Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dead Man's Folly

Miss Lemon can't think of a more suitable summer diversion than Dead Man's Folly (1956), by Agatha Christie. The story opens amid preparations for a fête to be given by the new owners of Nasse House, an estate that's stood largely untouched since Tudor times. But the new-moneyed owner, Sir George Stubbs, has other ideas about the house and grounds, particularly those that will please his vacant, young wife, Hattie -- including erecting a folly where it clearly does not belong.

Hattie Stubbs, for her part, wants little to do with the planning of the fête, which is to have all the traditional trappings, including a coconut shy, a skittles alley, a fortune teller, and the pièce de résistance, Mrs. Ariadne Oliver's own custom-designed murder hunt.

But events take a puzzling turn when the pretend murder victim is found dead in fact -- and Hattie Stubbs goes missing from the fête she never wanted to attend in the first place. Who would want to murder a gawky 15-year-old Girl Guide? And where could Hattie have gone in her perilously high heels and impractical silk frock?
"I feel awful," said Mrs. Oliver, sinking down in the chair in front of him like a purple blancmange. "AWFUL," she added in what were clearly capital letters.
    The Inspector made a few ambiguous noises, and Mrs. Oliver Swept on.
    "Because, you see, it's my murder. I did it!"
It is an especial delight to see Mrs. Oliver in all her scattered splendour, full of outlandish hypotheses and woman's intuition as she tries to work through her own convoluted plot to help solve this clever meta-murder mystery. Mrs. Oliver, acting on her uncanny instinct, has already called in M. Poirot, ostensibly to give away the murder-hunt prizes but in fact to keep an eye out for anything -- or anyone -- suspicious.

Indeed, it is the quirky cast of characters -- which ranges from a passel of foreign tourists staying at a nearby hostel and a disgruntled architect to a shady cousin who turns up from Hattie's past -- and not just the bucolic summer setting that make Dead Man's Folly such a delight.

You'll forgive her for mentioning it, but even Miss Lemon can boast of a walk-on rôle in this real-life game of Cluedo. 

The fictional Nasse House is supposed to be situated near Torquay, the birthplace of Dame Agatha, and is in fact modeled on her own beloved Greenway in South Devon. She got the idea for the plot while sitting outdoors, watching  her grandson, Mathew, play; and the scene of the inspiration is vividly described in the preface of  Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks -- but don't look unless you are prepared to have the plot revealed!


  1. Sounds like a party to attend!

  2. Yes! After we have our clear-out, I say we plan a murder-hunt fete!

  3. Now this is an Aggie that I have never read - and it sounds excellent. I am going to have to look out for it. Thanks you for a super review.


  4. You're so welcome, Hannah. As Miss Lemon says, it's a perfect summer read!

  5. A fun book, I agree with Miss Lemon!