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The Pale Horse Paperback – June 28, 2011
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“Agatha Christie taught me many important lessons about the inner workings of the mystery novel before it ever occurred to me that I might one day be writing mysteries myself.” (Sue Grafton, New York Times bestselling author)
“Wholesale murder by black magic...highly ingenious, wholly enjoyable.” (Evening Standard (London))
From the Back Cover
When an elderly priest is murdered, the killer searches the victim so roughly that his already ragged cassock is torn in the process. What was the killer looking for? And what had a dying woman confided to the priest on her deathbed only hours earlier?
Mark Easterbrook and his sidekick Ginger Corrigan are determined to find out. Maybe the three women who run The Pale Horse public house, and who are rumored to practice the “Dark Arts,” can provide some answers?
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Top Customer Reviews
A much-loved elderly priest is coshed to death in a seedy part of London. Is it a random crime or does it have to do with the confession of a troubled dying woman? Writer and historian Mark Easterbrook is an unlikely amateur detective. He's deep into writing another of his well-respected books on Mogul history and satisfied with his life, which includes beautiful, brainy girlfriend Hermia. And yet when a college friend who's now connected to the Metropolitan Police tells him about the list of names found on the priest's body, he starts wondering why so many of them are dead.
The trail leads to an old inn-turned-private-home in a small village near Bournemouth. Word is that the three rather silly women there have perfected a way to combine ancient witchcraft with modern science to bring about convenient deaths - at a price, of course. It's nonsensical, but those people are still dead AND of natural causes.
The book benefits from the presence of mystery writer Mrs. Ariadne Oliver. Shy, scatty, and talkative, she's Christie's spoof of her own public persona and a highly entertaining one. She appears in several Hercule Poirot books and is just as effective bouncing her outrageous personality off of amateur detective Easterbrook. Another recurring character is Mrs. Dane Calthrup, a surprisingly unconventional vicar's wife. If Ariadne Oliver was Christie's take on how her public saw her, I suspect that "grey-haired weather-beaten" Mrs. Dane Calthrup is how Christie saw herself. She leaves the scholarly stuff to her husband (as Christie did) and uses her intelligence, common sense, and knowledge of human nature to complement his talents. She's a good listener and knows all about evil, a great asset in a criminal investigation.
Much of the book is first-person narrative by Mark Easterbrook. Christie used first person narrative rather sparingly, although the plot of one of her best known books (THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD) revolves around the narrator. I generally prefer mysteries written in first-person. Maybe that's why this is one of my favorite Christies. It's accepted wisdom that writers start to fail as they age and lose touch with life, and yet I think that Christie remained fresh by recognizing her strengths and weaknesses. She touches briefly on the swinging Chelsea scene and concentrates on the places where she is most at home - villages and small towns and their middle-aged and elderly inhabitants. The outward aspects of life change, but human nature remains the same and human nature is at the heart of all crime.
And it is not an Hercule Poirot story, nor a Miss Marple story, nor a Tommy & Tuppence tale. The only recurring character is Mrs Oliver, and she's not the main character.
So, I view this story with fond memories. I was fascinated by the plot: three odd women (witches?) claim to have the power to enhance anyone's innate death wish; there is a man in an office, far removed, that is prepared to bet that the person WILL die. And then -- they die from various and sundry illnesses.
We follow the hero (protagonist) through the story, and, as I said, I remember it with fondness, and amazement at the various twists that I now know (with hindsight) as common to Agatha Christie's mysteries.