Thursday, 31 July 2008
The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie
I chose this, another read for the Anything Agatha Challenge, for its Dartmoor setting – Okehampton (here Exhampton) used to be our local town and, while I can't discover that Sittaford is anything other than an imaginary hamlet, I can picture the six cottages built by Captain Trevelyan, and his "big house" with its own lighting plant and electric pump (we had a pump in the kitchen of the house where we lived in the edge of the moor, with a huge plumbline which descended from the ceiling as the tank below it filled). And, as in this atmospheric tale, everyone living on the moor knew when someone had escaped from the prison at Princeton, a place whose stark grey outline reinforced every notion that its inhabitants were desperate men.
When the tenants of Sittaford House hold a séance for fun, they are startled to be told that their absent landlord, Captain Trevelyan is dead, and his old friend Major Burnaby battles through the snow to ensure that all is well. Struggling into Exhampton two and a half hours later to a silent house, he rouses the local constable and together they find the Captain dead. The window has been forced and the room is in disorder – a failed burglary seems to be indicated, but Trevelyan was a wealthy man and the Exeter police are quick to arrest his nephew, with whom he has had an argument. However, his is not the only motive, and there is the question of what the two ladies at Sittaford House are doing there, and why is the younger so nervous?
Although none of Christie's famous detectives appears, we are offered an engaging pair of young amateur sleuths in Emily Trefusis, fiancée of the main suspect, and Charles Enderby of the Daily Wire, while Inspector Narracott from Exeter is a wise old bird. As is often the case with Christie, I felt that she was slightly disingenuous in laying out information for the reader, but it's a good romp, and I'm not a competitive reader. My husband likes to store up the clues like a crossword puzzle and will even, while watching a detective story on television, press the pause button while he works out a solution. He's often wrong while I, letting it all just wash over me, can often pinpoint the murderer but not necessarily the mechanism. Which are you, Holmes or Watson?