Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why Didn't They Ask Evans by Agatha Christie (1934)

When this was published in the United States, it was sold as The Boomerang Clue.   I can't for the life of me figure out why.  No one is from Australia; the murder weapon is not a boomerang.  The word "boomerang" is never even mentioned.  Whose bright idea was this?  The UK title is so much better.  The download I checked out from the library for my Kindle was called the original British title, and God Save the Queen for it!

This was not a book I had ever read before.

Christie was certainly borrowing characters from the gossip columns, as Frankie is a dead ringer for any number of Bright Young People of the 1930s.  Her droll, upper class insouciance at the beginning of the book, and the her excited hijinks with Bobby the vicar's son all read "BYP" - in fact, her solicitor chides her in a fatherly way later in the novel as exactly that "Oh!  you Bright Young People - You Bright Young People," he murmurs, wagging a forefinger.  "What trouble you land yourselves in."

Indeed they do.  But the kind of trouble that Christie gives Frankie and Bobby isn't champagne fueled midnight parties and madcap practical jokes, but a really unbelievable murder/thriller that Scooby Doo would have been right at home in.  Don't read Why Didn't They Ask Evans for the mystery; although it's got some surprising twists and turns, it's also a Christie crime that relies heavily on the kind of coincidences that make you go "hmmmm..."  I wouldn't call them "lazy" coincidences - but I would say most of what happens in this book is highly implausible.  The coincidences are legion - but there is one, the big finish, that was absolutely delightful, and completely saved the book for me.  No spoilers though.

Note to self:  terraces are always something people in books hurry along.  And I'm not even sure what a terrace is.

This book is a grand tour of early 20th century automobiles, most of which I 've never heard of.  The various Essexes and Bentleys and other cars are all the sort of convertible roadster types that rich people drive in BBC costume dramas.

There are some very Mitford-y lines here.  Agatha Christie can't ever be as witty (and bitchy) and Nancy Mitford, but when she puts lines like this in her heroine's mouth - regarding gang murders - "That's a low taste... A single handed murder is much higher-class, Bobby."  That made me chortle with glee.  There are some things I didn't like about this book, but these kinds of lines made the enjoyment overshadow the bad things.

Frankie calls someone a bitch - and all I can say is "Wow!"

Why Didn't They Ask Evans?Why Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scooby Doo would be right at home in this novel, particularly towards the end - but so would Nancy Mitford (and several other Mitford sisters, but probably not Unity or Jessica). Christie paints in broad strokes the Bright Young People of the 1930s gossip columns, with droll, insouciant Frankie standing in for the champagne-addled aristrocratic youth of the time period. This certainly isn't Christie's best, but it's a screwball delight to read. You probably will have it all figured out by about half way through, but her crazy characters of Bobby and Frankie and their amateur sleuthing make you not even care. It's a shame Christie never wrote about them again. Favorite, favorite line: vicar's son Bobby is talking about how the murder might have been committed by a gang, and Frankie (drolly, Mitfordly) drawls "That's a low taste... A single handed murder is much higher-class, Bobby." There are several gems like this in the book, and any problems I encountered with plot, etc. are more than made up for by writing like this.

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