Two years ago I embarked on the rather ambitious project of reading all of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels in chronological order. Ambitious, I say, not because the books themselves present difficult reading material (they’re a breeze), but because she was such a prolific writer during her career. Indeed, there are about 66 full-length novels in all, and I’ve only finished 37 of them — in two years.
Quite frankly, even though Christie’s novels usually prove to be fun, I’m getting a bit tired of reading her stuff and am thinking about abandoning the project for a time. Well, at least I was, until I finished The Hollow. Then I remembered that there’s nothing quite like a good Christie murder!
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Dr. John Christow and his wife Gerda have been suffering through a troubled marriage for a few years now. Christow has been having a long-standing affair with artist Henrietta Savernake, and meek Gerda can do nothing but turn a blind eye to her husband’s philandering ways. To make things worse, everyone in the Christows’ extended family and circle of friends knows about the affair, which only adds to Gerda’s humiliation.
Now Lucy Angkatell has invited the Christows and a bunch of other people, including Henrietta, for a weekend at her estate called The Hollow. Gerda hates going there because she is socially awkward and never knows what to do or say, but of course she acquiesces for John’s sake.
On their first night at The Hollow, the party is interrupted by the sudden appearance of movie actress Veronica Cray, who, as it turns out, was John’s first love. Rumor has it that he almost married her, but something happened in their relationship and he ended up with Gerda instead. Most people believe that he still harbors feelings for Veronica (and vice versa), a belief that is seemingly supported when John abruptly leaves the party with Veronica and doesn’t return until early morning.
The next day, all hell breaks loose as John is found shot dead out by the Angkatell’s pool. Gerda is standing over his body with a pistol, so everyone pretty much assumes that she shot him. Everyone, that is, except Hercule Poirot, who arrives at the Angkatell estate for lunch just in time to see this scene unravel before his eyes. Things take an even stranger turn when John cries out, “Henrietta!” with his final breath and when Henrietta takes the gun away from Gerda and promptly fumbles it into the swimming pool.
The rest of the novel then deals with Poirot’s investigation into Christow’s death. As usual, Christie throws plenty of twists and turns the reader’s way before the final reveal. And also as usual, many will be kept guessing right to the very end!
My Reaction: There were quite a few characters in this novel, so it took me a while to figure out what roles each one was playing. This is actually quite usual in Christie books, and is always the most boring part for me. Once the intros were over, however, I was able to get into the mystery very quickly, mostly because I was intrigued at how a case that looked so cut-and-dried could turn out to be so problematic for the authorities.
I fell for almost all of Christie’s misdirections and thought for sure that Henrietta or Veronica had murdered John, while setting Gerda up to take the fall. Of course, that’s precisely how it was supposed to look until the very end when Christie revealed the truth. I’m so bad at picking up on clues and foreshadowing that I missed every arrow pointing to the real killer’s identity. But in going back to review some of the pages, I saw that Christie did indeed play fair. It’s entirely possible to work out the solution if you pay close attention.
Overall, The Hollow was a very intriguing read, and was one of the more enjoyable Christie books I’ve come across in a while now. Could this be one of her best? I don’t know; I’m just barely halfway through her canon!