Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie

September 1, 2010

dead mans folly Plot summary (with spoilers): Mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (a caricature of Christie herself) phones retired Belgian detective Hercule Poirot one day to ask him to join her at the Nasse House estate in Devon. Ms. Oliver is there to stage a murder hunt game for a fair the owners of Nasse House, George and Hattie Stubbs, are putting on for local residents. While constructing her murder hunt, Ms. Oliver gets the unshakable feeling that something bad might really happen, so she wants Poirot on hand just in case.

Poirot agrees, and after arriving at Nasse House begins to meet some of the residents, including George and Hattie (whom everyone except Mr. Stubbs’ personal secretary Mrs. Brewis thinks is “simple”), architect Michael Weyman, and Amy Folliat, an older renter on the grounds and whose family previously owned Nasse House. Also expected soon is Etienne de Sousa, Mrs. Stubbs’ cousin from Italy.

On the day of the fair and the murder hunt game, things get a bit crazy, as the grounds are opened up to the general public. For the murder hunt, someone at Nasse House recommend a local girl named Marlene Tucker play the victim in the boathouse. Once the game is underway, Mrs. Oliver starts to have some doubts as to whether or not anyone will actually solve the “crime”.

Later in the afternoon, Mrs. Stubbs asks Mrs. Brewis to take a tea tray to the boathouse so Marlene can eat something. Once there, Mrs. Brewis discovers that Marlene has been murdered for real! The bad event that Mrs. Oliver feared really did happen after all. The question becomes: who would want to kill a 14-year-old girl? To make matters worse, no one can find Mrs. Stubbs either, and when her hat turns up floating in the river, everyone assumes the killer tallied two victims on that day.

Police investigators soon arrive to take over the case and question all suspects. They get nowhere, and even Poirot is unable to make headway. A full five weeks go by before he gets a flash of inspiration and figures out what went down at Nasse House.

Liked:

  • I liked the setup and solution to this crime. Who knew that staged murder games were as popular back in Christie’s day as they are now? What an interesting way to frame the real murder
  • The solution was very tricky, but fair. I was unable to guess that the current Hattie Stubbs wasn’t the real Hattie Stubbs, but the explanation — that George was already married when his mother Mrs. Folliat proposed Hattie as a wife — made sense, especially since the family was determined to keep hold of Nasse House. And killing the girl was necessary because the cousin was coming and would’ve spotted “Hattie” as a fraud? That was brilliant!
  • I liked the reveal of the additional body under the folly (an architectural folly, I mean). After all, with “folly” being in the title, the reader expects it to play an important role in the story. That was the body of the original Hattie and was a nice touch.

Disliked:

  • For some reason, this book seemed to progress at a snail’s pace for me. It took me an unusually long time to read it, and at no point in the story did I feel I was engrossed in a page-turner. In fact, I often found myself drifting off to sleep in the middle of reading it, and my Kindle took several tumbles to the mattress after falling from my senseless hands. That’s kind of disappointing for a murder mystery.
  • There were too many characters in this novel, and they were not developed very well. I Besides the immediate residents of the house, I couldn’t keep anyone else straight because they had no distinguishing characteristics to make them memorable.
  • Once again, Poirot didn’t narrate his investigation, so it was impossible for the reader to get clues from him about where to look for the solution. I miss having Hastings around, because he served as a sounding board for Poirot, thereby giving readers some insights into the detective’s thoughts.

Rating:

Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie certainly isn’t the best book in her canon. The way was slow-going most of the time, but I think the solution made the journey well worth it. I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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