Sun 29 Nov 2015
AGATHA CHRISTIE – Sad Cypress. Dell #529, paperback, mapback edition, 1951. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1940; 1st published in the US by Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1940. Reprinted many times since.
Agatha Christie tries her hand at romance in this one, more than usual, I believe, and while it’s still a detective story that sucks the reader right in, I don’t think that it’s one of her better ones.
Accused of killing the young girl who stole her fiancé away from her, unknowingly so, Elinor Carlisle in the story’s prologue is on trial for her murder. The girl was poisoned, and even Hercule Poirot concedes that on the face of the evidence, there is no one else who could have done it.
Act One of the story is a flashback to a time well before the murder. Other than a cameo appearance in the prologue, Poirot does not show up until the book is half over. Although the local doctor who engages his services only wishes to prove Elinor innocent, Poirot demurs, saying he must only go where the facts take him.
The second half of the book is then split into two parts. First, the eccentric Belgian detective questions everyone who has any connection with case. Then follows Elinor Carlisle’s trial, and then and only then, when the defense has its turn, are the Poirot’s deductions that revealed.
Wills (or in one case, the lack thereof) are important in this tale, and of course there is the matter of the poison that is used, one of Christie’s favorite devices for removing certain people from her stories. It is easy to spot some of the red herrings for what they are, while the matter of parentage comes also into play, and at the end Poirot explains how he knew that everyone involved in the case told at least one lie to him.
While the explanation at the end almost holds up, I think the solution has more than one loose end to it. How could the killer get away with it, you ask (or least I did), and why didn’t Poirot trust the police to catch that killer before he/she makes his/her escape, instead leaving the the defense to provide the evidence in court. The trial is a charade, in other words, designed by the author only for its dramatic effect, which as in all of Agatha Christie’s novels, is considerable.
Christie is as readable as always in Sad Cypress (the title coming from a passage in Shakespeare), but the story is just a little too complicated this time, and for me, not satisfactorily so.