Tuesday Terror! The Last Séance by Agatha Christie

Mother love…

 

Yes, yes, I know I said it was going to be Susan Hill this week, but honestly the story turned out so dull and totally unscary that I couldn’t think of anything to say about it – misleading blurb syndrome. Fortunately, regular commenter BigSister (who by an amazing coincidence just happens to be my big sister) reminded me a couple of weeks ago of Agatha Christie’s The Last Séance, and remarked that it was the story that put her off spiritualism for life. Since my own memory of it was that it scared the bejabers out of me when I first read it many years ago, it seemed that it would be just right for…

Tuesday Terror!

Madame Simone is a hugely talented medium who gives private sittings to people wishing to communicate with their dear departed. The spirits don’t just talk through Simone though – she has the ability to use her spiritual energy to excrete ectoplasm, giving the spirits a physical form. As the story begins we learn that Simone is about to stop giving sittings – partly because she is about to marry Raoul and partly because the séances are leaving her exhausted and ill. She has agreed, however, to hold one final séance for a mother who wants to see her dead child one last time…

the hound of death

In The Hound of Death collection, Christie takes a break from her usual crime writing to show us that she can turn her hand just as effectively to horror writing. She is a mistress of building suspense and in The Last Séance, we learn of Simone’s anxiety and fear through her conversations with Raoul. Simone has a deep feeling of unease about the client, but Raoul brushes it off, making it clear he feels Simone has a duty to fulfil her promise and ought to have more womanly sympathy for the bereaved mother. The reader knows that something very bad is about to happen, and is left in that delicious position of inwardly screaming ‘No! No! Don’t do it!!’

“The curtains of the alcove seemed to have been pulled back a little, the medium’s figure was just visible through the opening, her head fallen forward on her breast. Suddenly Madame Exe drew in her breath sharply. A ribbon-like stream of mist was issuing from the medium’s mouth. It condensed and began gradually to assume a shape, the shape of a little child.”

First published in 1933, when spiritualism was still at its height, the story is based on an acceptance that Simone’s powers are genuine, including her ability to generate ectoplasm; and Christie is skilful enough to make even this cynic go along with the premise. The ending is horrific and terrifying but told without any graphic detail – indeed, as with the best horror, most of what the reader sees is what her own mind creates. A great story, from a great collection – it didn’t scare me quite as much as when I first read it…but then I knew what was going to happen. Do you??

Fretful porpentine rating 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating          😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

36 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Last Séance by Agatha Christie

  1. Agatha Christie is a writing goddess. I was first introduced to her awesomeness as a freshman in high school, with “The Body in the Library” (it remains a favorite). I haven’t read this particular story though. I will have to add it to my Halloween reading. 🙂

    • I’m a huge fan – hence the cats being called after two Christie characters – Tommy & Tuppence. 🙂

      She’s very good at short stories. It’s not my favourite format but Christie shows that it can work when it’s done well.

        • Indeed! And when they are written well, they can be great. But so often they read like a fragment of something bigger. However, this Tuesday Terror thing is forcing me to read more of them and you can really tell which writers have mastered the form – Christie being one.

          • I agree! You’re right I am definitely guilty of doing that with my Friday Fictioneers stories – almost of all of them read like glimpses into a bigger story – a scene if you will. I will have to read some of her short stories soon to see what I can learn.

            • Yes, but your Friday Fictioneers are interesting although short, and I like the idea of allowing people to vote on which one they would like to see expanded. 🙂

            • Well thank you! The idea of expanding them came from my boyfriend, actually, and I do like to indulge him. But since I don’t have time at the moment to expand them all, I made it a vote. 😀

            • Since my vote won, I think it’s a very good idea… 😉

              Seriously though, I find your scenes very interesting (and well written) and often find myself wishing they were longer.

            • 😀 Haha, love it.

              Thank you. I really enjoy writing them, and I hope someday I have time to go back and write all their stories. At the very least I am setting myself up for life with all these novel ideas. 🙂

  2. FictionFan – Oh, that is a good ‘un! The first time I read it, I definitely felt that prickly feeling. And even knowing how it all ends, I still get drawn in. And I think you’ve put your finger on exactly what works: Christie manipulates the reader into believing the story. A terrific choice!!

    • She was always good at horror – a shame to a degree that she didn’t do more in that genre. I’ve always felt that ‘By the Pricking of My Thumbs’ is one of the eeriest books I’ve ever read…

  3. Will you please stop? I thought i was safe – (whispers….. I don’t really like AC….can we still be friends) but i thought i might just submit to being terrified (sad, I know)

    PS after all that hard work on a science book i am REALLY enjoying the Shirley Jackson you recommended

    I have bought the Christie to help me through another attention demanding factual tome I’m reading. However, the Amazon page is weird and heavily doo doo doo doo as half the reviews are for a completely different book. Ectoplasmic authors from beyond???????

    • Well, I really didn’t think this was your kind of thing at all! But I hope you enjoy it…and don’t get too scared!

      The Jackson is really wonderful, isn’t it? And unlike the Christie, I really thought it would be just your kind of thing. I look forward to your review – LitBeetle’s started a little craze for that one.

  4. The professor has never heard of this Christie book. I’m definitely interested. I do hope it’s better than SK’s horror.

    Believe it or not, I think the professor is actually going to search for this one. A great review, and I already like Christie, so it should be highly entertaining, I think.

    I didn’t know you were a cynic, FEF. Really I didn’t.

    See? See what you’ve done? You said most of what the professor sees is what “her” mind creates. Very unsatisfactory, sir!

