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Towards Zero by Agatha Christie

Towards Zero (1944)

by Agatha Christie

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Superintendent Battle (5)

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Toward Zero – Agatha Christie
Audio performance by Hugh Fraser
4 stars

Elaborately plotted and full of red herrings, this is Agatha Christie at her best. Each character is given nearly a chapter of back story before it becomes clear exactly what the story will be about. Especially obscure is a little scene between Inspector Battle, his daughter and her headmistress at the very beginning of the book. How on earth is that going to tie in to a murder investigation? However, it does play its part when, without any help from Hercule Poirot, Inspector Battle solves the case.
I truly felt like Dame Agatha had me like a fish on a hook. A few little clues; the line plays out. Yes, I think I’ve solved it; then the line jerks and I’m caught again! I’ve just one complaint. Once again there is a pitiful romantic side story. She really could not write a believable romance.
( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |

I like Superintendent Battle, he's very refreshing and not "contrived" as are other of Christie's protagonists, but that is not to say that the ending of this was not contrived nor believable....

This story weaves in & out of several people's lives.... but how they all come together doesn't mesh:

The story begins w/ a group of barristers discussing cases, and the eldest of them, Mr. Trewes, speaking w/ wisdom that all listen & pay attention to......

A year earlier, Angus MacWhirter, attempted to commit suicide off of the cliff where Lady Tressilian lives... He had told the truth when asked to testify against his former boss in a car accident case.... Thus his former boss had Angus fired and ruined his reputation.

The story then moves on to an end of summer visit at the home of Lady Camilla Tressilian. Much to Lady Tressilian's dismay; Nevill Strange (Camilla's deceased husband's heir) has obstinately invited himself & his current wife Kay to stay, knowing that Nevill's first wife Audrey and her friend Thomas will be staying as is their custom.

Kay's childhood friend, Ted is staying at a nearby hotel, but spends most of his time with Kay. Also staying at the hotel is the barrister Mr. Trewes (who tells a story at dinner about a seriously disturbed child who murdered a playmate.... This child Mr. Trewes announces, he will never forget) and Angus MacWhirter (who has gone back to visit the scene of his attempted suicide).....

The next morning Mr. Trewes is found dead of heart failure at his hotel. A few days later Lady Tressilian is found by a housemaid with her head bashed in, her personal maid is found in her bed comatose.... All the evidence points to Nevill who had a loud fight with Lady Tressilian the night before, regarding his desire to divorce Kay and remarry Audrey.... but of course when closely examined the evidence shows that Nevill has been framed......

Then somehow, Angus MacWhirter gets involved when he saves Audrey from throwing herself off the cliff, and he saves the day......

WTH? The ending was pretty weak and very convoluted..... which lost the story 1 star. ( )
  Auntie-Nanuuq | Jan 18, 2016 |
Barnard describes this Christie as "superb" but while it is compulsively absorbing, it's not tightly plotted enough to compare with its author's best work. The idea to delay the murder until very late in the narrative, after characters and their relationships are well-established, works very well--though this has now become so commonplace in the genre that Christie's congratulating herself (through mouthpiece characters like Mr. Treves) on its ingenious novelty is rather quaint.

But a Christie novel ultimately stands or falls on the strength of its solution, and the murderer's plot turns out to be a highly improbable and convoluted gambit roulette (the superfluous elevator murder being just one thing that could easily not have gone to plan). Just how far Christie, straining to outdo herself, has gone down the genre rabbit hole is indicated by the fact that Supt. Battle, wooden-faced policeman, begins his summing up by talking about the conventions of detective novels.

Even worse, the solution is not "sporting" as it is based largely on crucial information (some stained clothes, a rope) known only to a witness who (in an absurd climax) materializes to save the day and marry the virtuous heroine. ( )
  middlemarchhare | Nov 25, 2015 |
My favorite Agatha Christie sleuth is Miss Marple. I'm really not familiar with Superintendent Battle, but I checked out Towards Zero anyway.
In this case 'zero' is the moment of the murder. True to the discussion at the beginning of the book, we don't get the murders right away. We're given some background.

