Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie, plus Murder, She Said

Evil Under the Sun

Beware! Poirot on holiday!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

The Jolly Roger Hotel sits secluded on Smuggler’s Island, a promontory off the Devon coast that can be reached only by boat or over the paved causeway from the mainland. Here the well-to-do come for a peaceful holiday in luxurious surroundings. Imagine their horror, then, on discovering that Hercule Poirot has booked in as a fellow guest! The man is a walking pestilence – wherever he goes, murder is sure to follow. There ought to be a special clause about him in travel insurance policies!

As beautiful actress Arlena Stuart comes out of the hotel and walks to the beach, all eyes are drawn to her; the men in admiration, the women in disapproval. Arlena has a reputation – gossip about her relationships with various men is whispered whenever her name is mentioned. Her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall, seems to be either unaware or uncaring of his wife’s indiscretions, but he’s the only one. Here on Smuggler’s Island, Arlena is carrying on a heady flirtation with a fellow guest – a young man by the name of Patrick Redfern – careless of the effect on Patrick’s young wife, Christine. Patrick seems trapped in Arlena’s web, unable to escape, as so many other men are rumoured to have been before. Fanatical minister Stephen Lane sees her as the embodiment of evil; Rosamond Darnley hates seeing how she treats Rosamond’s childhood friend, Kenneth; Kenneth’s daughter from an earlier marriage resents this woman who has come into their home and brought no happiness with her. There are rumours that Arlena is being blackmailed, and any of the other guests could be the blackmailer. So when Arlena’s body is found in a lonely cove, everyone on the island finds themselves suspect…

I know I sound like a broken record with these Christie novels but this is another one I love. The plotting is great – both the how and the why. The isolated island gives it the feel of a closed circle mystery – while it’s possible that someone came from the mainland to murder Arlena it’s soon shown to have been unlikely. So Poirot, with the full co-operation of the police, sets out to talk to the various guests, to try to uncover the truth from beneath all the alibis and motives and lies. It’s another one of the ones where, shortly before the end, Poirot kindly lists all the clues giving the reader one last chance to work it out before all is revealed. Good luck with that! It’s entirely fair-play but your little grey cells will have to be in excellent working order to spot the solution.

For once I think I prefer the Ustinov adaptation to the Suchet, because the wonderful and beautiful Diana Rigg is so well cast as Arlena…

I love the characterisation in this one even more than the plotting, though. Patrick’s infatuation and Christine’s jealousy are well done, and young Linda’s teenage resentment of her step-mother feels very realistic. Two American guests, the voluble Mrs Gardiner and her complaisant husband, provide a touch of warmth and comedy amid the atmosphere of overhanging evil. Mr Blatt lets us see how money doesn’t provide automatic entry to the rarefied heights of social snobbery, while Major Barry is one of Christie’s always excellent retired colonials, willing to bore anyone polite enough to listen to his interminable stories of days gone by. Arlena herself is seen only through the eyes of others, leaving her rather ambiguous, while Rosamond’s protectiveness of Kenneth suggests she may feel something deeper than friendship for him.

Excellent! If you haven’t read it before, do; and if you have, read it again! Another one that I highly recommend.

NB This book was provided for review in a new edition with great new covers by the publisher, HarperCollins.

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* * * * *

Murder, She Said

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HarperCollins also sent me another treat – a little book of Miss Marple quotes. It’s beautifully produced in hardback and the quotes are divided up into sections, such as The Art of Conversation, Human Nature, Men and Women, etc.

“If people do not choose to lower their voices, one must assume that they are prepared to be overheard.”

It has an introduction by Tony Medawar, partly about Christie’s inspirations for the character and partly a biography of what can be gleaned of Miss Marple’s life. The book also includes a brief article called “Does a Woman’s Instinct Make Her a Good Detective?”, written by Christie for a British newspaper in 1928 to publicise a set of short stories she was issuing at that time. And at the back it has a complete bibliography of all the Miss Marple novels and short stories. Apparently there’s a companion volume in the same style for Poirot fans, called Little Grey Cells.

“I’ve never been an advocate of teetotalism. A little strong drink is always advisable on the premises in case there is a shock or an accident. Invaluable at such times. Or, of course, if a gentleman should arrive suddenly.”

It’s the kind of book that would be a fun little gift for a Miss Marple fan –  not substantial enough to be a main gift; it didn’t take long for me to flick through the pages – but a good idea for a stocking filler. There are days when we could all do with a bit of Miss Marple’s clear-eyed wisdom…

“Most people – and I don’t exclude policemen – are far too trusting for this wicked world. They believe what is told them. I never do. I’m afraid I always like to prove a thing for myself.”

Joan Hickson as Miss Marple

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59 thoughts on “Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie, plus Murder, She Said

  1. I was sure that I’d read Evil Under the Sun, but your summary doesn’t sound at all familiar. That’s exciting, because I thought I’d run out of the Poirot novels that Christie wrote at the height of her ability, but I still have this one left to read!

    • It’s great that she was so prolific! I often mix up the titles and the stories and then am surprised when I settle down for a re-read because it turns out to be not the one I was expecting! I always confuse this one with Appointment with Death, because that one always seems to me as if it should be called Evil Under the Sun… 😉

    • Thank you! I have so many favourite Christies and I especially seem to love the ones where Poirot is on holiday. I think the random collection of holidaymakers lets her show her plotting at its most devious… 😀

  2. I loved this one, too, FictionFan. I really did think the character of Linda was well done, and you can clearly see the bond she has with her father. I even like the proprietress, Mrs. Castle. She strikes me as every oh-so-respectable owner of a seaside place, and I think Christie wrote her quite well. I also like the little mention Christie makes of Death on the Nile when we learned more about what happened to one of the characters from that novel. But, as you say, it’s the plotting that counts, and I think this one’s done quite well – a nice twist, and some very clever detecting.

