The Hollow (Agatha Christie)

  • First published: USA: Dodd Mead, 1946; UK: Collins, 1946.  Also published as Murder After Hours (Dell 1954).

Obviously Christie set out to write a novel; and succeeded. As a novel of character, it is a brilliant success, for the characters and their relations, including several affairs, are strongly drawn and motivated. Naturally, the murder of the philandering doctor with his two mistresses and subdued wife is a crime passionnel. Unfortunately, as a detective story, the book is weak. Poirot is very much in the background, acting only as a deus ex machina at the end; it was a mistake, Christie later felt, to have him in the book.

Blurb (UK)

The Hollow is the home of Sir Henry and Lady Angkatell.  Here, for a week-end, come a Harley Street doctor, his devoted wife, a sculptress, a girl who works in a cheap dress shop, a disgruntled undergraduate, and the dilettante Edward Angkatell, owner of Ainswick, the lovely country house which secretly means so much to most of these people.

For one of the guests there is no return journey.  Murder takes place at the Hollow.  But there is an expert in murder close at hand.  Hercule Poirot is trying the experiment of having a week-end country cottage.  He comes to Sunday lunch, and finds a problem in crime that nearly succeeds in baffling him—until one simple sentence clears away the mist and shows him the truth.

This is a human story about human people, as Poirot himself is the first to admit.

Contemporary reviews

John O’London’s Weekly (Evelyn Banks, 29th November 1946): In the latest Agatha Christie, M. Poirot, invited to Sunday lunch by his country neighbours, walks slap into a murder.  The stage is nicely set for him.  A murdered man lies by a swimming pool.  Beside him stands his wife, revolver in hand.  At suitable intervals round about stand three more potential suspects.  In spite of this, M. Poirot does not actually play quite such a large part in The Hollow as he has done in earlier stories.  Mrs. Christie has, however, assembled a good variety of characters and holds the reader’s attention as skilfully as ever.

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 21st December 1946): Detection is growing more plentiful; but after The Hollow, there is nothing in the autumn list that a reviewer need dwell on.  The Hollow has an elegantly symmetrical plot, cut to the Christie pattern.  Poirot makes a statement at the end of this book, which might well stand as the cardinal principle of Mrs. Christie’s technique.  “There is only one thing to do if you want to clear a person from suspicion who is actually guilty.  You must suggest guilt elsewhere but never localise it.”  In the context Poirot is not reproaching his maker for all the trouble she has given him for the last twenty-five years, as you might suppose.  You must find out for yourselves whom he is addressing.  For Mrs. Christie has taken one step further in the elaboration of her plots.  She has been used to distribute suggestion of guilt herself from the author’s control-tower overlooking the scene of action.  In The Hollow, she arranges for one of her characters to do the job for her.  This is a masterly labour-saving contrivance, obviating the artificiality of her ordinary methods.  Moreover, it frees Mrs. Christie from her preoccupation with balancing suspicion all round; and enables her to take far more pains with the plausibility of her characters.  Among the house party at the Hollow, where the murder takes place, is a particularly well-drawn Harley Street doctor, and a delightfully unpredictable hostess.  I have read many more dramatic and even more baffling detective stories by Mrs. Christie; but The Hollow proves that she may not even yet have reached the ultimate refinement of her art.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 29th September 1946, 170w): This is Agatha Christie at her best.

Weekly Book Review (Will Cuppy, 29th September 1946, 230w): There’s no possible doubt whatever that The Hollow is a splendid mystery bet for fans of almost any grade, including those of the loftiest brow.

New Yorker (5th October 1946, 100w): Admirers of Mrs. Christie’s mysteries ought to like this one because it is more fairly plotted than most.

Sat R of Lit (5th October 1946, 40w): Good.

San Francisco Chronicle (Anthony Boucher, 6th October 1946, 70w): A Grade-A plot combined with a much solider novel than usual makes this the best Christie in years.

New Repub (28th October 1946, 50w): Hercule Poirot returns in fine form in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow.