Dead Man’s Folly (Agatha Christie)

  • First published: US: Dodd Mead, October 1956; UK: Collins, November 1956

Conventional, but entertaining Christie; indeed, it is a tribute to her art that even when the setting (country house fête), characters (nouveau riche squire, brainless wife, devoted secretary, enigmatic old woman and neurotic young man, and sinister foreigner), red herrings, and even the plot itself (related to “The Blood-Stained Pavement” and Evil Under the Sun) are familiar, they’re still fun.  Poirot is in good form, and Mrs. Oliver in splendid.

Note similarities to Hallowe’en Party, Nemesis and Sleeping Murder.

Blurb (UK)

Nasse House—and a Fête in progress, including, not a Treasure Hunt, but a Murder Hunt—devised by that well-known detective novelist, Mrs. Ariadne Oliver; the prizes to be given away by the celebrated M. Hercule Poirot.

That was how it appeared to the public.  But what lay behind it?  What was the summons that brought Hercule Poirot at a moment’s notice from London to Devonshire – to meet there the bluff Sir George Stubbs, his beautiful exotic wife, old Mrs. Folliat whose ancestors had lived at Nasse for generations, and all the other people who were helping to make the Fête a success?  And what part did the little white “Folly”, set high in the woods above the river, have to play?

Once again, and with her habitual ingenuity, Agatha Christie presents a baffling story of murder and suspicion.  Even Poirot is bewildered by a misleading tangle of evidence – even more than by Mrs. Oliver’s confused exposition of her own plots.

An unlikely victim, an incredible disappearance, an impossible murder… so it seems.  But in the end they all make sense to Hercule Poirot.

This book follows Hickory Dickory Dock from the pen of the writer who is universally acknowledged as being the supreme practitioner of the complex and fascinating art of the detective story.

Blurb (US)

Hercule Poirot had been summoned to Nasse House in Devonshire to present the prizes at a Murder  Hunt, one of the diversions at the local fete.  But the playful game of murder quickly turned into repeated tragedy.  Death came first, in the midst of the festivities; then a suspicious disappearance and again murder disguised as an accident.  And all of these under the very nose – or magnifique moustaches – of the great Poirot himself!

Here is another of those exciting adventures in crime which Agatha Christie produces in such superb perfection.  Clues abound for the wary reader – a bit of conversation with a lady novelist, some casual words of a young architect, the mutterings of an ancient ferryman, the arrival of a distant relative and the intrusion of unwelcome visitors from a neighboring youth hostel.  But not even the wariest reader is likely to discover the strange chain of events which Hercule Poirot dramatically reveals in the poignant finale of this engrossing novel.

Contemporary reviews

The Times (15th November 1956): Dead Man’s Folly is not Miss Agatha Christie at her best.  The murder and the solution of it are ingenious, but then, with Miss Christie, they always are, and it is pleasant to watch M. Hercule Poirot at work again.  The character-drawing is flat and facile, however, and the dialogue, always Miss Christie’s weak point, disastrous.

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 18th November 1956): Poirot summoned to Devonshire riverside Georgian house—suspiciously like Agatha Christie’s own—by nice fussy woman who thinks something may be going to happen at the murder game.  Deaths and disappearances.  Stunning but not unguessable solution.  Nowhere near vintage Christie but quite a pleasing table-read.

Manchester Guardian (Francis Iles, 7th December 1956): Dead Man’s Folly is a minor Christie, even though it is Poirot who solves the mystery of this latest country-house murder-hunt; and of course it is just as easy to pull a minor Christie to pieces as anything else, if one feels one must.  But it should be remembered that Mrs. Christie’s seconds would be most other writers’ tops; and as for those who find Poirot, stylised figure though he now is…well, one can only feel that they must be simply determined not to enjoy themselves.

Times Literary Supplement (Anthony Meredith Quinton, 21st December 1956): FLIPPANT MURDER

Miss Agatha Christie’s new Poirot story comes first in this review because of its author’s reputation and not on its own merits, which are disappointingly slight.  They consist almost wholly in the appearance yet once more of certain profoundly familiar persons, scenes and devices.  Poirot is on hand with his superb English, based, one supposes, on the middle line in the French lessons in the Children’s Encyclopædia, but the little grey cells are rather subdued.  There is a country house, a bluff pseudo-baronet, a gnomic old lady who once owned the place, a sinister West Indian yachtsman and so on and so forth.  A child is murdered during a fête and the pseudo-baronet’s ravishing wife disappears.  The solution is of the colossal ingenuity we have been conditioned to expect but a number of the necessary red herrings are either unexplained or a little too grossly ad hoc.  People are never candid about their vices so there is no need to take seriously the protestations of detection addicts about their concern with the sheer logic of their favourite reading.  What should be the real appeal of Dead Man’s Folly, however, is not much better than its logic.  The scene is really excessively commonplace, there are too many characters and they are very, very flat.

NY Times (Anthony Boucher, 4th November 1956, 130w): The infallibly original Agatha Christie has come up, once again, with a new and highly ingenious puzzle-construction.

Spectator (Christopher Pym, 16th November 1956, 80w): How slick and self-assured Mrs. Christie is, and how old-fashioned—even to the country-house setting, the game of ‘Murder’, the oracular yokel, the dubious butler, and the shoals of red herrings.

NY Herald Tribune Bk R (James Sandoe, 18th November 1956, 50w): The new Poirot and welcome enough for all that it exhibits Agatha Christie in relatively lethargic mood, depending upon a very showy set of explanations.

Elizabeth Bowen: A classic Christie and one of the best.