Death in the Clouds (1935) by Agatha Christie

Another Christie re-read today on the blog. As the title suggests the book opens with a flight between Paris to Croydon. Our favourite Belgian sleuth is on board, which is a good thing, considering that by the time the plane lands, at the end of the first chapter, there is a corpse; a moneylender having been murdered in what seems to be a highly fantastical manner. However, going on the witness statements though, nothing untoward seems to have been noticed. Surely in such a confined space any murderer would be spotted in seconds? Yet seemingly they have not. So begins another transport confined murder mystery for Poirot…

Overall Thoughts

As with many other of her stories, Christie takes a panoramic approach to opening her tale, moving from character to character, sampling the passengers’ thoughts. Yet despite this, in the main, we don’t get too much close access to the characters and in the instances we do, the reader better beware… Young love has an odd role in this story, as initially it seems like this strand will go the way of most Patricia Wentworth novels, but to Christie’s credit she takes another far more unconventional route, which is aided by the non-linear investigation taken by Poirot. Whilst this is not a story where you strongly get behind a given character, Christie does still explore the theme of how a murder effects the innocent involved:

‘Murder doesn’t concern the victim and the guilty only. It affects the innocent too. You and I are innocent, but the shadow of murder has touched us. We don’t know how that shadow is going to affect our lives.’

In fact this theme proves an important clue for uncovering the killer. Of course Christie more fully examines this theme in Ordeal by Innocence (1958), but I find it interesting to see the earlier beginnings of her considering this subject.

When I reviewed Cannan’s Death at the Dog (1940), a few days ago, I found there were some striking similarities between it and another novel published in the same year. A similar thing also happened with today’s read. A year earlier to Christie’s novel, Freeman Wills Crofts published a mystery called The 12:30 From Croydon. This novel too has a murder committed during a flight. Coincidence? Maybe not. One of Christie’s suspects is a mystery writer who during the flights gets ‘a continental Bradshaw from his raincoat pocket […] to work out a complicated alibi for professional purposes.’ Crofts was and is renowned for the complexity of the alibis in his mysteries, alibis which often involved time tables for various modes of transport. Is it just me or does this feel a little like a brief nod to Crofts?

In some ways this is a very clue focused mystery, including a complete list of all the passengers’ possessions. Yet Christie being Christie in this mass of mundane detail plants a very significant clue. Camouflaging is something Christie does very well in this book. Other clues follow, but part of me wonders whether all of these clues are that easy to interpret correctly. This feeling only really came to me at the end of the book, on reading the solution. All the pieces fit together, but I didn’t feel wholly satisfied with it. Maybe it was a bit rushed or fantastical? Had Poirot been too cryptic earlier in the book? Whatever it was I haven’t quite made my mind up. Christie uses a number of previously used tricks in this story, but this time round they didn’t have quite the same impact. Again maybe it’s to do with how she ends the book.

But to end on a more positive note, this is a good book for witnessing Christie’s humour and comic touches. For example you can imagine she felt great glee when devising the inquest’s initial findings. What’s more her humour in this story also merges with her ever growing interest in archaeology, as two of the suspects are archaeologists. It is almost a pity that we never get to know them that well. Christie perhaps includes a more personal note though in having her novel espouse the idea of an archaeological dig being a balm for an emotionally wounded person.

This might not be Christie at her best, but there is a lot to enjoy with this highly unusual case.

Rating: 3.75/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Gold Card): Plane


5 comments

  1. I think you nailed this one, Kate! After the grandeur of Poirot on a train or on a steamer or even on tour in Petra or Mesopotamia, this one felt . . . rushed. That might be what happens when you take a plane instead of a more leisurely mode of transportation! 🙂 I do think the clue with the luggage is brilliant, and the solution is nicely twisted, proving as usual that Christie didn’t have a sentimental bone in her body. The problem is that, although that first chapter exploring the minds of the passengers is clever, most of the suspects never come to life, and that lessens the impact in the middle and especially at the end since, as you say, we never get to know the archaeologists. I liked this one more the first time I read it, but it’s still a lot of fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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