murder-is-easy“England! England after many years!”

It feels like ages since I read anything by Agatha Christie, but it’s only been five weeks or so. I’ve been getting my crime fix in other places, like Brighton suburbs and Midlands zoos, but we all knew I’d find my way back to the Queen of Crime in time. After all, I’m still getting through her entire back catalogue and have just over a dozen left to go. Her books seem to have one recurring theme – murder is easy. Here, she takes it as the title of her book and runs with it.

Luke Fitzwilliam is a police officer who has just retired after years working out in India. (Actually, his age is never given, and it’s not easy to tell whether he is a young man out of service early, or in his fifties and completed his time. I tended to favour the former interpretation throughout.) On the train home to London, he gets talking to Miss Pinkerton, an old dear who reminds him of his dotty aunt. She announces that she is off to Scotland Yard to report on a series of murders in her village. Luke humours her, but she is adamant that the deaths of Amy Gibbs, Tommy Pierce and Mr Carter were not accidents. She also is very sure that Dr Humbleby, the local GP, is next for the chop.

A few days later, Luke is reading the newspaper when he discovers that not more than a few hours after their conversation, Miss Pinkerton was hit by a car and killed. And a couple more days after that, there’s an obituary listed for a Dr Humbleby. Convinced now that the old lady was talking sense, Luke heads off to the village under the guise of writing a book about local superstitions. In a small village like Wychwood-under-Ashe, people are keen to gossip and news travels fast. Everyone, it seems, is ready to talk about the deaths, and indeed, it appears that not everyone thinks they were an accident, but who is responsible, no one can quite say.

Luke meanwhile has fallen in love with Bridget, who unfortunately happens to be married to the village’s richest man, and when he reaches no conclusion about who is responsible for the deaths, he finds himself wishing for another one…

Here, Christie plays with the notion that anyone can be guilty because killing people is easy enough, as long as you’re smart enough to not get caught. Populating the village with residents who all have a motive for at least one death but never for them all, and are also all endowed with brains, you are left guessing throughout as to which of them might be responsible. You even think that the whole thing has been solved at one point, only to realise that there are still eighty pages to go, and Christie never wraps up anything that soon. The methods of murder are all interesting and varied enough that the killer can remain above suspicion for longer than should be normal.

It’s quite a funny one, too, with some bickering between Luke and Bridget that reaches Beatrice-and-Benedick levels in its flirtatiousness and aggressiveness. Ultimately, Christie shows what an expert she is, using none of her regular characters in a major way (Superintendent Battle turns up towards the end to mop up) and once again proves that anyone can be a murderer. After all, murder is easy…