The Clocks by Agatha Christie

Time for murder…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

When Sheila Webb is sent out by the secretarial agency for which she works to the home of a blind lady, Miss Pebmarsh, to take some dictation, she is not expecting to find the corpse of a dead man in a room filled with clocks of different styles, but all pointing to the same time – 4:13. In a state of shock, she runs screaming from the house, straight into the arms of Colin Lamb, who is in the street on secret business of his own. Colin is involved in the spy business, and will get together with Inspector Hardcastle to try to discover the identity of the dead man and of his murderer. And along the way, Colin will seek the help of an old friend of his father, a certain M. Hercule Poirot…

This is one of Agatha Christie’s later books, written in 1963. Although nearly all of her books are well worth reading, there’s no doubt that by this period she was no longer producing novels of the same standard as in her own Golden Age, roughly the late ’20s to the end of the ’50s. In this one, which I hadn’t re-read for many years, I found I enjoyed the journey considerably more than the destination.

The set-up is great – the idea of the clocks is a suitably baffling clue, and the scene of the discovery of the body, where blind Miss Pebmarsh nearly steps on it by accident sending poor Sheila into a state of hysterical shock, is done with all Christie’s skill. There’s all the usual fun of interviews of the neighbours, and Christie creates a bunch of credible and varied characters, who each add to the enjoyment of the story. We also get to see life in the secretarial agency, a career that I assume has more or less died out now, certainly in the sense of girls being sent out on brief assignments to take dictation and so on.

It’s also a pleasure when Poirot becomes involved, though that doesn’t happen till almost halfway through the book. Poirot is elderly by now, so doesn’t take an active part in the investigation, instead relying on Colin bringing him information. It works quite well, and Colin is a likeable character, but my preference is for the books where Poirot is more directly involved. There’s a nice little section when Poirot lectures Colin on detective fiction, referencing a mix of real and fictional authors. I suspect Poirot’s views give an insight into what Christie herself though of the various styles.

Perhaps it was because I was listening rather than reading, but I didn’t find this one as fair-play as her earlier books – it seemed to me rather as if Poirot summoned up the solution based on instinct rather than evidence, leaving me rather unconvinced in the end. It feels as if Christie ran out of steam somewhat, and having thought up an intriguing premise, couldn’t quite find an ending that lived up to it. The ending left me feeling a bit let down but, as I say, I enjoyed the process of getting there.

Agatha Christie

What worked less well was the secondary story – Colin’s search for some kind of spy. Again some of this is down to preference – I’ve never been so keen on Christie’s occasional forays into spy stories as her straight mysteries. But I also again felt that Colin reached his solution out of the blue, and the tying together of the two plots contained too much coincidence for it all to feel wholly credible.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Hugh Fraser, who does his usual excellent job of giving all the characters subtly different voices and suitable accents, without distracting from the story by overacting any of them – i.e., no falsetto women, etc.

Overall, then, not one of Christie’s best, but still well worth a read or re-read for fans. It wouldn’t be one I would suggest as a starter to her work, though – there are glimpses of the old magic, but it doesn’t show her off as the genius of plotting she undoubtedly was in her prime.

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21 thoughts on “The Clocks by Agatha Christie

  1. I like the way you put that, FictionFan – the journey being more enjoyable than the destination here. I know exactly what you mean. One of the things I liked about the book was the ‘inside’ look at the way a secretarial agency worked at the time (with perhaps a poke at ‘sensationalist’ writers). Even in her later years, I think Christie held a lens up to her world. The spy thing wasn’t a great part of the novel for me, either, but I did enjoy ‘meeting’ the people in Wilbraham Cresent.

    • I enjoyed the stuff about the secretarial agency too – such an interesting insight into a type of agency that really only lasted for a few decades. I thought the characterisation was good too, and liked Colin, but the spy story felt tacked on and a bit unnecessary. And I was disappointed in the clocks (being vague to avoid spoilers) – I was expecting more from that clue… But even a less good Christie is always an enjoyable read. 😀

  2. I haven’t read this for years and it is a lovely book but I agree with you in that it certainly isn’t one of her best. I nice read, nonetheless. Somehow I feel a bit sorry for ‘older’ Poirot and much prefer him in his prime – or that wonderful period when he is just past his prime and he gets annoyed when younger characters don’t know who he is! But anyway – the important thing to note here is that this book gets 3 1/2 stars and a certain College-based mystery recently got 5 stars. I think that speaks volumes… 😉 😀

    • Yes, I’m not too keen on the books when Poirot is older too. Miss Marple has her nephew and friends in the village, but Poirot always seems a bit lonely. But they’re still always fun to read anyway – and even more fun to have our dear friend read them to me! Hahahaha! This is so true!! You should throw a party every time I give a Christie less than five!! 😀

  3. This struck an immediate chord but as a tv prog. I don’t remember Poirot being in it at all but having checked, yes of course he was. I suppose I don’t have Christie and spies in the same category…

    • I never like her spy stories as much, and none of them seem to have aged as well as her detective stories – a sign of the times, maybe! I don’t think I’ve seen the TV version of this one – I must look out for it…

  4. Oh I like that clue-all the clocks stopped at the same time, I find that very intriguing! I also like how Christie has ‘aged’ her Poirot, that seems to add a sense of realism that other authors don’t necessarily ascribe to when writing about their famous protagonists. Too bad it didn’t end as believably…

    • I loved that clue too! But I felt she didn’t make as good use of it as she would have done in her prime. I have mixed feelings about Poirot getting old – I love Miss Marple, but somehow Poirot always comes across as a bit sad and lonely in the books where he’s older. She did age Tommy and Tuppence though, from bright young things in the first book to elderly in the final one – it’s quite fun to see them develop as characters over time…

  5. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read this one – possibly I did and wasn’t overly impressed. It’s disappointing that the solution wasn’t quite there but it sounds as though it was an interesting premise.

    • I had read it but didn’t remember much about it except the finding of the body for some reason. Yes, not one of her best, but they’re still always an enjoyable way to spend a few hours – especially with the lovely Captain Hastings reading them to you! 😉

  6. I have not read any Christie and have always meant to, FF! I won’t start with this one based on your review, and luckily, I have some of her others. I also appreciate that you listened to the audio and your review of that as well. I love audio books, but a narrator can absolutely ruin a story, as I’m sure you are well aware. Fantastic review!

    • Thank you! I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie – she really deserves her reputation. But her last few books definitely weren’t up to her earlier quality. You have some great reads ahead of you, though! 😀 I’ve been loving Hugh Fraser’s narrations of the books – they make them feel beautifully fresh again!

    • I think she was writing spy books before James Bond came on the scene. Her first Tommy and Tuppence book was a kind of spy novel and that must have been way back sometime in the twenties, I think…

  7. This is one I haven’t read yet so I’m glad to get a sense of it. I agree, even a sub-par Christie is still entertaining and worth the read. I am glad I have so many yet to enjoy for the first time.

    • You are lucky! I’m sure there are a few of the short stories I’ve never read, but I think I’ve read all the novels over the years – some of them many times. What a talent she had! 😀

  8. Now, you’ve completely made a liar out of me. I just wrote, not 30 minutes ago, on another blog that I have difficulty seeing things in novels and instead feel what the character does. But your first paragraph I could completely visualize! My big question: the secretary was supposed to take diction for Miss Pebmarsh. Was she there with the dead body but couldn’t see it?? Oh, god, I hope she couldn’t smell it! 😲

    • Hahaha – no, fortunately she was out of the house, but when she came home she just started walking across the room and Sheila thought she was going to step on the corpse! It’s a great scene. 😲

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