Our setting is a fancy house, Gull's Point. A wealthy invalid widow, Lady Tressilian lives there. Her companion is the nice and competent Mary Aldin. The two women are having to cope with a very uncomfortable set of guests: Nevile Strange, a tennis star who was once the ward of Lady Tressilian's beloved husband, his current wife, the beautiful Kay, and his ex-wife, Audrey. Kay is not a proper lady. Audrey is the classy type who makes Kay look cheap by comparison. The idea is to be modern and have both women become friends. Ha!

Kay is absolutely convinced that the idea was Audrey's, not Nevile's, and Audrey is trying to get him back. If that's the case, it seems to be working. Is Kay going to have to console herself with her old friend, the handsome Ted Latimer, who happens to be in town?

Two other visitors are Thomas Royde, Audrey's cousin, who has loved her for years, and an elderly lawyer of the solicitor variety, Mr. Treves.
Mr. Treves tells an intriguing story before returning to his hotel. (Frankly, I think he should have spent the night at Gull's Point.)

Will Tom get his chance with the lovely Audrey? Personally, I was rooting for him to turn to Mary.

The murder is brutal. There are plenty of clues, some pointing to one guest, some to another. What a pity for the killer that a local copper, Inspector James Leach, is Superintendent Battle's nephew, and has his uncle visiting.

Ms. Christie got in some digs at unqualified persons who think they understand and can apply psychology in a scene involving the headmistress of the school attended by Battle's youngest daughter. She did even better with why suicide isn't the answer in the person of Angus MacWhirter.

Angus was angry when his attempt to kill himself didn't work out. He'd lost his job and his wife had left him. He thought he had no reason to live. The doctor who cares for him after the rescue gives him some words of wisdom, but Angus isn't listening.

Angus has a job offer that will take him out of England. He decides to revisit the place where he tried to end himself. Of course it turns out to be where the killer is busy killing. I'm sure the killer wishes Angus' suicide attempt had succeeded.

By the way, one of the characters complained about it being a hot September -- it was 70 degrees [F] in the shade! Even granted England's greater humidity, this southern Arizonan would consider that a bit chilly.

I hadn't suspected the motive for the main murder, but it was chilling. Mr. Fraser's narration was fine. I recommend this book to lovers of classic mysteries and tricky plots. ( )
  JalenV | Oct 19, 2015 |
  Brenada | Sep 7, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Christie, Agathaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fraser, HughNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laine, Anna-LiisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tuggle, MicheleCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Volpatti, LiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The group round the fireplace was nearly all composed of lawyers or those who had an interest in the law.
The man in the hospital bed shifted his body slightly and stifled a groan.
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aka Come and Be Hanged
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312981309, Mass Market Paperback)

"I like a good detective story, but they begin in the wrong place! They begin with the murder. But the murder is the end. The story begins long before that." So remarks esteemed criminologist Mr. Treves. Truer words have never been spoken, for a psychopathic killer has insinuated himself , with cunning manipulation, into a quiet village on the river Tern. But who is his intended victim? What are his unfathomable motives? And how and when will he reach the point of murder...the zero point? In the ingenious and noteworthy departure for Agatha Christie, it's the intricate workings of a pathological mind that becomes the stuff of startling mystery as group of friends at a seaside resort remain blithely unaware that their weekend will be the death of them all...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:29 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

An elderly widow is murdered at a clifftop seaside house...What is the connection between a failed suicide attempt, a wrongful accusation of theft against a schoolgirl, and the romantic life of a famous tennis player?To the casual observer, apparently nothing. But when a houseparty gathers at Gull's Point, the seaside home of an elderly widow, earlier events come to a dramatic head.It's all part of a carefully paid plan - for murder.… (more)

» see all 11 descriptions

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