Monday, May 16, 2016

The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie (1931)

The Sittaford Mystery was published in the United States as The Murder At Hazelmoor; but the reason eludes the internet (and therefore, right at this very moment, me).  "Sittaford" is the community at which the murder (and the events leading up to it) took place while "Hazelmoor" was the name of the house where Captain Trevelyan was murdered.

Dame Agatha can be forgiven for the occasional dull murder mystery; she wrote so much and so often, and usually so well, that every so often a bad apple will turn up. These bad apples, unlike the proverb, don't ruin the barrel.  Christie's apple barrel is full of delicious mysteries, and even the so called bad apples aren't all that bad.

Unfortunately, Sittaford/Hazelmoor is a bad apple in the bunch (but not THAT bad; it's still enjoyable).   I think the main fault is the characters.  Usually Christie characters are delightfully well drawn and thought out, but that wasn't the case here.  There were too many of them for starters, which left little room for character development.  Well, let's be completely honest, Christie characters don't really develop in the literary sense; she paints with broad strokes and they are sometimes stereotypical.  But she usually is able to add some color to each character that brings them to life; the characters in Sittaford/Hazelmoor just never seemed anything other than stock characters in a run-of-the-mill murder mystery.

Plot-wise, I did not guess whodunnit, although the motive seemed really, really weak; that weak motive, I think, is tied to weak character development.

Agatha Christie is witty though, and her characters mouth things that will often make murder mystery lovers laugh.    When amateur detective Emily Trefusis, who is trying to clear the good name of her fiance who has been accused of murder, asks Dr. Warren about the time of the murder, the Dr. answers:  "You'll understand that contrary to the popular belief in novels it is extremely difficult to fix the time of death accurately." Christie is not only making fun of other murder mysteries, she's making fun of herself, because her books have scores of doctors who do just that.



The Sittaford MysteryThe Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Agatha Christie can be forgiven for the occasional dull murder mystery; she wrote so many mysteries, so often, and so well, that there are bound to be good ones and mediocre ones and amazingly awesome ones. Sittaford, also known as The Murder at Hazelmoor (I couldn't discover why the title was changed for American audiences, although to be honest, I didn't look very far), is a mediocre murder mystery at best. Too many characters who weren't developed very well, a meandering plot, and a whodunnit that was surprising (I have to admit, I had no idea) but with an anti-climatic motive. Even with a mediocre offering, Christie is still witty: When amateur detective Emily Trefusis, who is trying to clear the good name of her fiance who has been accused of murder, asks Dr. Warren about the time of the murder, the Dr. answers: "You'll understand that contrary to the popular belief in novels it is extremely difficult to fix the time of death accurately." That made me snort: I think Christie herself has used a doctor's uncanny ability to establish time of death in some of her own mysteries, and certainly she was thumbing her nose at other mystery writers. Well played, Dame, in an other wise ho-hum book.


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