Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie

April’s theme for the Read Christie 2023 challenge is poison, but I have read all of the suggested titles on the official challenge page, some quite recently. As I missed taking part last month, I decided to read the book I had planned to read in March instead – Christie’s 1939 novel Murder is Easy. There’s a new BBC adaptation coming later this year and I always prefer to read before watching, if possible!

Murder is Easy is one of the Christie novels that stars neither of her most famous detectives, Poirot or Miss Marple – although it does feature another of her recurring characters, Superintendent Battle. However, even he doesn’t appear until very near the end and plays no part in actually solving the mystery. Instead, almost the entire novel is written from the perspective of Luke Fitzwilliam, a retired police officer and amateur detective.

At the beginning of the novel, Luke has just returned to England from India and is taking a train to London, where he finds himself sharing a carriage with an old lady who introduces herself as Miss Pinkerton. She confides in him that she is on her way to Scotland Yard to report a serial killer in her village. Miss Pinkerton believes that this person – whom she doesn’t name – has murdered at least three people already and has chosen as their next victim the village doctor, Dr Humbleby. Luke assumes she has an overactive imagination, but the next day he reads in the newspaper that a Miss Pinkerton has been hit by a car and killed crossing the road outside Scotland Yard – and when news of the death of Dr Humbleby in the village of Wychwood-under-Ashe follows, he becomes convinced that she was telling the truth after all.

Determined to find out more, Luke heads for Wychwood, where he stays with a friend’s cousin, Bridget Conway, who happens to be engaged to the local lord of the manor. Luke is posing as an author researching a new book on witchcraft and superstition, but Bridget guesses the real reason for his visit and together they begin to investigate the recent deaths.

I really enjoyed this book and for once I correctly identified the murderer, though more through instinct than because I had spotted any particular clue. There are plenty of suspects ranging from the solicitor Mr Abbot and the late Dr Humbleby’s younger partner, Dr Thomas, to the widower Major Horton and the antiques dealer Mr Ellsworthy, who dabbles in black magic. We are told that the village of Wychwood has connections with witchcraft and the occult, but we don’t really explore that in any depth and the setting doesn’t have quite the same eerie atmosphere as the village in Christie’s The Pale Horse.

While Miss Marple doesn’t appear in this book, I found Miss Pinkerton a very Marple-ish character – an old lady with a shrewd mind and sharp observational skills – and was sorry she was killed so early in the story. Luke himself does very little detecting – despite interviewing all of the suspects, he doesn’t arrive at the right solution until somebody else reaches it first – but I still enjoyed following the progress of his investigations. And knowing that Christie often likes to work a nursery rhyme into the text or title of her novels, I was intrigued to come across the lines “I do not like thee, Doctor Fell; The reason why I cannot tell” – the same lines that are quoted in John Dickson Carr’s The Black Spectacles, which I coincidentally read just last week!

Although I didn’t choose Murder is Easy specifically to fit this month’s Read Christie theme, I was pleased to find that poison does feature in the plot, albeit in a small way. The May prompt is ‘betrayal’, if you want to take part.

16 thoughts on “Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie

  1. jekc says:

    Like you I will aim to read it before the TV adaptation is broadcast. I have enjoyed this and the John Dickson Carr review. My dad read a lot of whodunnits so we had lots of books in the house by both authors when we were young. I have forwarded the reviews to my sister who has inherited my dad’s enthusiasm for detective novels!

  2. Calmgrove says:

    Your summary sounds familiar from other reviews I’ve read of this, though I’ve yet to try it myself. If there’s an adaptation coming up soon maybe I should seek it out! 🙂

    • Helen says:

      This is the perfect time to read it if, like me, you prefer to read a book before seeing the adaptation. I know some people like to do it the other way round!

  3. FictionFan says:

    I reread this one just a few weeks ago, or listened to it, rather. I’d forgotten how good some of the non-regular-detective ones are – they tend to get overlooked so I’m glad that one or two of them are being adapted for TV. I hope the adaptation of this one works as well as the recent Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?

    • Helen says:

      Yes, it’s good to see that it’s not just the Poirots and Miss Marples that are being adapted. Although I do love the books with the regular detectives, her standalones often turn out to be some of my favourites!

  4. Jo says:

    Having seen the tv adaption where they inserted Miss Marple into it, I think need to go and read the book so I am ready for the next adaptation.

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