There’s something strangely cozy about an old-school murder mystery. A prim and proper setting but with dark secrets hiding underneath the gentile facade. A familiar formula but with enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. It is just the stuff for a cold and rainy evening spent curled up in a warm and comfortable spot with a cup of tea.
The work of Agatha Christie epitomizes the who-done-it genre. I discovered her work a few years ago during the year I took off from school because of illness. Netflix used to have the entire Poirot series, which is based on Christie’s Poirot novels. After watching the series, I read three of the books: Lord Edgware Dies, Death on the Nile, and Evil Under the Sun. I’ve always loved to travel and the mysteries I enjoyed the most were the ones where Hercule Poirot travels to some exotic and glamorous location such as Egypt in Death on the Nile and the Cornish Coast in Evil Under the Sun. The books perfectly capture the ritual of travel: staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, seeing new and exciting places, and the eccentric people you meet while traveling.
Death on the Nile starts with newlywed heiress Linnet Ridgeway going on her honeymoon in Egypt with her new husband, the handsome Simon Doyle. But there is trouble in paradise: the couple is being stalked by Jacqueline de Belfort, Linnet’s former best friend and Simon’s former fiancee. A cruise down the Nile gathers our cast of suspects together, which includes a sex-obsessed novelist, a kleptomaniac grande dame, and a jewel-thieving mama’s boy. When Linnet is found shot dead in her cabin, the murderer and their motive appear to be straightforward but not all is as it appears to be.
The thing about Christie’s novels is that you do not really care about the person who is murdered. Even if they do not necessarily deserve to die, their death is not a great loss to the world. Linnet is a spoiled brat who thinks nothing of stealing a man from a less fortunate friend. When she asks Poirot to convince Jacqueline to stay away from her and Simon, Poirot pretty much tells her to suck it up and deal with the consequences of her actions for once in her life. Linnet is not an evil person (she is hinted to be feeling some regret for ruining Jacqueline’s life) but she has few if any redeeming features. The sentimental Cornelia Robson laments Linnet’s death because was “so beautiful” which is pretty much the only nice thing anyone can think of to say about Linnet.
Agatha Christie is one of the writers who established the standard who-done-it formula: our cast of suspects gather in a specific place, someone is murdered, a detective goes around trying to find clues and piece together what happened, and the detective gathers all of the suspects together in a room then goes over what they figured out had actually happened and points out the murderer. This formula applies to Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun.
The 2004 television adaptation of “Death on the Nile,” which was part of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, starring David Suchet (who also narrated the audiobooks of Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun that I listened to) as the title character, was one of my favorite episodes of the series. It guest starred Emily Blunt as Linnet Ridgeway Doyle, J.J. Fields as Simon Doyle, and Frances de la Tour as Salome Otterbourne and follows the plot of the novel pretty closely. The scenery, sets, and costumes are beautiful and I would definitely recommend it.
Evil Under the Sun follows Hercule Poirot to a seaside resort on the Cornish coast. Also staying at the resort is Arlena Stuart, an actress with a reputation for being a man-eater and a homewrecker. In toe are Kenneth Marshall, Arlena’s long-suffering husband, his daughter Linda, Patrick Redfern, Arlena’s latest boy toy, and Christine, Patrick’s mousy wife. When Arlena’s body is found strangled on the beach, Poirot finds that each of the resort’s guests has a motive for wanting her dead.
Evil Under the Sun is another case of Christie’s murder victims being less than sympathetic. Arlena is stupid and gullible and thinks of nothing but her appetites, specifically her appetite for men. Like Linnet, she is someone who has no compunction about stealing a man from another woman. No one is terribly sad about her death.
My friend Ashley and I recently watched the 1982 film adaptation of Evil Under the Sun, starring Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot and Diana Rigg as Arlena Stuart. It has several changes from the original novel. Instead of being set on the Cornish coast, it takes place on an island in the Adriatic. The characters of Mrs. Castle, the owner of the seaside resort, and Rosamund Darnley, Kenneth Marshall’s childhood friend, are combined into the character of Daphne Castle (played by Maggie Smith), who both owns the resort and is Kenneth Marshall’s old sweetheart. Miss Emily Brewster, a gruff and athletic spinster, is Mr. Rex Brewster (played by Roddy McDowell), a flamboyant writer, in this version. With an all-star cast, the acting in the film is fantastic. Because David Suchet was the Poirot I am most familiar with and who I think of when the character comes up, it is a bit disorienting watching Ustinov play the role, though he does a great job. The Adriatic scenery is gorgeous and makes me long to travel there. The one problem I have is the costumes which are 1930s via the 1980s and a whole lot of what-the-fuck: there are shoulder pads and garish prints and colors up the wazoo. One of Arlena’s beach outfits has a polka dot pattern which looks like the one on a package of Wonder Bread. The loud and obnoxious Mrs. Gardener wears an equally obnoxious outfit that appears to have been made out of a cheap plastic tablecloth. Despite this, the film is enjoyable and I would recommend it.