Book name: The Listerdale Mystery
Author: Agatha Christie
Publisher: Collins Mystery
Format: ebook, print
Genre: Murder mystery
Publication Date: 1934
Star Rating: 5/5
With so much attention on Poirot and Marple it’s easy to forget that Agatha Christie produced many stories featuring neither of her world-famous detectives. The Listerdale Mystery is a charming anthology featuring a dozen pieces of short fiction.
The book opens with ‘The Listerdale Mystery’. Intriguingly, this doesn’t feature a death and supplies a happy ending. I recently reviewed Parker Pyne Investigates, another Christie anthology, and that also featured some stories without a violent death.
The mystery is of another nature entirely. Although there is some suggestion that the disappearance of Lord Listerdale may have a bloodthirsty explanation, this story concludes in another direction entirely.
‘The Girl in the Train’ utilised a motif, which would be used by Agatha Christie later in ‘The Plymouth Express’ with more chilling effect, of having a girl hiding under the seats in a railway carriage only to be discovered by one of the passengers.
In ‘The Girl in the Train’, Elizabeth is alive and has taken refuge there to escape from a man she claims is pursuing her. This draws the hero in, and he agrees to take a mysterious package from her and await further instructions.
In a light-hearted subversion of the more usual device which features a gang preying on someone by drawing them into a pretended mystery only to rob or murder them, Elizabeth is in earnest and the denouement proves that she is no criminal.
There are plenty of darker stories in The Listerdale Mystery however. ‘Accident’ revolves around Margaret Merrowdene, whose previous husband died suspiciously soon after insuring his life for her benefit.
Evans, a retired detective, and his old friend Captain Haydock debate whether Mrs Merrowdene murdered that husband. She has since remarried and their concern for Merrowdene grows.
Evan hurries off to see them and is drawn into visiting their home in order to prevent the murder he is sure will take place. He is horrified when he guesses that Margaret intends him to act as her alibi, but a final twist surprises the reader again.
The Listerdale Mystery is a very short volume, and the stories were concise and swiftly paced. Everything is pared down to character, plot and background. Some of the developments were unexpected, and a considerable number of the twelve stories didn’t involve a murder at all.
I love Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, but I always really enjoy her shorter fiction and perhaps most of all those in which her penchant for romance rises to the surface.
There was a quite a lot of wry humour and plenty of irony to go round. Almost all Agatha Christie works feature these elements in moderation as a welcome break from the serious business of detection. The Listerdale Mystery had a relaxed feel given how the stories were balanced between murders and more modest mysteries to be solved. I enjoyed it very much.
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