    • Yay!! I’ve finally added to the Professor’s TBR pile! This may be the happiest day of my life…

      Definitely scarier than SK – but then who isn’t? 😉

      Oh. yes, very cynical – specially when it comes to ghosties and ghoulies.

      Well, it’s not my fault the silly English language doesn’t have gender-neutral words! But the Professor has my permission to see the horror in his mind…OK, ma’am?

      • Really? Now that is something…

        Depends what you’re talking about. You see, if the discussion was about photos…

        What? FEF doesn’t believe in ghosts after knowing Bob? Goodness. I was skeptical at first too.

        It doesn’t need them, you see. The professor thinks you got it wrong. Unless, of course, you were speaking about a ship.

        Ma’am? Hmm…I really hoped you were over that. Really I did.

        • Yes, it’s my aim to convert the Professor to the joys of the tottering, heaving TBR – so much fun!

          Very true – though Aggie always looks so sweet it’s almost scary.

          Oh, I believe in cat-evilness, but if Tuppence was a ghost surely she wouldn’t each so much?

          You appear to be forgetting that FF is always right. (And surely dear C-W-W isn’t being just a shade sexist? 😯 No, impossible to contemplate, even on Terror Tuesday!)

          What a coincidence! I really hoped you were over ‘sir’… 😉

          • Hmm…it probably won’t happen, since the professor burns books that annoy him.

            Good point. Very good point.

            Now, the professor will think of Tuppence as a glutton, I fear.

            Well, right is right, you know. The truth is the truth (even if it is a bit insulting to some), just like the professor is the professor. But, secretly, I would fear it was that someone was being a bit of a feminist…

            I’m quite cranky all the sudden.

            • But you won’t have read the ones in your TBR pile, so they won’t have annoyed you yet. And just learn to think of them as potential ripios…

              Tuppence has a healthy appetite, there’s no denying it. But she works it off fighting with the neighbourhood cats.

              And cryptic is cryptic. Why would that cause fear? Since I was talking primarily about my mind it seemed logical to say her rather than his – I’m so sorry it has upset you… 😉

            • (You’ll get to see a ton of ‘future’ ripios tomorrow.)

              Are you calling the professor cryptic? I think I like the sound of that, but it does make the professor seem like a mummy in tomb or something like that.

              Intense fear. 😉

              Anyway, the professor wasn’t upset at all; I’m just being beastly, I suppose.

            • Oh good! I was worried you might change your mind about the bookshelves – I shall enjoy poking around them!

              A daddy surely? But the Professor is often very cryptic…

              Fear not! I may be a little bit of a feminist, but I’m a strong believer that men have their uses too… 😉

              Beastly? My C-W-W? Never! That’s Bob’s job…

            • Well, tomorrow’s is also coupled with a bit more about the professor, so it should be a complete dadblamery.

              😆 Very funny… 😆

              See? That’s why I was calling you “sir”. I thought you’d like it…

              😀 Very glad you feel that way. Maybe I was just being professorish then.

            • The Professor remains an enigma…

              Ah, you’re assuming feminists aspire to be men? But why would we want to sink to that level… 😉

              Always Professorish! 😀

  5. Great review and very true as far as, ‘most of what the reader sees is what (his or)her own mind creates.’ It is a statement that today’s film-makers should heed. Regarding, Agatha Christie, her known racist and anti semetic views stop me from reading her.

    • Indeed! I’ve never found graphic horrors nearly as scary as subltle hints that leave most of the work to the imagination – hence why Hitchcok is the master.

      I must admit I tend to make allowances for writers of previous generations so long as the books themselves aren’t too offensive. They’re the product of their times, I think. I feel differently about current writers, but so many of the classics would have to go if their attitudes were judged by today’s standards.

      • But where does one draw the line. Which date is the cut off for ignoring racism and anti semetic views used by writers? She was alive into the 1970s. She was fully aware of the horrors of the concentration camps during WW2 but this didn’t change her anti-semetic views.

        • Well, personally I don’t feel very strongly about an author’s personal views so long as they don’t shove it in my face. Every generation has its own prejudices, though every generation would probably deny it. If I only read authors whose views I agree with I’d soon run out of things to read I fear, and certainly would have to omit most of the classics. And since I never bother to acquaint myself with the political views of current or new authors before reading, then I’m equally not too interested in the views of old authors. I don’t like how Dickens treated his wife or drooled over 17-year-old girls, but I love his books…

  6. Thanks for the name check! I won’t be rereading this – largely because every word of it is seared into what passes for my brain. Great review. I hope those who are brave enough can find the book. Incidentally’ the cover you illustrate isn’t the one I remember – mine was taken from the title story – another one not to read when alone in the dark……..

    • The cover is by Tom Adams – they were all reprinted just as I started my first job, all with covers by him and I collected pretty much the whole set over the next couple of years. I love the covers – he always shows a few of the most important points but in a quirky way that doesn’t give the game away. One of that rare breed – cover artists who actually read the book… Of course, they’re all falling apart now.

  7. Nice review, FictionFan.

    Can I suggest a couple of books for your Tuesday Terror posts?

    One is The Judas Child by Carol O’Connell – the scariest book I’ve ever read. The second, more thriller than horror, but the scariest books I’ve read in a long time: After The Darkness by Honey Brown.

    • Thank you!

      And thanks for the recs – I don’t know Honey Brown at all, but have always admired Carol O’Connell’s writing, though I’m not a fan of Mallory. But being a standalone, I can imagine Judas Child would be a great read. I’ll add them to the Tuesday Terror list. 😯

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s