Review: Appointment with Death, 1938 (Hercule Poirot #16) by Agatha Christie

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Harper, 2016. Format: Paperback Edition. ISBN: 978-0.00-711935-6. First published in Great Britain by the Collins Crime Club, 1938. 266 pages.

64ay3kqfvfmy3a5vt9m3cpwxj677dt7gSynopsis: Among the towering red cliffs of Petra, like some monstrous swollen Buddha, sat the corpse of Mrs Boynton. A tiny puncture mark on her wrist was the only sign of the fatal injection that had killed her. With only 24 hours available to solve the mystery, Hercule Poirot recalled a chance remark he’d overheard back in Jerusalem: ‘You see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?’ Mrs Boynton was, indeed, the most detestable woman he’d ever met.

More about this story: When the corpse of Mrs Boynton is found among the cliffs of Petra, Hercule Poirot remembers the words of one of her step-children: “You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?” In true form, Poirot gives himself 24 hours to solve the case.

One of Agatha Christie’s many stories inspired by her travels in the Middle East, this one also shows a different side of Poirot. In fact when the story first appeared, serialised in the Daily Mail in 1938 under the title A Date with Death, Agatha Christie preceded it with an original piece on her relationship with her detective and how she came to create him. She also described Poirot’s key interests in this particular case: the “passion for truth” of the man who asked him to undertake the case; the technicality of the 24-hour limit; and the psychology of the motive, particularly “the strong malign personality of the dead woman”.

It was published as a novel by Collins in May 1938 and would go on to be adapted several times. The first was in 1945 when Agatha Christie adapted it herself for stage. Christie kept the title, Appointment With Death, but removed the character of Poirot and changed the identity of the murderer.

In 1988 it was adapted into a film, starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot. Twenty years later it was adapted for TV with David Suchet playing Poirot, before being dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 2006 starring John Moffatt as Poirot.

My take: ‘You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed’ is perhaps one of Christie’s best opening lines, if not the best. The story is set in the Middle East, first in Jerusalem and then in Petra, where the Boynton’s, an American family, are on holiday. The family is composed of Mrs Boynton, two stepsons, an stepdaughter, her daughter and a daughter-in-law. Mrs Boynton, a very unpleasant woman, exerts a tyrannical influence over her family with the exception, perhaps, of her daughter-in-law. None of them can do anything without her express consent and they all live isolated from the outside world and frightened by her mere presence. Certainly Mrs Boynton is a mental sadist who takes pleasure in keeping everyone terrified, exercising a brutal control over their lives. On the second day of their visit to Petra, Mrs Boynton is found dead. What it initially seems to be a heart attack it will soon turn into a murder investigation when Monsieur Poirot, who finds himself among the group of tourists, notes the victim’s body shows a tiny puncture mark on her wrist, and he begins to investigate.

Though not for the first time, Agatha Christie seems to have develop a greater interest on the psychology of the characters. Particularlly, in this case the personality of the victim plays a significant role in the development of the story. The plot unfolds accurately and, once again, Christie plays fair with the reader. All the clues are there for all to see, but she does a great job in distracting the reader’s attention.

Although some reviewers, like my admired Martin Edwards, are of the opinion quote the criminal’s motivation in the book is profoundly unsatisfactory unquote. I am rather inclined to believe that Appointment with Death may rank among Christie’s best novels for the same reasons than those outlined by E.R. Punshon in his review of 27 May 1938, mainly the ingenuity of plot and construction, the unexpectedness of dénouement, subtlety of characterisation, and a fascinating environment. Nonetheless it is true that Agatha Christie did not feel herself particularly satisfied with the denouement and changed it on her later dramatization.

I would not want to fail highlighting here an important aspect of this novel, when Christie puts in words of Sarah King her own views:

‘ I don’t agree’ said Sarah. ‘it’s nice when any human being is able to accomplish something worth while¡ it doesn’t matter a bit whether it’s a man or a woman. Why should it?’

‘I`m sorry but I do hate this differentiation between the sexes. “The modern girl has a thoroughly business-like attitude towards life.” That sort of thing. It’s not a bit true! Some girls are business-like and some aren’t.

Some men are sentimental and muddle-headed, others are clear-headed and logical. There are just different types of brains. Sex only matters where sex is directly concerned.’

