have no depth should really take a look at this one. The standard characters are given motivations and emotional lives that really resonate on the page...and even Gudgeon, the butler who has few scenes, is more than just the wooden-faced, typical butler. But my favorite has to be Lady Angkatell. Probably because with her apparent non sequiturs that have a way of hitting the nail on the head every time she reminds me a great deal of the Dowager Duchess in Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. And I adore the Dowager. Lucy Angkatell is a bit more frightening than the Dowager--she definitely seems to know what she's about in putting together certain persons. But in general she does appear to want what's best for everyone (even if what she thinks is best isn't necessarily what they think is best). A very good mystery that I found most interesting and fun. ★★★★

First line: At 6:13 a.m. on a Friday morning Lucy Angkatell's big blue eyes opened upon another day, and as always, she was at once wide awake and began immediately to deal with the problems conjured up by her incredibly active mind.

Your mind, Lucy, goes so fast, that to keep pace with it your conversation takes the most amazing leaps. All the connecting links are left out. (Midge Hardcastle; p. 7)

He's just down from Oxford--or perhaps Cambridge. Boys of that age are so difficult--especially when they are intellectual. David is very intellectual. One wishes that they could put off being intellectual until they were rather older. (Lucy Angkatell; p. 9)

Queer, thought Henrietta, how things can seep into you without your knowing it. (p. 22)

The truth of it was that he was completely illogical. He didn't know what he wanted. [about John Christow; p. 37)

[about being an artist] You don't understand, John. I don't think I could ever make you understand. You don't know what it is to want something--to look at it day after day --that line of the neck--those muscles--the angle where the head goes forward--that heaviness round the jaw. I've been looking at them, wanting them--every time I saw Gerda. In the end I just had to have them. (Henrietta Savernake; pp. 39-40)

If I were dead, the first thing you'd do, with the tears streaming down your face, would be to start modelling some damned mourning woman or some figure of grief (John Christow; p. 48)

And suddenly one of those moments of intense happiness came to her--a sense of the loveliness of the world--of her own intense enjoyment of that world. (p. 55)

When one has to spend every day of one's life in a damnable little box, being polite to rude women, calling them madam, pulling frocks over their heads, smiling and swallowing their damned cheek whatever they like to say to one--well, one does want to cuss! (Midge; p. 56)

Sculpture isn't a thing you set out to do and succeed in. It's a thing that gets at you, that nags at you--and haunts you--so that, sooner or later, you've got to make terms with it. (Henrietta; p. 60)

You see what you're looking at, yes. You're--you're like a searchlight. a powerful beam turned onto the one spot where your interest is, and behind it and each side of it, darkness! (Henrietta; p. 72)

I can't stand just now, being reminded of happiness. Don't you understand? A time when one didn't know what was coming. When one said confidently, everything is going to be lovely! Some people are wise--they never expect to be happy. I did. (Henrietta; p. 122)

...possibly she believes what is told her. I think if one has not a great deal of intelligence, it is wise to do that. (Lucy Angkatell; p. 134)

What made Lady Angkatell dangerous, he thought, was the fact that hose intuitive, wild guesses of hers might often be right. With a careless (seemingly careless?) word she built up a picture--and if parts of the picture was right, wouldn't you, in spite of yourself, believe in the other half of the picture? (pp. 137-8)

[on whether he is an "artist" as a detective] ...on the whole, I would say no. I have known crimes that were artistic--they were, you understand, supreme exercises of imagination--but the solving of them--no, it is not the creative power that is needed. What is required is a passion for the truth. (Poirot; pp. 152-3)

These foreigners, thought Grange, don't know how to make tea--you can't teach 'em. But he did not mind much. He was in a condition of pessimism when one more thing that was unsatisfactory actually afforded him a kind of grim satisfaction. (pp. 218-9)

Yes, she thought, that was what despair was. A cold thing--a thing of infinite coldness and loneliness. (p. 237)

You do not understand. To you it is unbearable that anyone should be hurt.  But to some minds there is something more unbearable still--not to know. (Poirot; p. 250)

Last line: She said under her breath, "John, forgive me--forgive me for what I can't help doing--"

Deaths = 2 (one shot; one poisoned)

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