Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie

December 20, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): The novel opens with Dr. Calgary facing a distasteful mission. He is going to see members of the Argyle family to tell them that their adopted son and brother, Jack “Jacko” Argyle, was wrongly convicted of murdering their mother during a heated spat about money. Jacko maintained that he wasn’t even at the house at the time of the death, but since he was found with marked bills in his pocket that definitely belonged to Mrs. Argyle and since no one could corroborate his story of getting a ride out of town on the night in question, he was convicted and sent to prison — where he subsequently died after an illness.

But Dr. Calgary is about to throw the Argyles’ world into utter confusion. He was the man that gave Jacko a ride! He’s the alibi, and can confirm that Jacko did not murder Mrs. Argyle. Calgary couldn’t come forward any sooner because he got into an accident and suffered a concussion shortly after dropping Jacko off. Once Calgary recovered, he went off to Antarctica on a two-year expedition with a team of scientists. He never even heard about the murder until he returned to England a few days ago. Now he’s stepping forward to confirm that Jacko was telling the truth.

This news doesn’t sit well with the surviving Argyles: Leo, the patriarch; his lover, Gwenda; caretaker Kirsten; adopted daughter Hester; adopted daughter Mary; Mary’s husband Philip; adopted son Micky; and adopted daughter Tina. It turns out they were perfectly fine believing black sheep Jacko committed the crime. Now, they have to deal with the fact that a murderer continues to live among them, which is far more disconcerting.

Inspector Huish then arrives on the scene to ask some questions, verify alibis, and generally go over the night of the crime once again. Between his investigation and Calgary’s own inquiries, the murderer is eventually unmasked — but not before striking again.

Liked:

  • The motive and method of the murder were pretty interesting and convincing. I had no trouble believing the scenario Christie laid out, even though I didn’t even come close to solving the thing myself.
  • The book was fairly well paced with few truly boring spots along the way.

Disliked:

  • I prefer Christie books featuring one of her famous detectives. This one didn’t have a “known” investigator at the helm, so it was kind of a drag in that respect.
  • Because the crime happened in the past, the details were revealed almost entirely through exposition, with one character simply telling another what happened. This made the action seem distant (which is was, since it was a cold case, but still…) and removed all tension from the proceedings.

Rating:

While Ordeal by Innocence wasn’t Christie’s best effort, it was still a pretty good read. I think it would have been better with Poirot or Miss Marple leading the way, but I suppose Christie had her reasons for omitting these detectives. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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