Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Classics Club: The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie (1961)

book cover of the 1963 pocketbook edition of The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

The Pale Horse

Author: Agatha Christie

Year: 1961

My Rating★★

Ahh, yes, I promised myself I would get around to reviewing The Pale Horse one of these days for my Classics Club Page, and today is the day.

I have seen the new Amazon miniseries for The Pale Horse and not even Rufus Sewell could save it. I go into detail on my blog post The Pale Horse - Yet Another Non-Masterpiece by Sarah Phelps, so feel free to read that, but I also go on a mini-rant here, so take your pick.

But on to the book.

The Pale Horse is a riot. It really is an entertaining tale that deals with ghoulies and ghosties and a writer caught up in a mystery that he literally has no reason to be a part of. Unmarried author Mark Easterbrook witnesses a brawl between two girls in a cafe or a pub (honestly not sure which it is) and learns a few days later that one of the girls, a Thomasina Tuckerton, is now eminently deceased. A priest dies with a mysterious note of names in his pocket that he collected from a woman confessing her sins while on her deathbed. The name Tuckerton happens to be on that list, and a lady of the last name Hesketh-Dubois who is Mark's godmother, who also recently passed. Quite a swath of deaths in such a short time. Enters Inspector Lejuene and police consultation Dr. Corrigan (a friend of Mark's), whose name also happens to be on that list of people who are mysteriously managing to die. When Corrigan approaches Mark with questions about his godmother, Mark starts questioning the death of his kindly but austere godmother, especially when a place by the name of The Pale Horse keeps cropping up that appears to be associated with death, as in, there are rumors that if you go to The Pale Horse then you might just be able to finagle a deal for someone to meet their Maker ahead of schedule through the use of magic. Throw two girls into the mix, the literary Hermia and the quirky Poppie, both out for Mark's affection, and his friendship with the eminent novelist Ariadne Oliver (YES, you may remember her from episodes of Poirot and she's brilliant in her minor role in this book!) you have a decidedly fun and raucous novel.

For those who've seen the miniseries, does ANY of this sound at all like Sarah Phelps' attempt at recreating Agatha Christie? Whereas in the miniseries there was a demonic festival marching through the small town, in reality, Mark attends a church fête, as in a church festival. Note the word church. Mark also finds a solid ally in the local minister's wife, a stout woman of solid Christian faith. Mark is also decidedly SINGLE as in NEVER MARRIED, has never KILLED ANYONE IN HIS LIFE, and is overall a lovely, charming man who has never really brooded a day in his life. About the only thing that's remotely the same in the book and miniseries is the ending, sort of.

Ariadne Oliver as played by Zoë Wanamaker
Ariadne Oliver as played by Zoë Wanamaker
Because I absolutely must voice this, I ADORE Ariadne Oliver. Just love her. So it's excessively fun to have Mark either meet with her or speak with her on the telephone a handful of times throughout the novel. She's just the way she was presented in the masterful Poirot miniseries by Zoë Wanamaker. I could literally hear her in my head, so that was delightful. I have a confession to make. I never knew until reading The Pale Horse that Mrs. Oliver wasn't a literary invention by the scriptwriters solely for the Poirot miniseries. Oops!

The Pale Horse is, overall, a delightful, entertaining read, as are most of Christie's works. It can be a little sluggish in places, and it is a bit of a complex plot, especially if you're like me and weren't paying full attention at the beginning of the story to remember how Mark got involved in the first place. Which is why I outlined that bit of the plot for you. It turns out that The Pale Horse was a pub, but is now the home of WITCHES who claim they can kill as needed, although it's more delicately phrased. Of course, it's all just a bunch of malarkey, but the important thing is that they pretty much believe it and so they sell it to their customers. It's a creepy story that also throws in just the right amount of romance. I love Mark's romantic choice in the end, and in general, I just really like Mark. He's a supremely likable character, sort of like the younger Tommy in the Tommy and Tuppence stories.

Since I own a copy of The Pale Horse, wisely purchased before the pandemic, I know that I'll read it again. The story is authentically Agatha Christie if you know what I mean. The woman had a strong writing voice, and her voice is absolutely present in The Pale Horse. I highly recommend it as a fun, distracting read, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! ❤

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