January is chugging along so I thought I best get on with my re-reads for the month, starting with this one. I felt this would be a good one to return to, as whilst I remembered how the book started and who indeed Evans was, I had forgotten a lot of the plot, which if you’ve not come across before, goes a little like this…
The novel opens in Marchbolt, Wales, with Bobby Jones a vicar’s son, playing golf (badly), when he and his friend come across a man who seems to have fallen over the nearby cliff. Just a mere accident? Bobby is left wondering when he alone hears the man’s final famous words… Why didn’t they ask Evans? Nothing more occurs though, until Bobby meets an old friend, a little socially out of his league, Frankie a.k.a. Lady Frances Derwent. From this point various events occur; from a photo switch to attempted murder, which make Bobby and Frankie think more went on that day at the cliff than an accident. Limited gleaned information sets their sights on Merroway Court in Hampshire and a little planned accident, gets them an entry point into the house. But will they be able to tell friend from foe? And will they ever figure out who Evans is?
All in all I found this to be a fun and entertaining read. A lot of the plot events felt fresh as I had forgotten them, this amnesia being aided by some memories of the ITV adaptation, which is, shall we say, a creative interpretation of the original story, (this last bit being said in my best Humphrey Appleby voice).
One thing which struck me for the first time, which I hadn’t considered when I first read the book, was how Christie’s own personal history, of her marriage to Archie, must have been wedded to the sport of golf. I wondered when writing this opening scene of Bobby failing abysmally at golf, whether Christie thought of her first husband. The scene after all is a moment of bathos, where Bobby Jones’ prowess surprisingly rises and then sharply falls, as he once more hits a rubbish shot.
The tone of the novel as a whole shifts quite a bit ranging from comic set pieces between Bobby and his exasperating father, to country house mystery mode, to then finish on a thriller finale of suspense, drama and light hearted romance. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? is not a clear cut mystery, in the sense that there is not just one body to uncover a murderer for, as there is a whole wider plot afoot, with an extensive backstory to figure out. You could argue that the plot is over full when it comes to events and incidences, including drugs, kidnapping, attempted and achieved murder, yet I think the way it is all presented to the reader, means it is somehow all managed, without the narrative unravelling. Almost goes without saying that it is a story to not take too seriously.
That said, I think this is quite a clever book in a number of ways, as Christie uses her clues and techniques of misdirection very effectively in this book, making you forget important things you are drawn to earlier in the tale. The dying words clue is a good example of this. Equally I think a small part of the misdirection is achieved through the text faintly echoing a key part of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, an echoing which sets up reader expectations in a certain way.
Turning our attention to the characters, the book’s success does significantly lie on the protagonists, Frankie and Bobby, who make for an entertaining duo, who are not so very bright young things, (something which has endeared them to Christie fans, who are not so keen on Tommy and Tuppence Beresford). Frankie, who interestingly shares her facial description with Georgia, wife of Nicholas Blake’s sleuth, Nigel Strangeways, is an ideal character to take the lead in this book, especially with some of its more outlandish plot items. She is the driver of the investigation, as I can’t really see Bobby having got the case as far a Marroway Court without her. However, he does have some sharper moments when it comes to the crunch.
Haven’t quite decided on my next re-read for the month, but for now I am off to sample the delights of the new reprint by Richard Hull…
Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Country House
Calendar of Crime: September (6) Original Publication Month