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Crooked House Paperback – February 1, 2011
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An exclusive authorized edition of a classic Agatha Christie thriller revolving around a devastating family mystery, described by the Queen of Mystery herself as one of her favorites of her published works — now a feature film from Sony Pictures starring Christina Hendricks, Gillian Anderson, and Glenn Close.
The Leonides are one big happy family living in a sprawling, ramshackle mansion. That is until the head of the household, Aristide, is murdered with a fatal barbiturate injection.
Suspicion naturally falls on the old man’s young widow, fifty years his junior. But the murderer has reckoned without the tenacity of Charles Hayward, fiancé of the late millionaire’s granddaughter.
“Writing Crooked House was pure pleasure and I feel justified in my belief that it is one of my best.” —Agatha Christie
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“Writing Crooked House was pure pleasure and I feel justified in my belief that it is one of my best.” — Agatha Christie
“Her sleight of hand is impeccable.” — New Statesman (UK)
“Knock-out!” — Saturday Review of Literature
“We all go where [Agatha Christie] led; you can track us in her snow.” — Reginald Hill, author of the Dalziel and Pascoe Mysteries Reginald Hill, author of the Dalziel and Pascoe Mysteries Reginald Hill, author of the Dalziel and Pascoe Mysteries
From the Back Cover
The Leonides are one big happy family livingin a sprawling, ramshackle mansion. Thatis until the head of the household, Aristide, ismurdered with a fatal barbiturate injection.
Suspicion naturally falls on the old man’s youngwidow, fifty years his junior. But the murdererhas reckoned without the tenacity of CharlesHayward, fiancé of the late millionaire’s granddaughter.
- Publisher : William Morrow Paperbacks; Reissue edition (February 1, 2011)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062073532
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062073532
- Lexile measure : 630L
- Item Weight : 6.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 0.66 x 7.78 x 5.34 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #29,532 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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“Crooked House” take place in the English countryside shortly after World War II. A wealthy octogenarian businessman dies as a result of someone switching some eye drops for his insulin shortly before he received his daily injection. The man had a second wife some 50 years his junior, who quickly becomes the prime suspect, along with her boyfriend, and he also had a bunch of other relatives who all conveniently lived in the same house with him and who all possibly had financial and other motives to wish his demise sooner rather than later. Further, everyone in the house knew about and had access to the victim’s medications and that switching them could be fatal.
Despite Christie’s love for the book, “Crooked House” isn’t nearly as well known as many of her works, such as “Murder on the Orient Express.” The reason for this relative obscurity may well be that “Crooked House” does not feature either of Christie’s two famous detectives, Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple. Instead, the narrator is Charles Hayward a diplomat who spent the war overseas and has just rekindled his romance with Sophia, the granddaughter of the dead businessman. Because Hayward’s father is a police officer, he is asked to stay at the house for a while and talk to the various witnesses in hopes of finding a clue.
Unlike many Christie novels, the solution to “Crooked House” does not depend on unraveling a lot of tiny bits of physical evidence to determine that Colonel Mustard was the only person who had access to the conservatory at the right moment. Instead, the clues are primarily psychological, and figuring out the killer requires figuring out which of the suspects has the temperament of a killer since pretty much everybody could have easily done it. Fortunately, Charles has one or two good scenes with each suspect, so he can make observations as to their guilty behavior or lack thereof.
With the clues primarily being psychological, “Crooked House” resembles one of those optical illusions that is impossible to spot unless you happen to look at it in just the right way. A number of people do figure out the killer’s identity, as judged by the reviews, while others it near impossible. No matter how adept the reader is, one thing is sure; like “Orient Express,” once readers finish “Crooked House,” it’s one they are almost sure to remember.
My admiration for the puzzle in “Crooked House” is tempered a bit by the book’s shortcomings as a novel. Charles is the epitome of the dull narrator—no exercising the little gray cells here—and his romance with Sophia, which other writers might take advantage to ratchet up the suspense is curiously tepid. The only function Charles serves is to provide the narration and give the suspects a shoulder to cry upon. And, although the characters are a bit quirky, readers never lose sight of the fact that “Crooked House” is essentially a book-length puzzle with characters that are given only as much development as needed to support the storyline.
“Crooked House” may only be a puzzle, but it’s a very good one, and one that readers will remember. Having read a number of Christie books over the years, I disagree with the author’s assessment that it’s the best of her work, but it’s still an enjoyable read for mystery fans.
I agree with Christie here. "Crooked House" is one of her best. One thing that Christie always excelled at was portraying the interaction between members of a group, be it the Leonides family in "Crooked House," the "guests" in [book:And Then There Were None|16299], or the tourists in [book:Evil Under the Sun|16305]. These aren't mindless stereotypes - they are people.
