published 1949 chapter 15
Sophia echoed my thoughts as she said: “how desolate it looks…”
As we watched, a figure, and then presently another came through the yew hedge from the rock garden. They both looked grey and unsubstantial in the fading light.
Brenda Leonides was the first. She was wrapped in a grey chinchilla coat and there was something catlike and stealthy in the way she moved. She slipped through the twilight with a kind of eerie grace.
I saw her face as she passed the window. There was a half-smile on it, the curving crooked smile I had noticed upstairs.
observations: Poor old Brenda – everyone looks down on her, because she is common and wears too much make-up and her hair is too elaborate. Christie has a go at making her human and real, but even her champion – narrator Charles – gives up on her in the end. She is repeatedly compared to Edith Thompson,* a real person who was executed in 1923 for the murder of her husband, but who was probably innocent. Brenda in the book is the young wife of aging patriarch Aristide Leonides, and when he is murdered she is the obvious suspect.
This was Christie’s own favourite among her books, and interestingly it doesn’t feature any of her regular detectives. It has also resisted TV adaptation, though apparently is in the works for a film – it would give some great opportunities for actors. Christie did love to place her murders in weird families and among strange married couples, and this is a particularly full example. The diva-ish mother Magda – at one point being stage managed by her daughter during a police interview – is particularly good, and rather underused in the book. She is reminiscent of blog favourite Julia from W Somerset Maugham’s splendid book Theatre, and Georgia from Margery Allingham's Fashion in Shrouds.
Some Christies you could re-read after a while and not at all remember whodunit, and have no clue how it was going to end (looking at you, The Clocks) – but it is fair to say that this one is of a different calibre: it has a memorable and clever solution.
There are an unusual number (for Christie) of references to the outside world – as well as Edith Thompson, above, the book features paintings by John Sargent and Augustus John, the play Arsenic and Old Lace, the radio programme the Brains Trust.
* In Love in a Cold Climate, source of many a blog entry, one of the unnamed rich women is very upset to lose her lucky charm bracelet, because she has just ‘managed to get a bit of hangman’s rope, Mrs Thompson too, did I tell you? Roly will never win the National now, poor sweet.’ There’s nothing really to say about that.
That is a chinchilla coat in the picture above, it is exactly that fur giving the very un-posh-looking stripey effect– and although the photo is from Vogue, via the Dovima is Devine photostream, the model certainly has the look of a Brenda.
A chinchilla coat also features in the wonderful book My Search for Warren G Harding by Robert Plunket and the blog entry showed this picture: