Three Grand Dames of Mystery: “Taken at the Flood” by Agatha Christie

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Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood takes place in 1946, the year after the Second World War ended, as Lynn Marchmont returns home to Warmsley Vale after six years working in the WRENS (Women’s Royal Naval Service). She discovers that life in her village has become very difficult for her family, the Cloades, who have always depended upon single millionaire Gordon Cloade for financial support and have never learned to manage their own money.

But in 1944, when Gordon was 62, he met Rosaleen in America and fell for her, shocking the family by marrying a woman 24 years old. They crossed the Atlantic to England safely only to be hit by a bomb in the Blitz two days later, with Gordon and three servants killed, the only survivors being Rosaleen and her brother, David Hunter. With his will voided upon his death, Gordon Cloade had had no time to make a new will, leaving all his money in trust for life to Rosaleen. Needless to say,  the Cloade family are very unhappy about this situation, especially the way that David exerts control over Rosaleen.

Enter Lynn, returning from the war to marry her longtime sweetheart Rollie, a Cloade cousin, who has spent the war farming on behalf of the war effort. Strangely attracted to David, Lynn finds herself torn about the family’s treatment of him and Rosaleen, in particular the way everyone in the family gets money from her, following their pattern of getting money off Gordon.

Then a stranger comes to Warmsley Vale, and David receives a strange letter suggesting that Rosaleen’s first husband, officially reported to have been killed as an explorer in the bush of Africa, may not be dead after all. Calling himself Enoch Arden, the name of a character in a Tennyson poem who was lost at sea for ten years, only to return to find his wife remarried and with a child, this man asks for money, leaving everyone unsure whether he might be the first husband himself. This becomes a challenge when the hotel maid finds Mr. Arden dead, the victim of being beaten by fireplace tongs.

So it is that Rollie seeks out Hercule Poirot to locate someone who had known the first husband, and Poirot quickly remembers Major Porter, a pompous man who had bored everyone during a bombing raid by rambling about Gordon Cloade and the so-called widow he had married. Porter declares at the inquest that Enoch Arden is really Robert Underhay, the first husband of Rosaleen Cloade, but she asserts that she has never seen the dead man in her life. The jurors at the inquest give a finding of murder by David Hunter, so with his arrest, the Cloade family breathes more easily, certain they’ll get their money back from Rosaleen. When Poirot decides to stick around Warmsley Vale, he unsettles everyone, but it is up to Poirot to get to the bottom of the truth!

This book is one of the more clever Poirot novels. The personal relationships draw a vivid image of the troubles of people in the immediate days after the war. We see the challenges of Lynn as she readjusts to the slower life in the countryside after her wild adventures as a WREN. Then there is the difficulty of Rollie as he has seen his girl go off to war and come back changed by her experiences while he has remained at home. We get a sense of the terrible burden of taxation that everyone experienced after the war and the death duties. The plot is rather clever too, though its real cleverness does not become fully apparent until Poirot reveals the solution at the end.

Hugh Fraser narrates the book and carries off the characters, including the Irish accents of Rosaleen and David, well.

Taken at the Flood is a very interesting book, especially for those who would like a better sense of life in post-World War II England. It takes a while before it introduces Poirot, but its depiction of the other characters keeps interest high. I give this book five stars.

To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.

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