crooked house

It’s not just the house that’s crooked…

“I first came to know Sophia Leonides in Egypt towards the end of the war.”

The anticipation whenever I pick up a new Christie is palpable, and I was particularly keen for this one because Dame Agatha herself declares it is one of her best. The story flowed very naturally, she says, and it is one of her special favourites.

During the Second World War, our hero Charles Hayward meets the beautiful and beguiling Sophia Leonides. She doesn’t reveal much about herself but he is determined to marry her. Finally, she reveals that she is from a very wealthy family and must soon return home. She will not become engaged yet, but when the war is over, Charles is welcome to come and find her.

True to his word, the war ends and Charles heads to London to find his love, only things have changed. When they meet, she reveals that her grandfather, the rich and kind Aristide Leonides, has been murdered in his house. Sophia won’t marry him until they have any answer. Charles calls upon his father, a policeman at Scotland Yard, and they begin exploring the situation.

Charles heads to the Leonides family home, a huge, sprawling mansion with too many gables; a house that seems most definitely crooked. And it is packed to the rafters with family members who have, for one reason or another, had to move back home. There’s Aristide’s sons Roger and Philip, their wives Clemency and Magda, Philip’s children Sophia, Eustace and Josephine, Aristide’s spinster sister-in-law Edith and his second wife Brenda, who is fifty years his junior and the most obvious suspect. A young woman marries an old man for money and bumps him off. Easy, let’s go home for tea and crumpets.

Although, despite the animosity between Brenda and the rest of the family, Sophia is certain that Brenda is innocent. Brenda, too, naturally claims innocence, but is it all a front? Is she having an affair with the children’s tutor? Why are none of the doors ever locked? And what happened to Aristide’s will?

There’s a great cast in this one, all related and no one supposedly to have been on particularly bad terms with the victim. Everyone has the means, and everyone has an opportunity, but finding a motive is proving far more difficult. I swung my accusing finger about quite a lot for the first few chapters, but eventually settled on who I thought did it. Strangely of all, I was right. It’s the first time since I started reading Christie that I’ve been correct about whodunnit. Once you know, as well, it becomes frighteningly obvious, but then again, it always does.

My guess also played quite nicely into a theme of the book. Everyone thinks Brenda did it, so everyone begins looking for that solution. When Charles comes up with a theory, he starts trying to twist the evidence to suit him. I was doing the same.

I can definitely see why Christie was so proud of this one, because it’s a really great addition to her bibliography. Once again, she shows how she took the rulebook of writing crime fiction and threw it out of the window. Ingenious.