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

About the author: Agatha Christie was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller on 15 September, 1890, in Torquay, Devon, in the southwest part of England. The youngest of three siblings, she was educated at home by her mother, who encouraged her daughter to write. As a child, Christie enjoyed fantasy play and creating characters, and, when she was 16, moved to Paris for a time to study vocals and piano. In 1914, she wed Colonel Archibald Christie, a Royal Flying Corps pilot, and took up nursing during World War I. She published her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920; the story introduced readers to one of Christie’s most famous characters—Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. In 1926, Christie released The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a hit which was later marked as a genre classic and one of the author’s all-time favourites. She dealt with tumult that same year, however, as her mother died and her husband revealed that he was in a relationship with another woman. Traumatized by the revelation, Christie disappeared only to be discovered by authorities several days later at a Harrogate hotel, registered under the name of her husband’s mistress. Christie would recover, with her and Archibald divorcing in 1928. In 1930, she married archaeology professor Max Mallowan, with whom she travelled on several expeditions, later recounting her trips in the 1946 memoir Come, Tell Me How You Live. The year of her new nuptials also saw the release of Murder at the Vicarage, which became another classic and introduced readers to Miss Jane Marple. Poirot and Marple are Christie’s most well-known detectives, with the two featured in dozens of novels and short stories. Other notable Christie characters include Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, Colonel Race, Parker Pyne and Ariadne Oliver. Writing well into her later years, Christie wrote more than 70 detective novels as well as short fiction. Though she also wrote romance novels under the name Mary Westmacott, Christie’s success as an author of sleuth stories has earned her titles like the “Queen of Crime” and the “Queen of Mystery.” Christie can also be considered a queen of all publishing genres as she is one of the top-selling authors in history, with her combined works selling more than 2 billion copies worldwide. Christie was a renowned playwright as well, with works like The Hollow (1951) and Verdict (1958). Her play The Mousetrap opened in 1952 at the Ambassador Theatre and—at more than 8,800 showings during 21 years—holds the record for the longest unbroken run in a London theatre. Additionally, several of Christie’s works have become popular movies, including Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978). Christie was made a dame in 1971. In 1974, she made her last public appearance for the opening night of the play version of Murder on the Orient Express. Christie died on 12 January, 1976.

Appointment with Death has been reviewed at Mystery File, Joyfully Retired, Mysteries in Paradise, Books Please, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, ahsweetmysteryblog, and Do You Write Under Your Own Name? among others

Harper Collins UK publicity page

Harper Collins US publicity page

Agatha Christie Official Website

Notes On Appointment With Death


Cita con la muerte, de Agatha Christie

Sinopsis: Entre los imponentes acantilados rojos de Petra, como un monstruoso Buda hinchado, se encontraba el cadáver de la señora Boynton. La pequeña marca de un pinchazo en su muñeca era la única señal de la inyección fatal que le había matado. Con tan solo 24 horas para resolver el misterio, Hercules Poirot recordó un comentario fortuito que había escuchado en Jerusalén: “¿No ves acaso que debe ser asesinada?” La señora Boynton era, de hecho, la mujer más detestable que había conocido jamás.

Más sobre esta historia: Cuando el cadáver de la señora Boynton es descubierto entre los acantilados de Petra, Hercule Poirot recuerda las palabras de uno de sus hijastros: “¿Acaso no ves que debe ser asesinada?” En plena forma, Poirot se da 24 horas para resolver el caso.

Una de las muchas historias de Agatha Christie inspiradas en sus viajes por Oriente Medio, nos ofrece también un aspecto diferente de Poirot. De hecho, cuando apareció por primera vez la historia, serializada en el Daily Mail en 1938 bajo el título A Date with Death, iba precedida por un artículo original sobre su relación con su detective y cómo ella llegó a crearlo. También describía los principales intereses de Poirot en este caso particular: la “pasión por la verdad” del hombre que le pidió que se hiciera cargo del caso; el tecnicismo del límite de las 24 horas; y la psicología del motivo, “la fuerte personalidad perversa de la mujer asesinada”.

Fue publicada en forma de novela por Collins en mayo de 1938 y posteriormente sería adaptada varias veces. La primera fue en 1945 cuando Agatha Christie la adaptó para el teatro. Christie mantuvo el título, Cita con muerte, pero eliminó el personaje de Poirot y cambió la identidad del asesino.

En 1988 fue llevada a la gran pantalla, protagonizada por Peter Ustinov como Poirot. Veinte años más tarde fue adaptada para la televisión con David Suchet haciendo de Poirot, antes de ser dramatizada para la BBC Radio 4 en 2006, con John Moffatt en el papel de Poirot.

