Title: Appointment with Death (Hercule Poirot #19)
Author: Agatha Christie
First published: 2nd May 1938
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers, Golden Age Mystery
You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed.’
The question floated out into the still night air, seemed to hang there a moment and then drift away down into the darkness towards the Dead Sea.
Appointment with Death is one of my favourite Christie novels. Christie has done an excellent job in portraying the mysteries of the human mind. We have an overly controlling mother, her stepchildren plotting to kill her, two doctors of the human mind on the trip, and our dear old Hercule Poirot.
Oh yes, how can I not mention the ‘favourite’ poison – Digitoxin!
The story starts with Carol and Raymond Boynton (siblings) discussing to kill their stepmother. Hercule Poirot happens to overhear the conversation – he has a thing for keeping the windows closed before sleeping! The night air is bad for ya! Sarah King recently broke her engagement and is on a trip to Jerusalem. She meets Dr Theodore Gerard and the duo discuss the ‘queer’ American family (the Boyntons) that is currently residing in their hotel.
The Boynton family consists of the mother, her stepchildren Lennox, Raymond and Carol, her daughter Jinny, and Lennox’s wife Nadine. Sarah had spoken to Raymond on the train and found him to be a bit weird yet sweet. The Boynton children are in a state of nervousness. There is a talk about how they grown-up children must stand up to their controlling mother.
The Boynton mother is described by Dr Gerard as: “what a horror of a woman!’ Old, swollen, bloated, sitting there immovable in the midst of them – a distorted old Buddha – a gross spider in the centre of a web!
This gross spider of a woman gets killed when the family is on a trip to Petra. Dr Gerard and Sarah are also at Petra, and so are other two ladies Miss Pierce and Lady Westholme. The always controlling woman asks her children to go on a stroll – now this hasn’t happened before. The children agree and set off with Sarah and Dr Gerard. They arrive hours later; dinner’s ready and a servant is sent to fetch Mrs Boynton. The servant finds her in a pale state and calls for help. Sarah arrives on the scene (Dr Gerard is down with a bout of malaria by then) and declares Mrs Boynton dead.
Colonel Carbury is assigned to the case (although foul play is initially not suspected) and he asks Poirot to help him. Poirot has 24 hours to collect facts, talk to suspects and catch the murderer. He sets off to meet the suspects – one cannot hide secrets from Poirot. No, mon ami, impossible!
“There are such strange things buried down in the unconscious – A lust for power – a lust for cruelty – savage desire to tear and rend – all the inheritance of our past racial memories… They are all there, Miss King, all the cruelty and savagery and lust… we shut the door on them and deny them conscious life, but sometimes – they are too strong.”
The psychological aspect of a human mind plays a major role in this story. Mrs Boynton is cruel, vicious and a sadist. She finds pleasure in seeing others suffer. Her children are her puppets – bowing and dancing to the tunes of their master. Lennox, the elder stepson has given up on freedom while Raymond and Carol haven’t. The youngest daughter, Jinny, escapes into a world of fantasy often.
Poirot overhears Raymond and Carol as the story starts but doesn’t make an appearance until the second half of the story. The suspects know of Poirot’s previous cases. There is a mention of him solving the ‘affair’ on Orient Express and ABC murders. It goes without saying that Poirot works in secret. He collects facts, lets it simmer and uses his grey cells to pick out the important bits of clues.
This was a re-read for me so I knew so the murderer was. I enjoyed the whole process of sleuthing and the red herrings dropped all along (to take the reader on a wrong path). If you are reading this for the first time, you will have your “Oh, the clues were right there all along” moment. Also, I found a slight similarity with one of Christie’s other novels The Caribbean Mystery – got to do with the victim’s remarks on a ‘situation’. If you haven’t read Appointment with Death yet, I recommend you to read it.
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