Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie (1937)

“You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?” 

While holidaying in Jerusalem, Hercule Poirot overhears these chilling words. Days later, he is called to investigate a death in Petra and learns who “she” was. Mrs. Boynton, a sadistic tyrant who dominates her family, has been found dead. Other than a puncture wound to her wrist, the exact cause of the woman’s death is unknown. Be it natural death or murder—Poirot proposes to find the answer in twenty-four hours.

The victim’s family all have the same motive, which may have led one, or all, to murder. Stepson’s Lennox and Raymond, stepdaughter Carol, her natural daughter Jinny, and Lennox’s wife Nadine have had every aspect of their lives controlled by this “gross spider in the centre of a web!”, the slightest spark of independent thought or action immediately squashed. Now, with her death they are free. 

There are other members of the party who haven’t been at all quiet in their opinions of the victim. Sarah King, a spirited young woman who feels the need to help this family break free, and feels that Raymond “wants rescuing”, and she’s going to see that it happens. Dr. Gerard, from whose tent a hypodermic syringe and a dose of digoxin has gone missing, seems also to have taken more than a passing interest in one of the daughters. And then there is an old family friend, Jefferson Cope, who admires Nadine more than he can say. Even the forceful Lady Westholme and twittering Miss Pierce have their moments.

While I have watched the 2008 television version of Appointment with Death, I had never read the book. I though I knew what was going to happen, but I quickly realized that the TV version contained only the bones of the book, and bears only a passing resemblance to it. So, I was delighted to find that the entire story came as a total surprise to me. 

Poirot is definitely in his element as, in his meticulous fashion, he interviews the entire party, used his gifts of observation, deductions, and awareness of human psychology to find the culprit. 

‘We will make them tell us what it is,’ said Poirot.

‘Third degree?’ said Colonel Carbury.

‘No.’ Poirot shook his head. ‘Just ordinary conversation. On the whole, you know, people tell you the truth. Because it is easier! Because it is less strain on the inventive faculties! You can tell one lie – or two lies – or three lies or even four lies – but you cannot lie all the time. And so – the truth becomes plain.’”

Poirot interviews the possible suspects one by by one. With each he filters through the evidence, seeing past the lies to the truth. Then, systematically presents scenarios, laying out the case for the guilt of each suspect. Then overlaying it with the contradictions in their stories, he systematically eliminates each until he points to the only one who could possibly be guilty.

This is a highly entertaining read, filled with fascinating psychology, and a solution that is so clever and so simple—after Poirot explained it to me that is.

My Judgment – 4/5

Prior Rulings – José @ A Crime is Afoot, Brad @ Ah Sweet Mystery, John @ Countdown John’s Christie Journal

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2011 Vintage Mystery Challenge – Book 10 of 16

6 thoughts on “Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie (1937)

  1. I remember this one feeling like a bit of a too-slow burn to get going, but the summing up at the end is wonderful. And the fate of the killer is…well, something that will stay with me.

    1. You’re right. It is rather a book of two halves isn’t it? Actually more like three quarters to one since Poirot is so late in reappearing 🤔

      1. I can’t remember when I read this, but my impression is that the structure was slightly odd to me…so it was probably an earlyish one. And, it must be said, this is one of the few novels I’d be interested to see the bastardis-, er, televisation of — the representation of the key piece of misdirection would be interesting. Though I suspect they probably just removed it altogether.

      2. Oh the TV version removed a lot…characters, events, motives, etc., and adds a lot more. Christie’s original story is a shell of itself. It’s entertaining on it’s own, but I think maybe I enjoyed the book more.

    2. Brian

      Looks like the “too-slow burn” was worth it! I love how Christie paints the portrait of Mrs. Boynton not only from the lips and through the actions of the character herself but also the fear and sense of imprisonment that her offspring and their spouses feel. It does take a while to get to the murder but the character development Christie lays out makes the mystery more memorable.

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