This novel opens where one might expect a legal drama to begin: at a criminal arraignment. Elinor Carlisle stands accused of the murder of another young woman: Mary Gerrard. The story then flashes back to the events leading up to this scene, hopping from one character to another to show various viewpoints, including that of the murdered woman and of Elinor, who is shown to have had more than one reason for wanting Mary dead. All the evidence points to her having done it, but one man doubts it so strongly that he contacts Hercule Poirot and sets him the task of proving Elinor‘s innocence. But Poirot is not so easily ordered around, and he sets out to discover the true circumstances of the murder, whoever the murderer might be, because, as he says: „I do not approve of murder.“
Unlike my previous Christie read, Murder at the Vicarage, this story has very little humour in it and isn‘t at all frothy, like some of Christie‘s other mysteries. The beginning could be mistaken for the start of a juicy melodrama, but fortunately it develops instead into a psychological thriller, posing the question: Did she or didn‘t she?
This story is more emotionally involved than those in many – I might even say most – of Christie‘s other books. The third person omniscient narrator allows the reader a look into the heads of some of the characters (rare for Christie, who usually saves that sort of thing for her first person narrators, who then tend to recount observations and express opinions rather than emotions). One of those characters is Elinor, who is shown to be a passionate young woman, equally capable of deep love and blazing hatred, but able to hide her feelings under a somewhat frosty exterior.
The cast of characters is small and the suspects are even fewer, and most are drawn with a deft hand and shown to have some depth, with the exception of the Irish nurse who is a veritable stereotype of both her profession and her nationality. Clues are, for the most part, laid out fair and square, but it will require skill and knowledge if the reader wishes to get to the truth before Poirot reveals all.
Final words: This is one of the better Christie mysteries I have read – I wouldn‘t hesitate to place it in the top 10 of my favorites among her books.