This month’s challenge was to read a book set before World War II and this 1939 publication just fits into the timescale. This was the title recommended by the good folk at agathachristie.com and I did think it was a stand-alone, but no, after I read it I discovered it is the 4th in the series featuring Superintendent Battle, a sequence which had begun with 1925’s “The Secret Of Chimneys”. Here Battle makes a blink and you miss him appearance and adds nothing to the plot so my thinking it a stand-alone is very excusable.
Main character Luke Fitzwilliam is a retired police officer returning to England from his post in the Mayang Straits when he meets an elderly woman on the train on her way to Scotland Yard to report a murderer at large in her village of Wychwood-Under-Ashe. Fitzwilliam, at a loose end goes to investigate on the pretence of writing a book about folklore and local customs.
This has been my favourite of the Challenge books so far and there’s quite a notch up in the entertainment factor from my second favourite, The Hollow. Most of the murders have already taken place leaving Fitzwilliam to work out whodunnit. I like the feel of this book, the location and characterisation gives it stronger atmosphere and the folklore slant offers us suggestions of darker forces at play and even of satanic orgies in the woods. Fitzwilliam stays at the home of poor-village-boy-made good now newspaper magnate Lord Whitfield and becomes fascinated by his fiancée. There’s a mixture of doctors, librarians, publicans, servant girls in the cast list and even a cat called Wonky Pooh!
The novel feels freer and less formulaic than some of her Poirot titles. I was thoroughly entertained and didn’t guess whodunnit. I would have been unlikely to have encountered this book without the Christie Challenge and would have missed out on this enthralling cosy crime caper with good edges of darkness. Next month it’s a story featuring tea, luckily there’s a suggested title.
Murder Is Easy was first published in 1939. I read a Harper Collins paperback edition. Further details about the Agatha Christie Challenge and Facebook/Instagram book groups on this title can be found at http://www.agathachristie.com.