Mi opinión: “¿No ves acaso que tiene que ser asesinada?” es quizás una de las mejores frases iniciales de Christie, si no la mejor. La historia se desarrolla en el Oriente Medio , primero en Jerusalén y luego en Petra, donde los Boynton, una familia estadounidense, están de vacaciones. La familia está compuesta por la Sra Boynton, dos hijastros, una hijastra, su hija y una nuera. La señora Boynton, una mujer muy desagradable, ejerce una influencia tiránica sobre su familia con la excepción, quizás, de su nuera. Ninguno de ellos puede hacer nada sin su expreso consentimiento y todos ellos viven aislados del mundo exterior y asustados por su mera presencia. Ciertamente, la Sra. Boynton es una sádica mental que se complace en mantener aterrados a todos, ejerciendo un control brutal sobre sus vidas. En el segundo día de su visita a Petra, la Sra. Boynton aparece muerta. Lo que inicialmente parece ser un ataque cardíaco pronto se convertirá en una investigación de asesinato cuando Monsieur Poirot, que se encuentra entre el grupo de turistas, observa que el cuerpo de la víctima muestra una pequeña señal de una inyección en su muñeca, y comienza a investigar.

Aunque no es la primera vez, Agatha Christie parece haber desarrollado un mayor interés en la psicología de los personajes. Particularmente, en este caso, la personalidad de la víctima juega un papel importante en el desarrollo de la historia. La trama se desarrolla con precisión y, una vez más, Christie juega limpio con el lector. Todas las pistas están ahí para que todos las vean, pero hace un gran trabajo al distraer la atención del lector.

Aunque algunos críticos, como mi admirado Martin Edwards, son de la opinión de que la motivación del criminal en el libro es profundamente insatisfactoria. Me inclino más bien a pensar que Cita con la Muerte puede figurar entre las mejores novelas de Christie por las mismas razones que las descritas por ER Punshon en su reseña del 27 de mayo de 1938, principalmente lo ingeniosos de la trama y su construcción, lo inesperado del desenlace, la sutileza de los personakes y un ambiente fascinante. No obstante, es cierto que Agatha Christie no se sintió especialmente satisfecha con el desenlace y lo modificó en su dramatización posterior.

No quisiera dejar de destacar aquí un aspecto importante de esta novela, cuando Christie pone en palabras de Sarah King sus propios puntos de vista:

“No estoy de acuerdo” dijo Sarah. ‘Es agradable cuando cualquier ser humano consigue lograr algo que merece la pena; no importa lo más mínimo si se trata de un hombre o de una mujer. ¿Por qué debería importarnos?

‘Lo siento, pero odio esta diferenciación entre sexos. “La mujer moderna tiene una actitud totalmente profesional o formal con respecto a la vida“. Afirmaciones como ésta no son en absoluto  ciertas! Algunas mujeres la tienen y otras no.
Algunos hombres son sentimentales e ilógicos, otros son calculadores  y lógicos. Solo hay diferentes tipos de cerebros. El sexo solo importa en lo que concierne directamente al sexo”.

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Sobre la autora: Dame Agatha Christie, (15 de septiembre de 1890 – 12 de enero de 1976) fue una escritora inglesa de novelas policíacas y románticas. Es más conocida principlamente por sus historias de detectives, incluyendo dos personajes tan diferentes como son Miss Marple y Hercule Poirot. Está considerada la escritora con mayor éxito de ventas de todos los tiempos. Solo se reconoce que la Biblia ha superado sus ventas de aproximadamente cuatro mil millones de copias en todo el mundo. Sus obras han sido traducidas a más idiomas que cualquier otro escritor individual.

11 thoughts on “Review: Appointment with Death, 1938 (Hercule Poirot #16) by Agatha Christie”

  1. I found this due professor Margot Kinberg, and just retweeted it, too. I enjoyed reading the English translation, and would agree on a lot.

    I felt weird the moment I found Agatha Christie in project Gutenberg, while flawed & plagiarized junk is hyped, as 5 star quality, on several sales-platforms across the planet.

    As a child I enjoyed watching several of the movie adaptations, and reading Christie is certainly a milestone on classical #crimefiction. Crime & murder in a world, which still had a good life to live, not drug-wrecked criminals all around us anyway.

    As a self-publisher I am far below the skill-level of the great authors, but the sound of Spanish makes me hope for my translator working on my second ebook. For indeed, an entertaining story and inspiration to improve ones own real-life skills makes a worthy reading.

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