I’ve been meaning to read some Agatha Christie for some time. I’ve checked back and it was 15 years ago since I read 1949’s “The Moving Finger”. She was perhaps the main author who turned me into an adult reader as around the age of 12/13 I really got into her books, interspersing them with the less appropriate horrors of James Herbert, “Jaws” and “The Godfather”. Reading her as an adult I can’t say I’ve ever really fallen in love with any of her titles but it is generally always a pleasing experience.
Recently I spotted the year long Read Christie challenge set up at agathachristie.com, the official home for this important twentieth century British author. The challenge is to read each month a book within a theme, there is a main title specified with other suggestions made. For January the theme is a story set in a grand house and the choice is “The Hollow” which I have never read. It’s not too late to sign up for the challenge at the website and receive a Read Christie 2021 postcard to track your progress and take part in social media activities and a Facebook/Instagram Book Club meeting on 28th January.
I found a copy of “The Hollow” available on Borrowbox, the online e-book/audiobook site which is part of my local authority (Isle Of Wight) library membership. (I have returned it now if anyone on the island is after it!)
I know that my attitude towards Agatha Christie is somewhat quirky. I have tended to shy away from anything featuring her most famous creation, Hercule Poirot. I have never seen David Suchet’s famous depiction in the TV adaptations yet I will always watch any standalones that have been filmed and my favourite Miss Marple is not the archetypal characterisation by Joan Hickson, but the 60’s black and white of Margaret Rutherford, or even, which might upset Christie purists further, Julia McKenzie.
Here, however, we are indeed in Poirot territory, but he does not really have that great of a role to play. “The Hollow” is the name of the country house, specified by my challenge, the home of Lord and Lady Angkatill and it begins with the prospect of a weekend gathering at the property which will be attended by (mainly) cousins and other family friends. I thought the characterisation here was much stronger than I remembered of this author and I became really invested in those desperate to escape to “The Hollows” for a couple of days and those dreading it. I really enjoyed the build-up to the murder (not a plot-spoiler, you knew there was going to be one, didn’t you). I have felt in the past that the investigations (especially when Poirot is heavily involved) can be a little turgid but here much less so. I think putting the eccentric Lady Angkatell and sculptor Henrietta at the centre of things helped as they are both sparky characters, intent on doing and saying their own thing and not letting a murder in the country house hold them back.
The weaker element here was the resolution which wasn’t as clever as I had hoped and Poirot’s success was largely just to him being in the right place at the right time. I did find my return to Christie after a lengthy absence very satisfactory. The book was always involving and, although unlikely to be amongst many Christie fan favourites top picks I would have thought, it certainly whetted my appetite for the next challenge. One month ticked off on my postcard. February, appropriately for the month of St Valentine’s Day, asks for a story involving love to be read. I hope February does not pass me by without me experiencing a bit of love Christie-style.
“The Hollow” was published in 1946. I read the Harper Collins e-book. Details of the Read Christie 2021 challenge can be found at agathachristie.com