Question: is there just one Agatha Christie mystery that I can solve before it is explained to me?
Answer: not yet, damn it.
Gah. As I merrily roll along with the Agatha Christie Read Along (hosted by Book Club Girl) this summer, I vacillate between moments of sheer joy with Christie's brilliant plotting and utter frustration with my seeming inability to get ahead of her twisted mind. My dogged determination to solve just one Agatha Christie mystery before the Big Reveal was thwarted yet again with Dead Man's Folly, a 1956 Hercules Poirot story originally written as a short story but later fleshed out into a full length novel.
Dead Man's Folly begins on the lightest of notes. Adriane Oliver, a popular mystery author (and recurring character for Christie) has been hired by a wealthy couple to design a murder mystery scavenger hunt for a large party being held at their estate: "...it's all much harder to arrange than you'd think. Because you've got to allow for real people being quite intelligent, and in my books they needn't be." Oliver, embodying all of the flighty characteristics of a mystery writer ("Don't bother about me, I'm just remembering if there's anything I've forgotten"), becomes convinced - sans any real evidence - that some sort of foul play is imminent and calls her old friend Hercule Poirot to help her out, tout de suite.
Of course, no foul play has yet been committed, but we are introduced to a cast of potential wrong-doers anyway. There is the estate owner and his beautiful, young wife whose elevator doesn't quite reach the top floor (or does it?). There is the titled but bankrupt former owner of the estate now reduced to living in a cottage on the grounds. An angry, unstable architect who might be having illicit relations with the beautiful mistress of the house. A jealous secretary. And at least a half dozen others for good measure...and this is before the murder even takes place. Whew. After the murder occurred, I was hopeless.
With enough red herrings to fill an aquarium, Dead Man's Folly had me baffled. So baffled, in fact, that when our dear Poirot finally explains who did the dastardly deed and why, I found it necessary to read the explanation TWICE to understand it. Gah. Clearly, I need a detective's notebook and a decoder ring.
Interestingly, Dead Man's Folly wasn't critically well-received upon it's original publication. The Times called it "flat and facile" with "disastrous" dialog (ouch), while the Times Literary Supplement that same year criticized the sheer volume of characters, calling all of them "very, very flat." The one bright spot was The Observer, who was generous enough to offer: "Stunning but not unguessable solution." Hmmmm...not unguessable, you say?
Screw you, Observer.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Masterpiece Theater's latest installment of Hercule Poirot this past weekend was, in fact, Dead Man's Folly. I managed to catch the episode and, as usual, Masterpiece Theater did impeccable work. Aside from some major foreshadowing, I was quite impressed with their faithfulness to the novel...worth the watch and it's available, of course, online at pbs.org
Title: Dead Man's Folly
Author: Agatha Christie
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: Book Club Girl & William Morrow