    • I love when I can’t remember whodunit because it’s fun all over again. But I also love re-reading one like this, where I do remember both who and how, because then I get the fun of watching how cleverly she hides all the clues in plain sight. I like Mrs Castle too, and I’m always fond of her elderly colonial bores – they’re such a lost “type” now. Arlena is one of her most ambiguous characters too, and I loved seeing how she managed that aspect. Great stuff!

    • Yes, there’s something about Christie that makes her books amazingly re-readable even if you remember whodunit and how. The little Miss Marple quote book is fun – it really highlights how much humour Christie included in the books… 😀

  3. I would list this among my favorite Poirots, it’s certainly one of the most clever. There has only actually been one Christie where I guessed the murderer correctly, and that was the Murder of Roger Acroid of all things. I red it quite late on, and she was actually using the same trick she had used in one of her stand alones, Endless Night. I was quite pleased with myself for guessing correctly with one of her most famous cases.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever guessed whodunit in a Christie book, sometimes not even on a re-read! I’ve just finished a re-read of Roger Ackroyd and marvelled all over again at how well she did it. Coincidentally I spotted that she used a very similar technique at one point in Mrs McGinty’s Dead, so that if you’ve read one, you might well guess the guilty party in the other. But I only noticed because I read them so close together. Thank goodness for Agatha Christie! Life would be so much less fun without her… 😀

  4. It hasn’t made it to my Kindle yet, but thanks to one of your ealier posts, Evil Under the Sun is on my wishlist. Someday!! 😃

  5. I love both of these!!! Miss Marple clearly has words we all need to live by. And the island mystery sounds fantastic, a pity the most attractive woman was killed off hahah

    • I love when she sends either Poirot or Miss Marple off on holiday – having a random collection of holidaymakers as suspects really let’s her do her thing with plotting! The Miss Marple book is fun – it highlights how much humour is dotted throughout the books… 😀

  6. Two fabulous books, I haven’t read the Poirot but have seen the films and love them (and doesn’t Diana Rigg look exactly like her daughter, whose name I can’t remember, in that picture?). I must put more effort into my murder mystery reading next year.

    • Gosh, I didn’t know Diana Rigg had an actress daughter – I’m so out of touch with contemporary life! 😉 They do look alike! I must say I’m loving all the vintage crime I’ve been reading recently, but Agatha Christie still stands head and shoulders above all the rest… 😀

      • Diana Rigg’s daughter is Rachael Stirling. She played in some modern Christie adaptions as well, for example Caroline Crale in the David Suchet Version of Five Little Pigs and the vicar’s wife in Murder at the Vicarage.

        • I must have seen her then without realising she was Diana Rigg’s daughter because I’ve definitely seen all the Suchets. Time for a re-watch! Thanks for popping in and commenting. 😀

  7. How did I miss this one? And here, I thought I’d read most of Christie’s mysteries (like how I rhymed that?!) How splendid to end the week on a high note — makes indulging in a bit of chocolate all that more rewarding!

    • Haha – I always feel if I turned up at my hotel and found either Poirot or Miss Marple there I’d demand a refund and catch the next plane out! She really is fantastic at plotting and there’s always a touch of humour and romance to make the books entertaining too… 😀

  8. I am glad you managed to read a mystery, which you thoroughly enjoyed! I guess, you can’t go completely wrong with a Christie, especially one you’ve already read 😉

    The collection of quotes sounds good as well.

    • Always safe to fall back on a Christie when other books aren’t hitting the spot! I do love the “Poirot on holiday” ones – always fun when she brings together an odd unmatched group of characters… 😀 The little quote book is fun – Miss Marple is wonderfully droll.

  9. I’ll have to look for this one. I just read a Miss Marple and I think I realize one reason I like Poirot better is because I get his quirks and personality throughout the book. With my last one (Pocket Full of Rye) Miss Marple didn’t show up much…😒

  10. How lovely that you did this overview of Evil Under the Sun! I’m actually listening to this one right now and it has been a favorite that I’ve read many times. I don’t think I can even explain to people how my most favorite Christie books come to be in the ‘most favorite’ category. But some of them are. I’m also a fan of the Peter Ustinov adaptation, though I do love David Suchet as well. I’ll be finished with my reread (or re-listen) before long and will likely share my thoughts. That little Miss Marple quote book looks fun!

    • I have so many favourite Christies and like you couldn’t quite put my finger on what it is that makes some stand out more than others. Maybe the characters? I quite like the touch of romance she sometimes includes, never going too far with it. Or the plotting – I love when she lays out all the clues in plain sight and I still can’t work it out! 😀 I’ll look forward to reading your comments on this one.

  11. Evil Under the Sun is one of my favourite Christie’s! I remember reading it at around age 12 while staying with my grandmother! I think I still remember the conclusion but I should probably read it again to be sure. 🙂

    • Yes, you should – if everyone read at least one Christie a month the world would be a better and happier place… 😉 This really is a good one – I always love the ones where Poirot is on holiday. Though I’m glad we never stayed in the same hotel…

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