AGATHA CHRISTIE – The Boomerang Clue. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1935. First published in the UK as Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Collins, hardcover, 1934. Reprinted many times in both hardcover and paperback, including Dell #46, mapback edition, no date . TV movie: London Weekend Television, 1980 (Francesca Annis & James Warwick). TV movie: ITV, 2009 (an episode of Agatha Christie’s Marple).
Don’t get the wrong idea about that last TV series adaptation. This is not a Miss Marple mystery, and not only was a very loud outcry about shoehorning a character into the story who didn’t belong there, but also how they badly botched the story line itself, or so I’ve read.
I’ve not seen this particular Marple adaptation, but (speaking generally) if there’s a perfectly fine story line that you’re working from, why mess around with it? Perhaps the producers thought that people watching their adaptation had never read the book. Perhaps the plan was to pull the rug out from under the feet of those who had, to give them a “surprise” ending.
But do you know, it doesn’t really matter. We’ll always have the book, and it’s a good one. I don’t know why, but I’m always surprised to pick up an Agatha Christie novel and discover all over again how readable she is. I started this one rather late at night, thinking to read a chapter or so, and an hour later I’d finished ten. Chapters, that is. It isn’t easy to write stories that read as easily as this, but it has to be one of the reasons Christie’s books are still in bookstores today and 99.9% of her contemporaries are not.
This one begins with a young Bobby Jones (not the famous one) hitting a golf ball and doing dreadfully at it, trying mightily several swings in succession, but hearing a cry, discovers a dying man lying at the bottom of cliff. He had fallen perhaps, as Bobby and his golfing partner believe, not to mention the police and the coroner’s jury, but we the reader know better.
Before he dies, though, the man utters a dying question: “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” We are at page 9 and the end of Chapter One, and anyone who can stop here is a better person than I.
Assisting Bobby in his quest for the truth, especially after surviving being poisoned by eight grains of morphia, is his childhood friend, Lady Frances Derwent, whom he calls Frankie. Together they make a great pair of amateur detectives, continuing to investigate the case even after the authorities have written the man’s death off as an accident.
The tone is light and witty, as if investigating a murder is a lark, but this intrepid pair of detectives do an excellent job of it, even to the extent of faking an automobile accident and inserting an “invalid” Frankie into their primary suspect’s home.
Before continuing, I’ll stop a moment here and point out that Bobby is the son of a vicar and a former Naval officer, while Frankie’s father is a Lord and extremely wealthy. The difference in social standing means little to Frankie, all but oblivious to her wealth, but it does to Bobby, who finds himself more and more infatuated with the young beautiful wife of a doctor they suspect is behind the plot, to Frankie’s displeasure, although the woman may be the man’s next victim herself. (This does not mean that Frankie is averse to using her position in life to help their investigation along.)
The tone does get darker as Bobby and Frankie close in on the killer, and at the same time, the threads of the plot get more and more complicated. I’d have rather the story stay focused on the detection, but toward the end it becomes more and more a thriller. It couldn’t be helped. The essential clue is there all of the time, but nothing could be deduced from it until the book has only 15 pages to go, but making the renamed US title at lat make sense.
In summary, here’s a book that’s immensely fun to read, with a delightful couple doing the honors in investigating a crime the police do not even realize was a crime, dreaming up various scenarios and coming up with sundry plots to incriminate the killer. Coincidences abound, but who cares?