Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie

 Postern of Fate  by Agatha Christie

published 1973

I like to spot Charlotte M Yonge’s Victorian bestseller The Daisy Chain out in the world – in Postern of Fate,  Tuppence Beresford finds a copy and says she would like to read it again, reminiscing about the characters in it: ‘how exciting it was, wondering, you know, whether Norman was going to be allowed to be confirmed or not.’

This is a splendid sentence for my purposes and the purposes of this blogpost because  a) The Daisy Chain did achieve almost incredible levels of bestsellerdom, worldwide popularity and breathless jeopardy with pivot points and climaxes concerning whether or not someone was allowed to be confirmed and b) Postern of Fate is full of not very impressive sentences like this one of approximately zero relevance to the plot and c) it is not Norman who is threatened with non-confirmation, it is another brother, Harry.  (I do believe Agatha C is unlucky here in that I am probably the only person to have read both these books in the past five years)

My good friend Curtis Evans, over at his Passing Tramp blog, has, like me, been looking at the later Christies, and I strongly recommend his post on this book

The Passing Tramp: "The crime is dementia": 

Postern of Fate (1973), by Agatha Christie

-which has a lot of detail of the plot, and of how the book was received on publication, and how it fits in with her other works. As I said to him: I am sending readers over to him for useful knowledge, while I will riff on about whatever nonsense fills my head, such as the names of Charlotte M Yonge’s characters.

Curt, and I, and everyone, know it is a terrible book, and probably shouldn't have been published.

A very sad thing is that about every 30 pages there’s a faint glimmer of the olden days, something that promises more, or reflects back to the really great books.

But still – it is terrible. It makes no sense, nothing is ever stated as certainty, the dialogue rambles.

It’s so bad that it’s not worth picking the plot to pieces but, briefly: long-time Christie characters Tommy & Tuppence have moved to a new house, and get caught up in reports of an ancient crime in the house – to do with spying, and a young woman, and a schoolboy. This is (it takes forever to establish) pre-World War I. And then there’s a much better moment where the census can be used to pin something down, but then we have to have paragraphs of nonsense where Tuppence apparently needs to explain to Tommy what the census is, and discusses attitudes to it. And then they don’t really use the census information, or if they do it’s offstage. (It would have been the 1911 census, on Sunday April 2nd.)

Tommy and Tuppence are even more annoying than usual, and that’s saying something. I was struck by an awful thought – did Tuppence represent Agatha, was she the most Agatha-like figure in the books? I fear this might be true. She sounds more like Agatha than Mrs Ariadne Oliver does, for example.

There is general agreement that AC was suffering from dementia by the time she wrote Postern. She certainly doesn’t seem able to keep track of anything in the story, making it very hard for any reader. So for example, she introduces Isaac twice, although it doesn’t seem wholly clear he is the same person, she may have changed her mind about him.

Christie is at her worst when she launches some Old People’s Grump – which very much comes and goes in her later works. She is very sensible about some things but will then have a character explain to us all how much better things were in the olden days. Along with many other writers, she is fond of telling us that in the good old days everyone could read, they didn’t even need to learn really, nowadays children don’t learn and are stopped from reading. Apart from the fact that this is plainly not true, and that there was considerable illiteracy when they were children (or do they just mean posh rich people?) – they will then think it hilarious to tell you that they can’t spell or are terrible at punctuation. The simultaneous superiority AND ‘look at me I’m quirky’ is hard to take, and don’t start me on people who think it hilarious and attractive to be no good at maths or science. Across the board, nobody in this book can apparently remember any name ever. It is nonsensical. Words and names change over the course of a page: I ended up feeling embarrassed for the author. I presume she dictated it – it very much has the feel of that, with hesitations and going back and ‘I think it was… but then maybe…’ Couldn’t any of the people who were living off Christie and making all that money (family, publishers) have taken the time to do some editing?

It’s hard for me to say this about any Christie book, but I don’t think I’d have finished it on this re-read if it hadn't been by her.

The phrase Postern of Fate comes from a poem by James Elroy Flecker, The Gates of Damascus. Flecker had a huge facility for language, but his spirituality always seems bogus, and nowadays he would surely be accused of Orientalism. However, Postern of Fate is a great phrase, and a great title – what a shame it was wasted on this book. There is something called the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, a very well-known spot, but this is not what Flecker was referencing. Ancient historical Damascus had seven gates: Flecker writes about four of them, and the Eastern gate, above, is the Postern of Fate, the road to the desert and to Baghdad.

I am catching up on the Christie books I haven’t yet covered on the blog, and while I am by no means doing them in order, I was keen to get this one out of the way so I didn’t have to end on it...

Top picture from a favoured resource, the Old Ralph Lauren Adverts tumbler, and is from a later date but seemed to show the kind of collected aretefacts Tommy and Tuppence are dealing with in the story.

Very difficult to illustrate any clothes in the book,  as they don’t feature much and the whole story seems to be taking place in a completely unreal world. But the 2nd pic is a generous idea of Tuppence from a knitting pattern of the era.


  1. Like AC, Tuppence was a nurse in WWI. I like this book for its return to Christie's old home, Ashfield, long since flattened. But there it is with all her old toys and books. I find with her late books that she couldn't finish them. Publishers needed a Christie for Christmas and endings are rushed and muddled. Sometimes they even seem written by a different hand. As you say, there are occasional gleams in this one.

    1. I'm glad you have words of almost-defence! I don't know why no-one could help her, do you think she resisted? Nowadays there would be a personal assistant pushing her through and making quiet changes to keep everyone happy (and the money rolling in).
      When I was in Torquay last year I went up the road to where Ashfield was, though nothing to see now. When I was chatting to other Christie fans over lunch I said I had walked up there. After a very confused conversation it turned out they thought I meant Greenway (holiday home, 20 miles away) and were taken aback by the idea I had walked!

  2. As you say, Moira, this one's a book for Christie completists, and not one I recommend to someone who's just starting to explore her work. There is a hint here or there, in my opinion, of her creativity and skill, but the book itself? No. I've only read it twice, and probably won't again unless I'm looking for a quote or something, but I keep it. It's part of her work.

    1. Yes, just how I think of it Margot. I will keep the book and probably never read it again.

  3. Birgitta Berglund4 February 2024 at 15:40

    I read this when it came out in Swedish translation - I think my father must have bought it, he always bought each new Christie as it came out in Swedish - so I must have been 19 or 20 and remember thinking to myself: "But this is rubbish. She must be senile. It is cruel to allow it to be published. Am I the only one seeing this?"

  4. Yes, what were they thinking, her editor, her family, everyone, letting this be published? Perhaps no-one had the courage to tell her. It is sad. Chrissie

    1. It was never going to be her best, but a bit of help could have made it passable. Hard to understand.

  5. When I worked at Bantam, the family of Louis L'Amour kept *finding* manuscripts in the attic years after his death. No one asked awkward questions as they figured some family member had been editing him for years! They also sent each key staffer a packet of fudge for Christmas which was much appreciated.

    I don't dislike Tommy and Tuppence as much as you do but this does sound dreadful. I'm glad I don't remember it!

    1. Oh what a great story! Yeah, my ethics would disappear with a nice gift of fudge. And, honestly, I wish someone had quietly helped Agatha out.
      Remember those Virginia Andrews books? her family just unashamedly kept churning them out after she died...

  6. I always thought there was a story here somewhere that could have been made into a decent TV episode. But the book itself is very sad.

    1. That's a very good point - you could collect those interesting plot elements from among the dross...


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