Peril at End House
Agatha Christie’s ingenious murder mystery, reissued with a striking cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers.
Nick Buckley was an unusual name for a pretty young woman. But then she had led an unusual life. First, on a treacherous Cornish hillside, the brakes on her car failed. Then, on a coastal path, a falling boulder missed her by inches. Later, an oil painting fell and almost crushed her in bed.
Upon discovering a bullet-hole in Nick’s sun hat, Hercule Poirot decides the girl needs his protection. At the same time, he begins to unravel the mystery of a murder that hasn’t been committed. Yet.
Title: Peril at End House | Author: Agatha Christie | Series: Poirot #8 | Publisher: HarperCollins | Pages: 252 | ISBN: 9780008129521 | Publication date: February 1932 | Source: Library copy
The two books I’ve reviewed for this blog so far have both been recent affairs. ‘She Lies in Wait’ by Gytha Lodge was a pre-release ARC of a debut novel and isn’t out until 2019. ‘Blacklands’ by Belinda Bauer was published at the start of the decade and Bauer is more current than ever after her book ‘Snap’ was longlisted for the 2018 Booker prize.
I really liked both books and they received an easy 4 out of 5 from me. That’s the same score I’m awarding Agatha Christie’s marvellously enjoyable ‘Peril at End House’, but will either of the more recent novels stand the test of time in the same way that Dame Agatha’s work has? It seems unlikely, good as they are.
Just what is it about Christie that makes her books so good that they are still readily available almost a century after her debut ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ was published? So many great writers from the early-mid twentieth century have lapsed into relative obscurity or at least seen their work fall out of mainstream publication. My favourite crime writer, Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter) is a rare sight in libraries or book shops, despite being both prolific and extremely popular up until his death just 13 years ago. Christie, on the other hand, is still so popular that when my book club chose ‘ Peril at End House’ to read, I was able to stroll into my local library and pull it right off the shelf.
I’m sure that more learned readers than I have taxed their brains with this mystery. For me there are two key factors in the enduring popularity of her books:
- You know what you’re getting – the books tend to be written to a tight formula, one that has become comfortable through repetition both by Christie herself and her many imitators. This makes them a safe and satisfying option for readers; they make not challenge, but there is a comfort that comes from reading something that unfolds in the way you expect it to.
- They’re delightfully surprising – this might feel like it is in direct opposition to my first point, but I think the two points complement each other. These are books that are familiar in structure and language (who can resist a smile whenever Poirot mentions his “little grey cells”) but which thrill with the ingenuity of their denouements. Reading one of Poirot’s investigations you know that Hastings will be clueless but well intentioned, that Poirot will make a list of suspects and pore over it, and that said suspects will be gathered together for the grand reveal at the end. What you don’t know is who the murderer is until Poirot draws back the curtain.
Both of these elements were wonderfully apparent in ‘Peril at End House’. Aside from that it includes many of Christie’s book’s other great traits: the supporting cast of characters are distinct and entertaining, there is a wry humour throughout, the plot moves at a brisk pace without ever getting bogged down in unnecessary detail and the prose is still crisp and easy to read after so many decades. So many modern mysteries are lengthy, miserable affairs, sometimes appropriately so; in contrast Christie provides spry, bite sized, joyous puzzles that challenge the mind rather than the emotions. For me they are the epitome of what escapist, popular fiction should be – pure entertainment before anything else. That’s as true of ‘Peril at End House’ today as it was 86 years ago when it first hit the shelves.
Bonus cover art gallery here