sittaford“Major Burnaby drew on his gum boots, buttoned his overcoat collar round his neck, took from a shelf near the door a hurricane lantern, and cautiously opened the front door of his little bungalow and peered out.”

With the country heating up and summer appearing to settling in with a vengence, it seems churlish to complain about it, given the harsh winter and torrent of rain we’ve had. Nonetheless, sometimes you need to escape whatever reality has thrown at you, and so I hunkered down with The Sittaford Mystery, a Christie classic set in the middle of a very snowy winter…

Sittaford is a tiny hamlet not far from the town of Exhampton, hidden away on the fringe of Dartmoor. In fact, “hidden” is an apt word as the snow has fallen thick and fast and is now several feet deep, making it all but impossible to get into town. At the fancy Sittaford House, Mrs and Miss Willett have rented the place from Captain Trevelyan and have invited the residents of the hamlet up for an evening’s company. While there, the group decide to perform a séance as a joke. However, it becomes immediately less funny when a supposed spirit tells them that Captain Trevelyan is dead: murdered.

Trevelyan is six miles away in Exhampton, and there are no phones in the hamlet, so they cannot check. While they take it as nonsense and think that perhaps one of them is playing a dark joke, Major Burnaby, Trevelyan’s oldest friend, decides nonetheless that he should go through the snow to make sure the Captain is alright. Ignoring the others protests, he heads off and, true to the word of the spirit, Trevelyan is dead.

Now Inspector Narracott, journalist Charles Enderby and Emily Trefusis, fiancée of the prime suspect, join forces to find out who is responsible for the murder. With everyone at Sittaford House accounted for, the finger of blame is pointed at Trevelyan’s nephew, who stands to inherit a good sum. But Emily is certain that he isn’t the sort of man who could ever commit such a deed and is determined to prove his innocence. Add to that a magnificent win for a newspaper crossword competition, an escaped prisoner, and a recently-married servant who may or may not be bearing a grudge, and you’ve got a tidy set of problems to deal with.

This wasn’t a Christie I knew anything about before reading it, but it’s easily one of my favourites, I think. There is a fairly extensive cast of characters, but they’re all interesting people and while none of them seem even a little bit likely to have done in the old man, that just makes the whole thing even more intriguing. It’s also nice to see a new crimesolver get the limelight, as none of Christie’s regulars make an appearance (although Narracott does appear in one of her radio plays as well). The solution bowled me over and it was one of those stories where I realised that the clues are all there and the reader can definitely solve it, providing they know exactly what they’re looking for.

The incident with the séance is great, allowing Christie to throw in a supernatural element, something she does in some other stories. While she generally works solely in the real world, a couple of her other stories make use of something spiritual, meaning a savvy reader might begin to doubt if the message was faked here or not.

A cracking read; one of the best Christie’s I’ve read in a while.

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