Crooked House by Agatha Christie was first published in 1949. Reading this book is like travelling along a rapid current, swift and sure in itself but unpredictable and rocky for the rider. You can see that the writer enjoyed creating this set of characters, simple and yet crooked in some way, like most of us. And yes, her customary nursery rhyme that serves as building block is also here:
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There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
It is the autumn of 1947, the war is over and Charles Hayward is back home with high hopes of re-uniting with his fiancée Sophia. The meeting is not as exuberant as he expected. There is no rival in the case though – the reason for Sophia’s lack of enthusiasm is the mysterious death of her grandfather Aristides soon before Charles’s arrival.
Charles visits “Three Gables” – a big but ill-proportioned house where Sophia’s entire family lives. These are the Leonides, until recently headed by Aristides – an unscrupulous man who had a knack for succeeding in everything he attempted and who was recently poisoned with his own eye medicine. He was like a vigorous tree who provided shelter to his entire family. But because of that tree, rest of the plants grew up twisted and twined, fighting for their share of sunlight and warmth, and unhealthily dependent on the patriarch.
Three generations of the Leonides family have lived together so far, but death is a cruel revealer. The killer is a family member and suddenly everything is turned inside out.
- Brenda (Aristide’s second wife)
- Edith (Aristide’s first wife’s sister who raised the children and looked after the household after his first wife’s death)
- Roger (Aristide’s eldest son – a failure in the eyes of the world, in desperate need of escape from a looming bankruptcy)
- Clemency (Roger’s wife – scientiest, austere, unemotional but protective for her husband)
- Philip (Aristide’s eldest son – always in the shadow, driven to books and art due to his father’s preference for Roger)
- Magda (Philip’s wife – theatrical, craving for limelight)
- Sophia (Philip’s eldest daughter – strong, capable and heir to the entire fortune as per a secret will drafted by Aristide that nobody knew about)
- Eustace (Philip’s sixteen year old son, crippled by polio)
- Josephine (Philip’s twelve year daughter, clever, sly and an amature detective)
- Laurence Brown ( the children’s tutor and lover of Brenda)
All the family members had motive, opportunity and no alibi. Everone wishes that it would be Lurence or Brenda since that will leave the immediate family out of the circle of doubt. But, that is not to be. Lovers they might be who exchanged foolish letters, but is one of them a killer? They are arrested nevertheless, but soon the danger escalates as the killer strikes repeatedly on Josephine.
What does the child know that makes her so dangerous? Did she really hit on the truth while playing detective? What’s written in the secret diary of hers?
However, Aristide was justified in one thing even after his death – in her choice of Sophia. She indeed proved that she had the strength to get the family through this crisis. But, was she able to fight the hatred of her own family because Aristide chose her over her father and uncle? Was the Leonides family destined always to be dependent on one strong member of the clan? Will they never come out of shade and live on their own? And did Sophia and Charles really have a future together?
Easy to read but thoroughly enjoyable………..
On a different note, Sony holds the rights to convert this story into a motion picture…so, don’t be too surprised if you see it hit the theaters or stumble upon this in the DVD section one of these days….
Dust jacket cover page image curtsey: Wikipedia
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