Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress opens with Elinor Carlisle’s standing in the dock on trial for murder. It then shifts to the beginning of the story, when Elinor receives an anonymous letter warning her that an unnamed someone is trying to cozy up to her elderly rich aunt and might try to influence the aunt’s will. Inferring that the letter describes the lodgekeeper’s daughter, Mary Gerrard, who is close to Aunt Laura, Elinor and her fiance, Roddy, who is the nephew of the aunt’s late husband, go to visit their aunt to do their duty by her. And the moment Roddy lays eyes on Mary Gerrard, he is enchanted by her, forgetting Elinor in the blink of an eye.
A few weeks later, Elinor and Roddy are summoned to Hunterbury because their aunt has had a stroke and is dying. Laura manages to convey a desire for her lawyer and mentions Mary, but Elinor cannot reach the lawyer and will need to wait until the next day. But by then it is too late. Aunt Laura has died during the night, and everyone is astonished to learn that she has done so intestate, with no will. Despite being the sole legatee as a result, Elinor settles money on each person in her aunt’s life, giving Mary £2,000, a significant amount of money for the day. Roddie inherits nothing, since his family connection was to Aunt Laura’s husband and thus is no blood relation to Laura. Elinor wants to settle money on Roddie, but out of pride over having broken off his engagement to Elinor, he refuses.
Without a husband to share Aunt Laura’s home with, Elinor sells Hunterbury, so she asks Mary to empty the lodge where she grew up. The day that Mary comes to the town to do this, she runs into Elinor working on cleaning out her aunt’s home. Elinor invites Mary and her nurse friend to join her for lunch. A couple hours later, Mary is found dead and Elinor accused of the crime.
The one person who wholeheartedly believes in Elinor’s innocence, Dr. Peter Lord, convinces Hercule Poirot to investigate this crime, certain that Elinor is being framed. The one problem is that, feeling culpable over her murderous thoughts towards Mary, Elinor sees herself as guilty despite the fact that she did not administer the actual poison.
This book contains less of Hercule Poirot than other Poirot books. Instead it centers around Elinor, often featuring her internal functions, especially her longings for Roddy, which got a little bit tedious at times.
It was received well upon its publication, with critics expressing pleasure at the way Christie laid out all the clues, so readers had the opportunity to solve the mystery, though I question how many people actually solve the mystery upon reading the book.
David Suchet reads the book in an excellent portrayal of the characters. He brings them to life in a creative manner.
Sad Cypress exemplifies the psychological approach of the Hercule Poirot books, and it uses creative evidence to solve the mystery. It did feel a little slow at times, so it is not my favorite Agatha Christie book. However, it still lives up to her reputation as a great crime writer. I give this book four stars.
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