The Clocks (Agatha Christie)

  • First published: UK, Collins, November 1963; US, Dodd Mead, 1964

John Dickson Carr once commented that if a detective story concerned a dead body clutching a teaspoon, wearing a domino mask, with all the clocks turned to face the wall, but the detective solved the crime by the discovery of the murderer’s fingerprints on the body, the reader would lynch the publisher, shoot the bookseller, and strangle the author.

Although Carr never wrote a book which instilled that desire in the reader, Christie did; and this is it.

Into the middle of respectable suburbia is thrust a dead body: a man, stabbed to death, in a room filled with exotic clocks in a house belonging to a blind woman. However, the solution to this agreeable fantasy is a great disappointment: a red herring with no relation to the plot other than to make things difficult.

Although there is an excellent clue in the shape of a stiletto heel, the murderers are completely arbitrary. Detection is done by police procedure, while a bored Poirot acts as armchair detective and reads detective stories, including Carr.


Blurb (UK)

The whole thing was fantastic!  A blind woman—a dead man whom no one could identify—four strange clocks all showing the same time—thirteen minutes past four.  Who had brought them there?  What did they mean?  And who was the dead man?

It all has Detective Inspector Hardcastle badly worried—especially when a second murder follows.  But his friend, Colin Lamb, who has come to Crowdean on a security matter, is so intrigued by these bizarre happenings that he thinks of his father’s old friend, Hercule Poirot.  How Poirot would enjoy this!  And Poirot does enjoy it.

“This crime is so complicated that it must be quite simple,” he declares.

But is it so simple?

As a crime novelist Agatha Christie stands alone.  Fashions change, new approaches to the crime novel come and go—but it is the “Christie for Christmas” that readers of all ages are waiting for.  Here is a new and most dazzling specimen; a perfectly fair detective novel of superb expertise which shows very clearly and enjoyably that the years have had no effect whatever on the ingenuity of Hercule Poirot.

Blurb (US)

The whole thing was fantastic!  A dead man whom no one could identify found in a blind woman’s sitting-room.  Four strange clocks all set to the same time—thirteen minutes past four!  Who had brought them there?  What did they mean?  And who was the dead man?

Tall, pretty Sheila Webb from the Cavendish Secretarial Bureau had discovered the man’s crumpled body and had touched the dark moist patch on the front of his suit.  Then she had rushed screaming from the house straight into the arms of Colin Lamb.  Colin telephoned his friend Detective Inspector Hardcastle of the Crowdean Police Force.  Hardcastle was badly worried.  There were too many unanswered questions.  Among them, no one knew who had telephoned the CavendishBureau asking that a stenographer be sent to the blind woman’s house and specifically requesting Sheila Webb.  Miss Pebmarsh, the blind woman, denied making the call.  She said that she had no need of a stenographer and she had never heard of Sheila Webb.  Then there is a second murder.  Colin Lamb, who has come to Crowdean on a top-secret security matter, is so intrigued by these bizarre happenings that he thinks of his father’s old friend, Hercule Poirot.  How Poirot would enjoy this!  And Poirot does enjoy it.

“This crime is so complicated that it must be quite simple,” he declares.

But was it so simple?

As a suspense novelist, Agatha Christie stands alone.  And here is a new and most dazzling specimen of her skill: a perfectly fair detective novel of superb expertise.  Not the least of its many virtues is that it that the years have had no effect whatever on the ingenuity of Hercule Poirot.


Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Miss Marghanita Laski, 21st December 1963): The Clocks is a decent little Poirot-Christie, up to snuff but not outstanding.  Innocent hero—this can be safely said—is Colin Lamb, not only a marine biologist but also in the Secret Service, the old-fashioned gentlemanly one.  The important crime in the Crescent is deliberately fantastic and the trails are thoroughly muddied, so muddied, in fact, that only by guesswork can Poirot arrive at the solution and we readers couldn’t possibly do so.

Sat R (Sergeant Cuff, 26th September 1964, 40w): Heavily overpopulated, but a sure-fire attention-gripper, naturally.

NY Times (Anthony Boucher, 4th October 1964, 90w): The Clocks is delightful enough for its depiction of a retired and very elderly Hercule Poirot, impatient with inactivity and eager to act as even an armchair detective; but it is also remarkable for intricacies and niceties of construction that should dazzle any younger competitors.  The plot, from its opening chapter, is too carefully startling for even a line of plot-synopsis; let me simply say that here is the grand-manner detective story in all its glory.