I’ve made no secret about the fact that I’ve pretty much lost interest in reading Agatha Christie at this point. I’ve been reading her novels almost exclusively for over a year now, and while there are definitely some fantastic ones in her canon, I’ve recently hit a stretch of books that have been a positive chore to get through.
However, that all changed with Evil Under the Sun, a novel in which Christie goes back to the formula that works best for her. In short, she gathers a group of strangers together, has one of them murdered, and spends the rest of the time showing how almost any of the others could have had the motive or opportunity to commit the crime.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Retired Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is once again vacationing — this time at a secluded hotel in an English resort town. The book opens with brief scenes designed to give the reader a glimpse of the personalities of the major characters. They’re shown doing regular resort activities, such as boating, swimming, playing tennis, picnicking, and lounging in the sun.
Then the story starts taking shape. The beautiful Arlena Marshall loves being the center of attention, and is somewhat openly carrying on an affair with a married man named Patrick Redfern. Rumor has it that Patrick came down to the resort — with his wife Christine in tow, no less — specifically to be with Arlena. As for Arlena, she doesn’t much care that the rest of the world knows about her affairs, so long as her husband Capt. Marshall doesn’t find out. He has a bad temper, and wouldn’t take too kindly to the news.
One morning, Arlena sets off by herself in a small boat to go to a secluded cove. It’s obvious that she’s going to meet someone, but we’re not sure who it is. It’s apparently not Patrick, as he paces up and down the beach looking for her. Patrick then goes out on a different boat with another one of the hotel guests. They arrive at the cove, only to see Arlena’s body sprawled on the beach. When she doesn’t stir or respond to Patrick’s calls, he frantically hops out of the boat and runs to her. She’s dead, so Patrick tells the other guest to go back to the hotel and get help.
Poirot of course is drawn into the investigation, and he starts piecing the puzzle together with the help of very few clues and his usual witness interviews. Details of Arlena’s life come out into the open, and there are suddenly numerous possibilities to explain her murder. It could have been a blackmailer, a drug smuggler, a homicidal maniac/serial killer — or it could have been someone at the resort.
Poirot does his thing and figures out the answer, and this time the solution was actually pretty satisfying. I didn’t guess the killer’s identity, but when Poirot explained how the murder was carried out, everything made sense.
My Reaction: Evil Under the Sun was a pretty enjoyable read from start to finish. This felt like “classic Christie,” which I’ve been missing for the last few books. The plot was engaging, the characters felt like real people, and the solution to the murder was plausible and understandable given the context of the story.
As I said, I couldn’t figure out who the killer was. I was actually paying attention to this one, so I was disappointed when Poirot beat me to the solution. I knew that two of the characters had shaky alibis, so I thought one of them had done the deed. Instead, the killer turned out to be someone whose alibi seemed pretty solid at first glance. That was a nice touch on Christie’s part, and was fair play, IMO.
Overall, I felt that Evil Under the Sun was one of the better Agatha Christie novels that I’ve read thus far. It’s definitely not her best, but it’s still recommended!