Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie
Synopsis From Dust Jacket:
Elinor Carlisle always assumed she would marry her childhood friend and distant cousin, Roderick Welman. Instead he fell in love with Mary, whom Elinor and Roderick used to play with on their Aunt Laura's lavish estate. When Mary is gruesomely poisoned by morphine, suspicions naturally fall upon Elinor.
Then Aunt Laura, who bequeathed her estate and fortune to Elinor, is also found to have died from a morphine overdose. The murderer seems obvious to everyone - everyone, that is, except Hercule Poirot. The Belgian sleuth summons all his powers to unravel the intricacies of a case that seems deceptively simple on the surface.
I'm so glad that the synopsis is a little off on Hercule Poirot's involvement in this book, yes he is in it, but as in The Mystery of the Blue Train, he is an almost off page participant. He is there in the beginning, and he does solve the case in the end, but that's it. The middle section, the huge middle section, is simply the story itself. How the characters interacted with each other, the way misunderstandings grew into suspicions, the way characters were manipulated and discarded like trash, all take center stage. For that matter, Poirot is only brought in at the behest of young Dr. Lord, who seems to have taken a fancy to Elinor. He's more than an afterthought, but not by much. And I loved this book for that reason. It's the perfect dose of Poirot for me, too bad the rest of his books aren't as sparse in his usage.
When I first cracked the book open, I was struck be the initial similarities between it and The State Vs. Elinor Norton by Mary Roberts Rinehart. The Rinehart proceeded this one by quite a few years, so at first I was feeling a little trepidation. I was concerned that Dame Agatha had "borrowed" from my second favorite mystery author of all times. Luckily, other than they both have a woman named Elinor on trial for murder, and that both books both open with the trial, and they both have a male bystander in love the with heroine, they don't really have all that much in common. The victims, the motives, the plot twists, and the solution, are all completely different between the two books, so by the end I was able to breathe a little easier.
I can't say that the mystery itself compelled me all that much, it was a little twisty and circumvent for my taste, but the characterization more than made up for that. More than anything, this is a character novel, driven by them, and created for them to live their lives. From Elinor, Dr. Lord, Roderick, Mary, the two nurses taking care of Aunt Laura, to Mary's abusive father and even on down to Poirot, it's the characters that drive this story, not the mystery. I think it's the family dynamics that turned the story in that direction, because first and foremost, it's family relationships that are at the heart of the entire damn thing.