Agatha Christie does thing sometimes where she is right on the cusp of something truly engaging and even possibly brilliant. But then she pulls back and breaks toward convention. It’s weird. It happened in a later novel Endless Night, where there’s a much richer and interesting novel that the shorter novel acts as an almost blueprint for, a novel not actually written.
This books feels like that for me too. If you are going to start the book off with a quote detailing the ways in which murders traditionally look to outsiders, especially readers of mystery writers, then it begins to deconstruct the genre in some interesting ways to basically let us know the murder will come a long way into the book. But the execution falls thin in comparison. The book itself is still just a pretty good mystery with a more supporting story happening in the background. It’s not a disruption so much as a different way of doing things. And this ends up being kind of disappointing. I like Battle, and think that his adherence to good detection rules as opposed to fits of brilliance works really well against a mystery that doesn’t focus on the investigation but on the characters.
But also, Christie got cute with this one and I am left confused a little. Here’s my confusion: somewhere in the middle of everything Battle decides to try to think like Hercule Poirot to help solve the case. This is not Hercule Poirot the great literary detective, but Hercule Poirot, the famous detective. Fair enough. But given that the last book I read — The Moving Finger, a Miss Marple book — takes place in a universe where Agatha Christie is a mystery novelist, what world does this one inhabit??