"Crooked House" is a non-series novel - no Poirot, Miss Marple or (thank heavens!) Tommy and Tuppence. The story is narrated by Charles Hayward, who is engaged to Sophia Leonides, granddaughter of Aristide Leonides, a Greek who came to England decades earlier and made a fortune. He married the daughter of an English squire and had eight children. At the time of the events in "Crooked House," only two sons - Roger and Philip are still live. In addition to Aristide, the residents of the household are his young second wife, Brenda; Edith de Haviland, his first wife's sister; Roger and his wife Clemency, a scientist; Philip, his wife Magda, an actress, and their three children - Sophia, Eustace, and Josephine; Laurence Brown, the children's tutor; and Nannie, nanny to the Aristide's children and now his grandchildren.
Sophia describes her grandfather to Charles: "He's rather a person, my grandfather. He's over eighty, about four foot ten, and everybody else looks rather dim beside him." Charles asks if she likes her grandfather. "Better than anyone in the world," said Sophia.
Aristide is devoted to his family and does everything he can for them. He places Roger at the head of the family business and settles money on him and Philip. The family members want for nothing - which is probably part of the problem. They have nothing to strive for. Consider Magda: "She's been able to pick and choose, and to go where she likes and occasionally to put up the money to finance a show where she's fancied a certain part - usually the last part in the world to suit her." She's not the only one. As for her husband Philip: "Writes books. Can't think why. Nobody wants to read them. All about obscure historical details." (Edith de Haviland, his aunt) Roger has no mind for business and has run the family business into ruin. His wife Clemency is jealous of Aristide's interference in their life and wants Roger all to herself.
When Aristide is killed, suspicion naturally falls upon his young wife Brenda, thirty-four to his eighty-five. She gave him his regular injections of insulin. It was the last injection that killed him - instead of insulin, it contained eserine, which came from his eye drops. Brenda also appears to be infatuated with Laurence Brown, the children's tutor, who is considerably closer in age to her. Of course, she's also the outsider in the family - much younger than her late husband, obviously married him for his money, and has never fit in. Like Sophia says, "...it won't matter - so long as the right person killed him." The right person meaning, of course, Brenda.
However, when Charles arrives at the family home, Three Gables, and actually meets Brenda, he does not believe she could kill anyone. He also does not think Laurence Brown, the tutor, whom Sophia describes as a "scared rabbit" is capable of such a thing. Charles begins his own investigation with the help of Chief Inspector Taverner and Detective Sergeant Lamb. Meanwhile, little Josephine Leonides, Sophia's younger sister, listens at doors, takes notes, and sees and hears a great deal more than she should.
The killer is not finished yet. There is another murder and an attempted murder - and then the stark, awful truth is revealed. I've read most of Christie's books, but "Crooked House" has the most chilling, shocking murderer of them all. This one will really stay in your mind.
Top reviews from other countries
This novel has a great puzzle plot.
The downside is the writing, and that is especially true for this book. The writing is truly awful. Not a single person in the book acts like a human being. Not a single description feels like a description of how things are. When Christie strives to use imagery, it is empty verbiage. It adds nothing but a feeling of mild embarassment. And while the puzzle is clever beyond belief, it is also absurd. There is nothing natural in the solution except that it is the one that makes sense of the clues.
Christie's books often make great films. I think this is simply because almost all the problems of Christie are resolved by having real people in front of you. We do not read Christie's description, but we see somebody and have no problem believing them. We do not need to read her descriptions of things, since the things are simply there, concrete and believable. Perhaps she writes words that no one would actually say, but we hear someone actually saying them (although, in reality, the screenwriters help a lot here) and kind-of believe it. And as for the absurd plot ... well that is not such a problem if everything around it makes sense.
Unfortunately, however, Crooked House has not made a great film either.
Towards the end of the Second World War Hayward had been based in Cairo where he had met, and fallen in love with, Sophia Leonides. Once the war is over they return to Britain and plan to be married. In the meantime Sophia returns to her family home in one of London's suburbs. As is so often the case throughout Christie's novels, three generations of the Leonides family live together in the house owned by wealthy patriarch Aristide Leonides. Shortly after her return home, however, Astride is dead, and it soon transpires that he has been murdered. As a consequence of the prominence of the victim, Scotland Yard becomes involved in the investigation and, predictably, Hayward is asked to help out.
When I was about thirteen or fourteen I read dozens of Agatha Christie's novels, one after another, in that slightly obsessive manner that adolescent boys so often have. I enjoyed them but devoured them simply at face value. Re-reading this one nearly forty years later I now recognise that there was a lot of social comment in her depictions of domestic life. There is a wry, understated satire to her works. Her books are, however, redolent of their time. For instance, Christie is perfectly happy to describe Josephine, the younger sister of Sophia, as 'a fantastically ugly child'. I doubt whether any modern novelist would care to be so brutal.
Christie's prose is never glossy but she has an almost journalistic knack of telling the story with the minimum of fuss. Her characterisations may now seem slightly clichéd, but she always maintains a simple verisimilitude. It is, however, with her plotting that she holds the reader's attention. This book is certainly no exception. The plot is tightly constructed, and the denouement comes as rather a shock, though the clues were all there.
I was very glad to have revisited this novel after so long, and I may well try my hand at several more from her prolific output.