In Agatha Christie’s Appointment with Death , Sarah King, a newly qualified doctor interested in psychology, while touring Palestine finds herself fascinated with a curious family, governed by the clearly tyrannical and sadistic Mrs. Boynton. Tired of exercising her powers over her three stepchildren and daughter in the less challenging confines of their home in America, the former prison matron has decided to take an adventure in exercising her powers over each one from the big, wide world. Already attracted to Raymond Boynton, Sarah takes a personal interest in trying to free him and his next siblings from the prison without visible walls in which they cannot escape. Sharing her interest, though not as much her zeal for action, Dr. Gerard, one of the top psychologists in Europe, follows the case with interest.
A few days after the Boynton family has left Jerusalem, Sarah and Dr. Gerard join a female member of British Parliament along with her traveling companion to visit Petra, where they encounter the Boynton family once again. But this time, the family wardress allows all but the youngest child to explore the area, and all three show signs of deciding to break out of the prison where they have lived for so long. But when someone finally tries to tell Mrs. Boynton that they are serving dinner, she is discovered dead on the mountainside. Very ill with a bout of malaria, Dr. Gerard cannot see to the case personally, but upon improving, he expresses concerns to a local magistrate, especially because of a puncture mark on the woman’s wrist. This brings Hercule Poirot into the case, and the little man with the giant ego promises to conclude this case within 24 hours!
The rest of the book revolves around Poirot’s search for both facts and psychology. Using his deep understanding of human nature, Poirot unearths the truth behind the tyranny of Mrs. Boynton and her murder.
This book is a much darker book than most other books about Poirot. I can’t help but wonder if the fact that it was published in 1938, the year before World War II erupted, had an influence on the evil that the book exposed as part of human nature. The character of Mrs. Boynton is positively horrible. Christie uses her hideous obese and ugly outward appearance to reflect her inner self, which we discover to be even more hideous than her outer self.
Yet even though if anyone deserves to be murdered, Mrs. Boynton fills that position, the book still makes it clear that murder is unacceptable in any circumstances, primarily for its effect on the person committing the crime. This is a repeated theme that runs through all of the Hercule Poirot books.
The audio version of this book is performed by Hugh Fraser, who continues to do an excellent job in his narration and portrayal of each of the characters.
Appointment with Death concludes with a clever ending while playing perfectly fair with the readers in giving proper clues, yet the solution comes as surprise. I do not find this book as enjoyable as most of the other Hercule Poirot books, probably because of its dark nature, but I do appreciate the creativity Christie exhibited in crafting this novel. I give the book four stars.
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