Saturday, August 29, 2009

Review: Why Didn't They Ask Evans?

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
By: Agatha Christie
Publisher: St. Martin’s Minotaur
ISBN: 0-312-98159-7

About the book:

Was it a misstep that sent a handsome stranger plummeting to his death from a cliff? Or something more sinister? Fun-loving adventurers Bobby Jones and Frances Derwent’s suspicions are certainly aroused – especially since the man’s dying words are so peculiar: Why didn’t they ask Evans? Bobby and Frances would love to know. Unfortunately, asking the wrong people has sent the amateur sleuths running for their lives – on a wild and deadly pursuit to discover who Evans is, what it was he wasn’t asked, and why the mysterious inquiry has put their own lives in mortal danger…


While Agatha Christie is best-known for her sleuths like Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, I’ve discovered that some hidden gems among her “standalone” novels. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Is a thoroughly enjoyable read, anchored by the terrific chemistry between the protagonists, lifelong friends Bobby Jones, son of the local vicar, and Lady Frances Derwent. Their relationship, particularly the way they constantly spar and view their case, reminds me of another pair of Christie sleuths – Tommy and Tuppence. I could Christie turning Frances & Bobby’s adventures into a series – but perhaps that never happened because it would have been a little too similar to Tommy & Tuppence’s adventures.

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? is a thoroughly enjoyable read. It’s fast-paced and quite humorous, thanks in large part to Frankie’s character. She operates in a constant, dizzying state of activity that tends to leave everyone she encounters in a wake of confusion – so generally speaking, she can get away with pretty much anything. Witnessing the quieter, more deliberate Bobby keep up with her is a lot of fun. Christie packs the novel with her trademark twists and turns, and keeping up with how the large cast of characters is related can be a bit confusing if you’re not focused on the story. By the end of the novel, the guilty parties have become apparent, but that doesn’t detract from one’s enjoyment of the tale in the least – watching Bobby and Frankie survive their excursion into the detective world is far too entertaining. I rank this as one of my favorite Christie novels.

Book vs. Film:

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? was the final film to air in Marple series 4 on Masterpiece Mystery a few weeks ago. Despite how the resolution of the episode jumped the proverbial shark and veered into the realms of improbable craziness, the film ranked as one of my favorites of the series. You can read my full review of the film here. This was primarily due to the fact that Sean Biggerstaff played the role of Bobby Jones. But let’s start at the beginning to point out a few key changes:

Since the novel doesn’t feature the character of Miss Marple, she’s inserted into the story as an old friend of Bobby’s mother. She doesn’t disturb the flow of the story too much, probably due to the fact that she’s given rather little to do except to facilitate Frances & Bobby’s investigation. Speaking of Bobby & Frances (a.k.a. Frankie), Biggerstaff and Georgia Moffett absolutely nail their respective portrayals of the amateur detectives and lifelong friends. Their chemistry, and the way they banter back and forth, perfectly mirrors the way their relationship develops in the novel.

Having read the novel, it only confirms how ridiculously over-the-top and contrived the whole China connection was to the resolution of the film. It completely changed the motives of the villains. While I still like this very “loose” film adaptation, the way the mystery plays out in the book makes a hundred times more sense than the way the story was rewritten for the screen.


Olivia said...

I need to read some of her books!

Unknown said...

@Liv - Yes, yes you do. :)

Alexandra said...

Read this after the episode review. :-) I loved Bobby and Frances...they remind me so much of Tommy and Tuppence is probably why. :-) This is probably one of my favorite AC mysteries. Her non-Marple/Poirot mysteries are always really good, IMO.

And upon thinking about it, I guess the biggest reason I was so bummed about "By the Pricking of my Thumbs" was that Marple basically took over Tommy's role...thus hardly any Tommy. With how they decided to portray Tuppence, *I* think it would have been better to have Marple and Tommy work together...but then maybe that's just my Anthony Andrews fangirl coming through. :-)

Unknown said...

@Alexandra - I think you're on to something with the T&T comparison. :) I agree, Christie's non-Marple/Poirot stories are gems just waiting to be discovered. I love the different "feel" and unique settings she often employed in these stories.

I guess that's one reason I don't mind *too* much when the filmmakers for this series insert Marple into these non-Marple stories - because they often lead me to discover a novel I've not yet read because I'm such a Poirot fangirl. And I ADORE AA, so that's a great choice. :)