towards zero

Shouldn’t that be “towards love”?

“The group round the fireplace was nearly all composed of lawyers or those who had an interest in the law.”

Back to Christie.

Published in the forties, Towards Zero seems to be set a little earlier, probably the typically Christie inter-war period. After my success in solving the puzzle in Crooked House, I was sure that I was onto a winner with this one and the idea of who it could’ve been struck me quite suddenly. However, I was once again wrong, Christie is back to her best, and here we are.

Although neither Poirot or Marple appear in this one, the main detective is one of Christie’s regulars, in this case Superintendent Battle. He’s a smart man who likes to do things his own way, and has certainly picked up a trick or two from his work with Poirot, who is indeed mentioned within the story. But anyway, let’s get on with the plot.

The story opens with the first five sections all being about different people, and not one of them appearing to be related to any of the others. There is Mr Treves, an aging solicitor and criminologist, Angus MacWhirter, a man who attempted suicide but was rescued, much to his annoyance, Superintendent Battle’s daughter Sylvia who has been accused of stealing at her school, and Nevile Strange, famous tennis player, and his wife Kay. The fifth section depicts someone plotting out … something. We have no clues as to what, who, why or how, but we know it involves a date in September. Thus, enter September.

Nevile and Kay having headed to Gull’s Point, a seaside house where Nevile was raised by Camilla and Matthew Tressilian as a boy. Also in attendance (either at the house or in the nearby hotel) are Camilla’s companion Mary, Kay’s friend Ted Latimer, Mr Treves, solid and dependable Thomas Royde and, perhaps most ill-fitting of all, Nevile’s first wife Audrey. Nevile seems to have decided that his wives should meet, become friends and sort out any bad blood between the two of them, all very decently. But things quickly turn nasty as Kay decides that Audrey is trying to steal her husband back. Thomas, meanwhile, wishes to propose to Audrey, and Camilla is not best pleased with any of the situation.

And then Camilla’s murdered, brutally and violently, of an evening while the house is asleep. Superintendent Battle, on holiday in the area, is called in with his nephew Inspector Leach to make sense of the events and find out which of the house’s occupants is responsible and why. Zero hour is approaching, and everyone has their part to play.

The opening segments with the cast of seemingly unrelated characters only begin to make themselves clear towards the end of the novel. The theme runs throughout of how things happen because everyone ends up where they’re supposed to be at a certain time, and that allows for destiny or whatever it may be to occur. Treves is big on the idea that a murder is not the beginning of the story, but that it is the end, and that everything that happens before is the set up, and the true story. Everyone hurtling towards zero, to the moment at the end of the countdown where the plan is put into action.

It’s one of Christie’s most intelligent novels that will have you thinking you’ve got it right only to completely surprise you when it comes to the big reveal. Go with it, and enjoy, as you head towards zero hour.