The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

April 5, 2011

Plot summary (with spoilers): Historian Mark Easterbrook is spending time in Chelsea to work on a book. While there, he runs into an old school chum named Corrigan, who is currently the county coroner. Corrigan mentions an odd case that the police department is working on because it tangentially involves Mark’s godmother. A dying woman named Mrs. Davis had requested a priest to administer last rites. Father Gorman arrived, and received a slip of paper containing a list of names (including Mark’s godmother), but then the priest himself was murdered later that night. A preliminary investigation showed that all the other names on the list had died recently, too.

At first glance, this would seem like a typical murder investigation — except for the fact that all the “victims” ostensibly died of natural causes. The police are befuddled. So is Mark, who has no vested interest in getting involved anyway. At least, not until a short time later when a friend named Poppy mentions something strange about the Pale Horse. This is the name of an old inn where three women who claim to be witches now live. According to Poppy, these women can cause people to die by casting spells on them.

Mark doesn’t believe that for a second, but decides to investigate out of curiosity. He begins poking around, and discovers that the Pale Horse does indeed help dispose of people. This happens under the guise of betting: If you want your stepmother out of the way, simply make a bet that she will live past Christmas. Mr. Bradley, the front man of the Pale Horse, will bet the opposite position. That’s how the arrangements and payment are made.

The rest of the novel then shows how Mark, Ariadne Oliver, Inspector Lejeune, and Ginger work to unravel the mystery of how the Pale Horse folks kill their victims and who is the man behind all of it.

(Ugh, I realize this summary is extremely lacking, but this is kind of a hard book to recap.)

Liked:

  • I loved the solution to the mystery. There were some very misleading clues, and I have to admit that I was quite a bit off base with what I thought the answer would be. The fact that the pharmacist Osborne was the killer was an interesting reveal, as was the motive behind the whole Pale Horse idea.
  • The story moved along at a decent clip, which is pretty much all I ask for out of these Christie books. There weren’t too many detours along the way, so I barely had a chance to get bored.
  • Ariadne Oliver is kind of growing on me as a character. I wasn’t too thrilled with her the first few times I encountered her in Christie’s books, but now I find her to be the comic relief she’s meant for.

Disliked:

  • I thought the Corrigan name thing went nowhere. What was the point of that? There was a victim named Corrigan, Ginger’s name was Corrigan, and the coroner’s name was Corrigan. The characters mentioned the coincidence, but then it played absolutely no role in the solution. Was this just meant to be misdirection? Odd, since neither the coroner nor Ginger were ever serious suspects.
  • The supernatural stuff was kind of ridiculous. Of course no one believed that the “witches” could simply cast spells on people and have them drop dead a few days later, so why waste all that time describing seances and so forth?

Rating:

I liked The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie more than I thought I would, considering the fact that none of the major detectives plays a role in the story. The solution to the mystery was interesting and will definitely keep you guessing, but the journey to the answer was average at best. I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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