I love Agatha Christie’s books but although there are still a lot that I haven’t read, I find that it works better for me to space them out and read other things in between. It’s been almost a year since the last Christie novel I read, so last week I decided it was time to read another one. This one, Peril at End House, is an early Poirot mystery, published in 1932.
At the beginning of the novel, Hercule Poirot and his friend, Captain Hastings, are taking a holiday in the seaside resort of St Loo. If they were hoping for a peaceful, relaxing break, though, they are about to be disappointed. Taking a walk outside their hotel, they meet a young woman called Nick who lives nearby at End House. As they stand chatting to Nick, she swats away what she thinks is a wasp – and then finds a hole in the brim of her hat and a bullet lying on the ground. Poirot is concerned, especially when she tells him of three other occasions when she has narrowly escaped death in the last few days, but Nick herself appears less worried – she can’t imagine why anybody would want her dead and insists that the incidents must just be accidents.
Poirot resolves to do everything he can to keep Nick safe from harm while he investigates, but it seems that his efforts are in vain as the murder attempts continue. Meanwhile, he uncovers a number of suspects among Nick’s friends and family ranging from her closest living relative, Charles Vyse, and her best friend, Frederica Rice, to her housekeeper Ellen and her Australian lodgers, Mr and Mrs Croft. And as more information comes to light, Poirot discovers that there may in fact be a very good reason for the attempts on Nick’s life.
As I approached the halfway point in this book, I was thinking that this was a very average Poirot novel – not a particularly notable entry in the series at all. I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge because there were some great twists and turns towards the end and the mystery ended up being a much more complex and clever one than I had thought at first.
When I wrote about the last Poirot novel I read – Cat Among the Pigeons – I remarked that that particular book was unusual because Poirot didn’t appear until near the end. This one is the opposite, as Poirot is there in the middle of the action right from the first page and we are plunged straight into the mystery, with little time spent on setting the scene or providing background. Like several of the other early Poirot novels, Captain Hastings narrates the story, which I like because although we don’t actually get inside Poirot’s head, he does at least explain some of his thought processes to Hastings as he goes along.
As so often happens when I read Agatha Christie, I did actually guess the correct solution (or part of it, anyway) very early in the book – and then dismissed the idea as the plot developed and red herrings were dropped into the story, leading me off the scent. The reader is given all the information needed to be able to identify the murderer and their motives, but it’s easy to overlook one or two of the most important clues. Even Poirot himself missed those clues too, which made me feel better about it!
This is not a favourite Poirot novel, but I did enjoy it. Have you read this one? Did you manage to solve the mystery or did you allow Christie to lead you in the wrong direction?