Title: The Pale Horse (Ariadne Oliver #5)
Author: Agatha Christie
First Published on 1 January 1961
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers
I read Pale Horse for Read Christie 2023 challenge. February’s prompt is murder method.
The book chosen for this prompt was Partners in Crime. Alternates were Ordeal by Innocence, The Sittaford Mystery, Hickory Dickory Dock, Mrs McGinty’s Dead, Murder in Mesopotamia and The Pale Horse.
“It came to me suddenly that evil was, perhaps, necessarily always more impressive than good. It had to make a show! It had to startle and challenge!”
Mark Easterbrook is at a cafe in Chelsea when he witnesses a fight between two young women. The cafe owner breaks up the fight and the two women, along with their male counterparts, leave the cafe. When Mark asks about them, the cafe owner says they had a fight over a boyfriend. One of the women involved is called Thomasina Tuckerton. Almost a week later, Mark reads about Thomasina Tuckerton – in the obit column.
Meanwhile, a dying woman wants to confess her sins and Father Gormon is called. She tells him that wickedness must be stopped and murmurs a couple of names. Before the doctor and ambulance arrives, she’s dead. Father Gormon visits a nearby cafe for a cup of coffee before going home. He writes down the names Mrs. Davis (the dying woman) had murmured. When Father Gormon walks out of the cafe, a man follows him and coshes him.
Dr. Corrigan, a corner, is having a chat with Divisional Detective Inspector Lejeune about Father Gormon’s murder. He says the holy man’s pockets were turned out and lining of his cassock ripped. It was as if the killer was looking for something. Father Gormon had stuffed the list of names in his shoe before walking out of the cafe – the killer didn’t know that. Corrigan finds the list and gives it to Inspector Lejeune.
Mr. Osborne, the proprietor of a chemist shop is the only witness in Father Gormon’s murder. He tells Inspector Lejeune that he saw a man following Father Gormon and can recognize the man if he saw him again.
“What was all this business? Let me at least get it clear to myself. It had started, had it not, with that casual but startling remark by Poppy, that if you wanted to ‘get rid of someone’ the Pale Horse was the place to go.”
Mark Easterbrook visits a village fete in Much Deeping along with his friend Mrs. Oliver. Mark had heard of the mysterious Pale Horse, a former pub, where one can get rid of their (people) problems for good. Along with Mrs. Oliver, Venables and Ginger, Mark visits The Pale Horse and meets its current occupants – a weird trio who follow witchcraft, occult and dark magic.
Mark and Dr. Corrigan were friends from Oxford days. Corrigan tells Mark about the murder and finding the list. Mark recognizes one of the names – it’s that of his late godmother. Later, at the fete, Mrs Oliver says she’s attending the funeral of an old friend – another name from the list. This piques Mark’s curiosity. Are these deaths somehow connected to the goings on at The Pale Horse?
First things first, the plot is twisted and eerie. The reader is made to believe the murders are the result of a black magic. We are given proofs too, you know. First, a couple of sudden deaths. Then Mark himself witnessing something sinister at Pale Horse. But how does one charge someone guilty of murder by ‘remote control’ or ‘will-power’ or whatchamacallit?
“In a court of law, for instance – the whole thing would be ridiculed. If that woman stood up and confessed to murder, murder by remote control or ‘will power’ or whatever nonsensical name she likes to use, that confession couldn’t be acted upon! Even if her statement was true (which of course sensible men like you and I don’t believe for one moment!) it couldn’t be admitted legally. Murder by remote control isn’t murder in the eyes of the law. It’s just nonsense. That’s the whole beauty of the thing – as you’ll appreciate if you think for a moment.”
The inclusion of dark magic, seances and animal sacrifice gave the story an eerie touch. I was so invested in the ‘murder by remote control’ trope that I forgot it couldn’t happen in reality. There must have been a ‘human touch’ in these murders. Someone so sinister enough to make sure these deaths seemed like ‘age/illness related’ and not murders.
We also have a red herring – I was so sure Lejeune and Mark are going to make this person confess to their crimes. Boy, was I wrong! So, so wrong!! It was so wickedly done, their identity cleverly hidden in a string of red herrings. I give up. I am not a good detective. Not an decent amateur sleuth either. Christie is truly the Queen of Crime.
Overall, this was an enjoyable and entertaining read. The eeriness is not much so might not be suited as a Halloween read. But if you are looking for something unique and unusual, you might want to give The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie a try. In case you this book eons ago, this post is a reminder to pick your copy from your shelf and read it again.
I read it long time ago but I remember the method of murder. No spoiler.