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Crooked House by Agatha Christie
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Crooked House (1948)

by Agatha Christie

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It is easy, these days, to think of the classic country house mystery as passé. Trite. Derivative. But there was a time when this style of story was as fresh and popular as tales of domestic noir are today and the best proponents of the art form could enthrall and surprise even those readers who believed themselves experts in the genre. Agatha Christie penned dozens of variations on this theme but in CROOKED HOUSE, a novel she proclaims a personal favourite in her forward, she has outdone herself.

The setting is, of course, an English country house. When he first encounters Three Gables the book’s narrator, diplomat and son of the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, Charles Hayward describes it as

It was incredible!…it had a strange air of being distorted…a cottage swollen out all proportion. It was like looking at a country cottage through a gigantic magnifying-glass. The slant-wise beams, the half-timbering, the gables, it was a little croooked house that had grown like a mushroom in the night!…It was a Greek restauranteur’s idea of something English.

Charles’ presence in the house is accepted easily as is the way of things in this type of story. I sometimes struggle to imagine any scenario of my own experience in which a virtual stranger would be given the kind of free reign that characters like Charles always receive when arriving on far-flung doorsteps but, as with all storytelling, you have to willingly suspend disbelief on at least some basic points. So, having ‘connections’ with the police and as the friend (and hopeful husband-to-be) of Sophia Leonides, whom he met in Egypt during the war, Charles is able to introduce the cast – or suspect pool if you prefer – to the reader in a surprisingly natural and believable way.

According to Christie she does not know how the Leonides family got into her head but once there “…like Topsy ‘they growed’“. It’s not hard to imagine that these people were with the author for some time before being brought to life on the page because they are more vivid than many of Christie’s characters. Even Aristide Leonides – who, in something of a departure for Christie, dies within the first dozen pages – is a fully-rounded individual. The Greek-immigrant patriarch of a relatively small family and the requisite number of hangers-on is very much a presence throughout the book. Variously loved, liked or respected by those around him, it is universally hoped that if the man has been murdered then ‘the right person’ is the culprit. Here, thankfully, no one seriously suggests the conveniently passing tramp, but most would be content to learn that any murder was committed by the octogenarian’s second, much, much younger, wife. Not that anyone genuinely hates Brenda Leonides but she is the closest thing to an outsider among the potential suspects and so would be the easiest murderer for the rest of the family to accept.

Of course everyone has a motive for wanting the old man dead but these are delicately teased out and some of them at least surprise with their sensitivity. Christie really does seem to have been giving more than her usual thought to the notion of exactly what it might be that would move someone to become a murderer. In some Golden Age puzzlers the reader is left with the sense that it doesn’t take much for the average person to start throwing poison around with abandon, but here Christie really explores the (far more likely) idea that becoming a murderer is not done with ease unless, perhaps, a person is mentally ill.

In the end CROOKED HOUSE is ‘just’ a deliberately puzzling whodunnit with a finite suspect pool and several twists designed to shock the reader. If that style of story is not your thing at all then there is probably nothing about this particular example that will make you change your mind. If, on the other hand, you don’t mind a classic whodunnit as long as it is well done then I highly recommend CROOKED HOUSE. It puts the vast majority of this type of tale, including some of Christie’s own, to shame in the way it is constructed and while it shares may tropes of the genre it does break with a few traditions. Most pleasingly from my perspective there is no awkward and unbelievable denouement (I can never quite buy the way those play out) and I think that even if the identity of the culprit is deduced beforehand, the actual resolution will surprise most readers satisfactorily.
  bsquaredinoz | Jun 16, 2015 |
Having read numerous Agatha Christie books, I can safely say Crooked House is one of my favorite top five among her books. The story is of one big happy family living together in grand mansion. The head of the family is 88-year-old Aristide Leonides, who is poisoned by one of the family member. Aristide’s granddaughter Sofia’s fiancé Charles put his head together with police to find out the identity of killer.

Agatha Christie is just amazing as an author in this book. The family relations are analysed (the one thing I love best about her books), shocking revelations are made. It seems everyone has some secret hiding and all their secrets come out in open. There is greed, there is selfishness, and there is pride and vanity. Money seemed like a motive at times. At other times, freedom of living life without interference of loved ones seemed like a motive enough for murder. Relationships are tested and trust is shattered. Christie kept readers guessing about the identity of the killer until the end. When finally killer is revealed, one is left awed by the marvelousness of Christie’s grasp on the plot. The ending was chilling. However, it seemed very plausible. I simply loved this book. ( )
  Hanneri | Jul 20, 2014 |
I'm tearing through these, one a day but it does keep my mind occupied. I'm sure I'd read this before as well but I seem to say that often.
  amyem58 | Jul 15, 2014 |
Narrated by Charles Hayward whose fiancée, Sophia, won't marry him until the murderer of her grandfather, Aristide, is found. It's the autumn of 1947 and Sophia lives with her family - three generations of Leonides - in the family home 'Three Gables' or the 'crooked house'. Charles' father is Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard, who is investigating along with Chief Inspector Taverner. Also making inquiries is Sophia's twelve-year-old sister Josephine, who is obsessed with detective stories and spies continually on the rest of the household, writing down her observations in a secret notebook. All the family members had motive and opportunity, and none has an alibi.

I didn't see this one coming at all - once again Christie's murderer is unexpected as is the motive. ( )
  boppisces | Mar 21, 2014 |
Nope. Awful. ( )
  bontley | Aug 24, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Agatha Christieprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jaskari, JuhaniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I first came to know Sophia Leonides in Egypt towards the end of the war.
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Book description
A large family living under the eye and protection of wealthy Aristide Leonides, is thrown into turmoil when the patriarch dies under mysterious circumstances.
Suddenly they all find themselves under suspicion.
Even the children.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 031298166X, Mass Market Paperback)

In the sprawling, half-timbered mansion in the affluent suburb of Swinly Dean, Aristide Leonides lies dead from barbiturate poisoning. An accident? Not likely. In fact, suspicion has already fallen on his luscious widow, a cunning beauty fifty years his junior, set to inherit a sizeable fortune, and rumored to be carrying on with a strapping young tutor comfortably ensconced in the family estate. But criminologist Charles Hayward is casting his own doubts on the innocence of the entire Leonides brood. He knows them intimately. And he's certain that in a crooked house such as Three Gables, no one's on the level...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:29 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

In the sprawling, half-timbered mansion in the affluent suburb of Swinly Dean, Aristide Leonides lies dead from barbiturate poisoning. An accident? Not likely. In fact, suspicion has already fallen on his luscious widow, a cunning beauty fifty years his junior, set to inherit a sizeable fortune, and rumored to be carrying on with a strapping young tutor comfortably ensconced in the family estate. But criminologist Charles Hayward is casting his own doubts on the innocence of the entire Leonides brood. He knows them intimately. And he's certain that in a crooked house such as Three Gables, no one's on the level...… (more)

» see all 6 descriptions

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