The twenty-fourth Poirot mystery—I’ve been randomly reading books from my Agatha Christie shelf lately. Evil Under the Sun (1940) is set on a beach resort, the Jolly Roger Hotel, run by one Mrs Castle, and has as many Goodreads reviewers have commented, appeared in a short story form prior to this—that was probably a prototype, and on similar lines though not identical. Anyway, Poirot is among the guests staying at the Jolly Roger as is a young couple the Redferns—Patrick and Christine, an older American couple, the Gardners, Miss Emily Brewster, Rosamund Darnley, owner of a successful dressmaking business in London, Major Barry, Rev Stephen Lane, a preacher, and Horace Blatt, a rich man who spends his time sailing his yacht. As the story opens, we learn that the guests have recently been joined by the Marshall family, the serious Kenneth Marshall, Linda, his daughter from his first marriage, and his current wife, an actress, Arlena (Stuart) Marshall, beautiful and attractive but also a femme fatale—young Partrick Redfern is her newest conquest, much to the dismay of his wife. One morning Arlena sets off sunbathing on her own, and when Patrick Redfern, accompanied by Miss Brewster, set off to find her, he finds that she is dead—strangled! Arlena has plenty of enemies, but it would seem all of them were (or were expected to be women). Christine Redfern obviously has a grouse against her; her stepdaughter Linda disliked her; as did Rosamund Darnley who’s known Kenneth Marshall from childhood and clearly cares about him. But the evidence, the strength the crime would have required seems to point to a man. The police arrive to investigate and Inspector Colgate is pleased to have Poirot at hand to help.
This was once again a re-read for me so I remembered roughly the basic story and plot, but all the same all the little details, clues, and some parts of the side plots I didn’t remember so I enjoyed reading the book. The puzzle was, as most of hers are, complicated, and one I certainly didn’t see coming the first time around (I found and read the prototype short story only much later), and if you haven’t read either, I’m sure you will enjoy the denouement as well. She does give us clues, not ones that might directly point you to the answer, but perhaps ones you can piece together to reach it—as I wrote in my review of Dead Man’s Folly recently (here), pretty much every little thing, a happening, an object, a conversation has a purpose, and if one manages to pick up on that one could possible piece it together. But on the other hand, if you simply want a relaxing read, and not to tax your mind too much, you can simply read on and enjoy the surprise as well.
Usually one tends to think of Poirot and Miss Marple as very different from each other—Poirot has been in the police before, and uses his ‘little grey cells’ to solve his cases while Miss Marple relies on her human connections—people themselves and her knowledge of human nature, keenly observed in her little village of St Mary Mead to solve her mysteries, but reading Evil Under the Sun, I found one little point of similarity which was their age. Miss Marple is often thought of a fluffy, lacey, frail, and an old lady who one wouldn’t usually take too seriously (other than those who know her, that is), and this was the case with Poirot too in this one—No I don’t mean people think of him as an old lady—but that because of his age, some like Rosamund Darnley are apt to think of him as old and ‘practically gaga’ until he solves the mystery, perhaps stumping them. Poirot of course is also looked at differently by different characters we encounter here, such as Mrs Gardner who is always trying to understand the methods he uses to reach his answers, but the point was that both of them face a certain prejudice because of their age, but at the same time, this serves to their advantage as well since people would tend not to take them seriously.
The characters once again have plenty of ‘meat’ to them—each one with a well-developed personality, and more than one with a secret. And it is only when most of these secrets are revealed or reached, rather, and these additional threads can be separated, that we reach the real answer.
Great fun yet again, as her cosies are!
*The film version with Peter Ustinov had plenty of changes (not the basic plot, though) but changed Emily Brewster to a man Rex Brewster (I didn’t understand why), and Rosamund Darnley was done away with changing Kenneth Marshall’s love interest to Mrs Castle (again, made little sense). There were also other changes giving others’ motive (perhaps to draw in viewers further), but it was enjoyable all the same.
Have you read this one? How did you find it? Have you watched any adaptations of this? Which one/s and how did you like it/them? Looking forward to your thoughts!
Cover image as always is from Goodreads!