Sunday, July 19, 2009

Review: Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie

Murder Is Easy
By: Agatha Christie
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur
ISBN: 978-0-312-97982-9

About the book:

It was just Luke Fitzwilliam's luck to be stuck next to a dotty old woman like Miss Fullerton on the London-bound train - although he found himself quite entertained with her tall tales about a series of perfect murders in the quaint village of Wychwood. But when he reads the next day of the freak accident that killed her, too, Fitzwilliam's amusement turns to grave concern. A visit to the isolated village confirms his worst fears. For Wychwood seems to be divided by an eccentric lot of locals: those who are in on a dark and dangerous secret - and those who don't live long enough to share it.


In many ways Murder Is Easy reminded me of one of my favorite Christie novels, the Miss Marple outing The Moving Finger. Both books draw back the curtain on seemingly tranquil, "ideal," English village life where everyone has secrets and no one is as they seem. Luke Fitzwilliam, newly retired from overseas police work, has a chance encounter with the eccentric Miss Fullerton on the London train. She tells him a fantastic tale of a murderer running loose in her village, knocking off people left and right - really too incredible to be believed. Or so Luke thinks, until he gets the news that his elderly informant was killed in a freak accident on the way to report her findings to Scotland Yard. He hatches a plan to pose as a friend's cousin writing a book on local customs, and goes to stay with his cousin Bridget, who turns out to be a stunning beauty engaged to the local bigwhig, Lord Easterfield. Not knowing who to trust, Luke joins forces with Bridget - but the murderer could be craftier than they think...

Most of my Agatha Christie reading has been confined to the Poirot or Marple novels, so it's always a treat to discover one of her standalones that delivers a good corker of a mystery. The pacing is excellent, and the way Christie introduces the cast of suspects, only to dismiss each in turn, is supberbly handled. Being something of a hopeless romantic (LOL), I loved the romantic, but atypical subplot between Bridget and Luke. They sparred and fought like crazy, but couldn't help falling for each other. :) And the last few chapters, where the murderer is revealed, are absolutely un-put-downable. With this book Christie created one of her creepiest, most disturbing villains, proving the revenge is a frightening dish best served cold. For all the pros, I did think the dialogue is a bit "clunky" and just does flow as well as some other Christie efforts I've read. But that's a small quibble, and certainly shouldn't detract one from reading what is a thoroughly enjoyable puzzler from Dame Agatha Christie.

Book vs. Film:

The differences between the book and the recent film version of Murder Is Easy absolutely boggle my mind. I don't think I could even keep all of the changes straight to the point where I could list them and have them make even some sort of sense. The first change is, of course, the insertion of Miss Marple - what's shocking is that it's far from the most glaring change to the plot. Most of the townspeople are present, but their history and motivations are completely mixed up or changed wholesale. I think it's a real shame that the culprit's history and motives were completely rewritten for the screen. In the book, the murderer's motives are so creepy and disturbing as is, Christie didn't need to fabricate an incest/rape plot. The bottom line is, changes to Christie's novels typically don't bother me - when they make sense. But this film pretty much completely rewrote the novel from the ground up, and the filmmakers went for an ick factor rather than the psychologically disturbed, way more creepy, villain Christie created. I will give the filmmakers credit for building up the character of Constable Reed (Russell Tovey). The constable is only mentioned in the novel, never really introduced, and Tovey made the character a lot of fun to watch (not that I'm biased or anything, HA!). And while the filmmakers completely rewrote Bridget's character, the romantic tension between Bridget and Luke (Benedict Cumberbatch) is pretty true to the way the two characters are written in the novel. The bottom line, though, is that this film pales in comparison to the book.


Heidenkind said...

Aw, man, now I'm going to have to read the book. :)

Unknown said...

@heidenkind - The book in this case, especially, is so much better than the film. However, I'm grateful for the movie...when I read the book I had the bonus of imagining Bernard Cumberbatch as Luke. :)

Vic said...

I thought the plot was convoluted, and that murdering 5 people because one had a child out of wedlock was not a good enough reason to destroy so many lives. I also will need to read the book. Thanks for the review! Vic

Unknown said...

@Vic - You're welcome! I'd be very curious to read your thoughts on the book vs. film. It's a stretch, in my view, to even call the film inspired by the book it underwent such an overhaul in the scriptwriting process.

mitchellmckain said...

I have read a few of Agatha Christie's books but this is not one of them (not yet). So I only have the different film versions to compare. I watched the older one first and was rather skeptical about whether the newer one was worth watching. I was pleasantly suprised, but was intrigued by the the changed in the plot, which is what caused me to go hunting on the internet. This site answered my questions of course. Although, the newer film appealed to me, it did seem rather complex and I wonder if it was most likely to appeal to someone like me who had already seen the first film and not read the book.

Unknown said...

@mitchellmckain - Thanks for commenting! I don't think I've ever seen an older film version of this story. I initially wrote this film vs. book comparison after seen the broadcast cut of the show on PBS. My opinion of the film improved slightly when I saw the DVD, which restored 8-10 minutes of footage. I still prefer Christie's original novel, in this case though.