by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #8
Publication Date: February 1, 1932
Project: appointment with agatha, halloween bingo
Agatha Christie’s ingenious murder mystery, reissued with a striking cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers.
Nick Buckley was an unusual name for a pretty young woman. But then she had led an unusual life. First, on a treacherous Cornish hillside, the brakes on her car failed. Then, on a coastal path, a falling boulder missed her by inches. Later, an oil painting fell and almost crushed her in bed.
Upon discovering a bullet-hole in Nick’s sun hat, Hercule Poirot decides the girl needs his protection. At the same time, he begins to unravel the mystery of a murder that hasn’t been committed. Yet.
Peril at End House was the September Appointment with Agatha book, and is designated as #8 of the Hercule Poirot series. This numbering includes some of the short story compilations, so it isn’t just the full-length mysteries.
This is on of my favorite Poirot mysteries – and, aside from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the best so far in the series. We begin the book with Poirot and Hastings on the terrace of The Majestic Hotel, where they have gone on holiday together. It is narrated in the first person by Hastings, who sets the stage thus:
We were sitting on one of the terraces of the Majestic Hotel. It is the biggest hotel in St. Loo and stands in its own grounds on a headland overlooking the sea. The gardens of the hotel lay below us freely interspersed with palm trees. The sea was of a deep and lovely blue, the sky clear and the sun shining with all the single-hearted fervour an August sun should (but in England so often does not) have. There was a vigorous humming of bees, a pleasant sound—and altogether nothing could have been more ideal.
The Majestic is an obvious analog to The Imperial Hotel in Torquay, Devon, pictured below.
(The Imperial has sadly been remodeled and doesn’t look anything like this picture anymore. It’s a rather unattractive concrete block structure now.)
As they sit on the terrace, Poirot meets the main character, sprightly, manic-pixie-dream-girl Art Deco edition, Nick (Magda) Buckley. She tells him about a number of near misses with death that she has been experiencing, and Poirot becomes convinced that someone is trying to murder her. Vacation or not, Poirot is on the case. It doesn’t hurt that Nick is charming, both in personality and appearance.
Much of the appeal of this book is in the interactions between Poirot and Hastings. Hastings has been off in The Argentine for a while, before returning to England on his own (without Bella, his wife). I am not a Hastings fan, but I really enjoyed a lot of the tongue-in-cheek barbs being traded in this book:
“You have an extraordinary effect on me, Hastings. You have so strongly the flair in the wrong direction that I am almost tempted to go by it! You are that wholly admirable type of man, honest, credulous, honourable, who is invariably taken in by any scoundrel. You are the type of man who invests in doubtful oil fields, and non-existent gold mines. From hundreds like you, the swindler makes his daily bread. Ah, well—I shall study this Commander Challenger. You have awakened my doubts.”
Poirot to Hastings.
And this funny exchange:
“I am old-fashioned and sentimental myself, Mademoiselle.”
“Are you? I should have said that Captain Hastings was the sentimental one of you two.” I blushed indignantly.
“He is furious,” said Poirot, eying my discomfiture with a good deal of pleasure. “But you are right, Mademoiselle. Yes, you are right.”
“Not at all,” I said, angrily.
“Hastings has a singularly beautiful nature. It has been the greatest hindrance to me at times.”
“Don’t be absurd, Poirot.”
“He is, to begin with, reluctant to see evil anywhere, and when he does see it his righteous indignation is so great that he is incapable of dissembling. Altogether a rare and beautiful nature. No, mon ami, I will not permit you to contradict me. It is as I say.”
And then we have Hastings:
I reflected that Poirot’s abasement was strangely like other people’s conceit, but I prudently forebore from making any remark.
Poirot is not at his investigative best in this book – he seems to stumble a bit, and misses the point such that the murder, had he been a bit more on the ball, might have been prevented. And, with respect to that murder, the victim is one of the most innocent of Christie’s victims. It is poignant, especially a scene that occurs with the victim’s parents where Christie describes their grief in a really affecting way. The solution to the mystery is ingenious and the clueing is subtle and clever.
This book never seems to make the “best of Christie” lists, and I don’t really know why that is. I have always thought that it was a clever, well-written and compelling story, and I always enjoy reading it. End House is a classic “country house” and the holiday watering hole of St. Loo makes a great setting.