Monday, November 15, 2010

"By the Pricking of My Thumbs..."

 "...Something wicked this way comes." William Shakespeare – Macbeth (Act IV, Scene 1)

I have been conducting a little "experiment" where I am leaving my computer off for the day to see how much I can get accomplished. If I turn it on at all, it is not until night time. I have accomplished so many things in the past three or four days of doing this. I won't bore you with everything that I have finished, but I have been able to finish TWO books, Endless Nights and By the Pricking of My Thumbs, both by Agatha Christie.


This novel, published in 1968, features two of Christie's regular characters, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. They are, by this time, quite older than in their spy-games days, as they are now grandparents. It's nice to see them resurface in a later novel. (They first appeared in their early twenties in The Secret Adversary, published in 1922).

In By the Pricking of My Thumbs,while visiting an aunt in a nursing home, they encounter an elderly woman by the name of Mrs. Lancaster. She utters a bewildering comment to Tuppence about something behind the fireplace and a poor child. When Mrs. Lancaster suddenly disappears, and the Beresfords discover a painting of a house in connection with Mrs Lancaster, a house that Tuppence knows she has seen somewhere before, the wheels are in motion. Tuppence cannot fight the feeling of danger and is determined to find out what has happened to Mrs. Lancaster and how the painting, or the house are connected.

I was initially excited about this story. The mystery behind the house in the painting intrigued me. I also enjoyed the varied village stories and legends that are revealed to Tuppence. I liked where I thought the mystery was taking me. Of course, like most Agatha Christie novels, I was wrong.

Eventually, there was too much going on in the novel. Between the local gossip and village stories, there were too many people and personal histories to keep track of, and many seemingly unrelated stories. The many characters to keep track of in this story include: several elderly women; the doctors, nurses and headmistress of the old ladies' home; bankers, lawyers, and house agents; some form of spy agency; a dancer; the mysterious and wealthy "Sir" and his secretary; a vicar; the local gossip and her husband; the "good" witch and her not-completely-with-it husband; Tommy and Tuppence; various village children and former residents of the "house in the painting" etc.

So many! And with so many secondary characters, I felt that Christie's character development, which is usually high quality and well-developed, was lacking in this story. There were too many unlikely red herrings that felt as though they were being forced upon the readers. Was it the doctor? The crazy husband? The jealous secretary? The dancer? The vicar? And on and on.

I felt that Christie would have done a better job if she had stuck to one storyline; instead, she attempts to cram everything she possibly can into this one, creating a weak story development. And this one has it all: bank robberies and gangs; missing women; a child murderer; poisoning cases; hidden treasure; blackmail; secret rooms/doorways... It is really rather too much for one story.

I also don't buy that one person could be responsible for the poisoning of old women, be involved in bank robberies, and go around killing village children. From what I understand of a killer's psychology (which is limited to what I have learned from years of Law & Order episodes), most killers stick to one forte. They have one "specialty", so to speak. With her extensive knowledge of the human psyche, I would have thought that Christie would have been aware of this. However, I do have to give her the benefit of the doubt, since by this time, she is well in her seventies, and I suppose a person is apt to lose their touch eventually.


1 comment:

  1. I'm in my 50's and feel like I'm losing touch sometimes and I also haven't had the ideas pour from my brain like Agatha did. I do believe we get better though if we turn the computer off for periods of time :)


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