ironichles (ironichles) wrote,

Book Review: Curtain

When we think of a murder mystery we think of a plot where a detective finds out who killed whom, with what and possibly where. None of this applies to this masterpiece mystery. Although known as the second novel Agatha Christie ever wrote, it is one of the last ones published. Agatha Christie herself claimed she wanted to save the book until she had finished a lot more other detective novels. After reading the book you might agree that she was most likely too nervous to release this type of plot onto the world, and with good reason. She would in her life be berated by readers and other crime novelists for her 'unorthodox' murder mechanisms and approaches. In fact Dorothy Sayers threatened to kick her out of the Detection Club for her plot in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Christie's main offense was allegedly not providing enough information for the readers to figure out for themselves who dunnit. This novel, Curtain, is no exception, except that the plot in this novel is so subtle and intricate that even if all information was explicitly provided people would most likely still be up in arms over it. Without giving too much away, Christie found a means of committing murder that can not under any circumstance be blamed on the killer.

In Curtain, we meet famed detective Hercule Poirot one last and final time. In a message, which leaves nothing to speculation as to Poirot's health, the great detective summons his old friend Hastings to the house where it all began. The large mansion has since changed ownership and is now a lovely bed and breakfast with modern conveniences. Like before, and this time announced early on by Poirot, the hotel will be host to a murderer. Again without giving away too much about the plot it can be said that this is one of the most unorthodox methods by which any murderer has operated. In fact it is the way by which the murderer kills and more importantly gets away with it, which is the best part of the novel and its most controversial part.

Christie early on defined for herself two principles by which her Belgian detective approached a case. First of all Poirot would solve all crimes by means of psychology and not for example by using an analysis of cigarette ashes. Second, it was extremely important to Poirot that the innocent should not suffer or be blamed for something they had not done. Out of all the novels she wrote, Curtain actually honors those both those principles. In other works it could be argued that Poirot also used cigarette ashes and circumstantial evidence, but not in this one, this one is all psychology. Perhaps yet another reason she was hesitant to release the book into the critical hands of her readers.

Agatha Christie liked unorthodox plots, to her credit. But she had one weakness, which makes this novel even more difficult to get into. Her characters have always been rather flat and boilerplate. She usually introduces a grand old lady of the house who's irresistibly beautiful and eternally tragic. There's always a colonel or captain somewhere who just got back from safari or a war. This does not make a good combination with a plot that is highly logical and mechanical and contrary to other novels she wrote this one is on the extreme side of mechanical writing. How then to think about a book such as this? Should the rating reflect the genius of plotting and logic or should the work be judged solely on its character development and emotional depth? It's hard to say but I feel I need to reward the tremendous originality of the novel and slightly overlook the sentimental aspects.
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