Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Book Review: Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie

Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie

The wealthy Boynton family is vacationing in Israel which you'd think would be a pleasant experience. Unfortunately matriarch Mrs. Boynton is possessive, manipulative, and cruel to her children, who are all adults at this point. They live in misery and isolation. The trip serves only to emphasize their subservience and inability to connect to the outside world. Until Mrs. Boynton is found dead. Naturally, if foul play is involved, all the children are suspect. They stand to inherit equal shares of the family fortune. More importantly they will be free at last from her tyranny. Some other characters outside the family are part of the story, including one Hercule Poirot, Belgian detective extraordinaire.

The murder takes a long time to happen in the book, around page 100, almost half way through. In that first hundred pages, Hercule Poirot appears on maybe four of them. So the family situation is set up in great detail, providing interesting characters and a fascinating mystery. The story is a bit unusual for Christie but is very satisfying.

Poirot's investigation is more psychological than technical. He interviews the family and the other people involved. The situation is complicated enough that any one person makes a good suspect. By sifting through their statements he is able to come to the right conclusion. The epilogue is surprisingly sweet, like the end of a Shakespeare comedy or a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.

The investigation is particularly interesting for two reasons. Almost everybody recognizes that the world is better off with Mrs. Boynton dead. Still, murder is murder and the evildoer needs to be identified and hopefully brought to justice. Doing evil to an evil person does not suddenly make the act good. The double negative principle in math doesn't apply to morality. Second, Poirot promises to discover the murderer but does not guarantee that he'll have evidence that holds up in court. His psychological approach yields the truth and circumstances provide satisfaction of justice (to some extent) outside the court of law.

Highly recommended.

The book will be discussed on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast on July 10, 2018. Check it out!

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