Almost ready to retire, Tommy decides he needs to visit his Aunt Ada in her nursing home, so he and Tuppence go to Sunny Ridge, where they get started on a new mystery in Agatha Christie’s fourth Young Adventurers book, By the Pricking of My Thumbs. Kicked out of the room by Aunt Ada, who doesn’t recognize Tuppence and thinks she is Tommy’s “trollop,” Tuppence wanders around and meets Mrs. Lancaster, a somewhat senile, fanciful woman who greets Tuppence with the words, “Was it your poor child? There behind the fireplace.” With almost incomprehensible babble, Mrs. Lancaster goes on talk about this mysterious baby, making Tuppence wonder about the root of what the lady is talking about. Then, three weeks later, the Beresfords get a letter that Aunt Ada has died, so they go back to Sunny Ridge, where they notice a painting of a little house beside a canal that not only draws their attention from its quality but makes Tuppence think she has seen this house before. They learn that Mrs. Lancaster gave this painting to Aunt Ada before leaving the facility to move, unwillingly, in with a family member. Tuppence tries to reach the lady, but all tips lead to a dead end. So Tuppence’s only possible clue to find the answer to her mystery is that painting.
Over time and with thinking, Tuppence recalls the general area where she spotted the house and, while Tommy is off at a conference for intelligence officials, Tuppence goes off to find her house. Connecting with people in the community of the house, Tuppence listens to all the gossip and rumors about the house including a story of a woman walled up in the house for being unfaithful to her husband during Victorian times and a baby who died at some point. But people were paying less attention to the strange doings in the house because just then there was a series of child abductions and murders that caught their focus instead. Then, as Tuppence stoops over a gravestone, her world goes black.
This book is one of my least favorite Agatha Christie books. It is really dark and gets darker as it progresses. The details become confusing too. In addition, one thing that makes the other four Young Adventurer books enjoyable is the interaction between Tommy and Tuppence, especially as they work together. But this book splits them up, so we do not see them together throughout most of the book. It was disappointing not to see the pair colluding as they do in the other books.
The audio version I have owned for years is narrated by Alex Jennings, though now you can get an edition by Hugh Fraser, my favorite narrator. Jennings did a perfectly good job with material that was less desirable to have to work with. One complaint I have with the recording is that the volume goes up and down. Whenever someone speaks to her or himself, the volume drops considerably, but it then jumps way up when someone speaks out loud. This was really annoying to me as I lay in bed listening to the book. I had to worry that it would wake up my husband in bed next to me.
I do not in general recommend By the Pricking of My Thumbs. I did not find the book very enjoyable despite my overall love of Agatha Christie. I give it only two stars.
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