In Peril at End House by Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot once again tries to take a holiday, only to have murder follow him on his trip. While having lunch with Captain Hastings in the garden of their hotel in Cornwall, the two meet Nick Buckley, a young woman whom Poirot comes to believe is in danger for her life. However, when he tries to confront her about his suspicions and urge her to take caution, Nick refuses to believe him until she discovers that someone has stolen her gun. At the urging of Poirot, who considers all her local friends suspects in the four apparent attempts on her life, Nick asks her cousin Maggie to come stay with her. However, Poirot does not succeed at preventing murder, as after dinner, when all go out to watch the fireworks, he discovers a dead body wearing Nick’s shawl. But it isn’t Nick. It is Maggie. Now Hercule Poirot must use his “little gray cells” to figure out the murderer before the killer can strike again and hit his or her real target!
This book contains some clever elements to it, and the solution to the puzzle does not come easily to the reader, though Christie did not hide it as she did in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It was well received upon its original release. Since then, the book has been made into plays, movies, a radio broadcast, a graphic novel, and even a computer game.
The book also plays up Poirot’s little quirks. When Nick says that she does not know who Hercule Poirot is, Poirot gets upset at Hastings’s description of him as formerly a great detective: “Say then to Mademoiselle that I am a detective unique, unsurpassed, the greatest that ever lived!” Later, when Poirot tries to convince Nick to adopt more order and method, Hastings explains to Nick that Poirot loves order so much that his toast must be perfect squares and his eggs matched in size, and he once solved a case just because of his habit of setting everything in perfect order, an allusion to The Mysterious Affair at Styles. While not making Poirot out to be a buffoon as actors tended to do before the definitive Poirot, David Suchet, came along, Christie’s portrayal of tidy habits and large ego do provide fun in this book.
While the mystery itself is well-done, though, the characters in Peril at End House are not very appealing. I found myself not developing an affinity for any of them and not rooting for any particular character to be the murderer because I did not care about them. Nick comes across as too flippant for me to worry that she might die, even though the book tries to show her flippancy to be a mere facade. Her friends have very flat characters so that the reader does not know much about them and does not feel any sympathy towards any of them.
The narrator for the audio version of this book is the remarkable Hugh Frazer, my favorite British male narrator. He makes the reader forget that one person is speaking and brings the entire book to life in a way that I suspect would not happen as readily if one were reading a physical copy of the book. Further, despite his being so closely tied to his role in the films as Captain Hastings, Fraser has but to begin his reading, and I forget who this voice belongs to, a feat that many well-known actors cannot do when performing books.
With its interesting plot and solution to the mystery, Peril at End House works as a success. However, the character defects lower my evaluation of the overall rating of this book, causing me to give it four stars.
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