sad-cypress“Elinor Katharine Carlisle. You stand charged upon this indictment with the murder of Mary Gerrard upon the 27th of July last. Are you guilty or not guilty?”

If there’s one enduring certainty left in this world, it’s that books will always be there to rescue us, to teach us, and to help us. As the news of this week sunk in and seemed to become worse with every passing moment, I moved from Jasper Fforde to Agatha Christie, feeling safe among the words of writers I admire and know I can trust.

The book opens in court, with Elinor Carlisle being accused of murder of the young Mary Gerrard. The evidence all seems to point at her guilt, but the defence counsel isn’t so sure, and neither is Hercule Poirot. The story leaps back to show us how to got to here. Elinor and her fiancé Roddy Welman receive an anonymous letter from, apparently, a concerned well-wisher who tells them that their Aunt Laura (biological aunt to Elinor, aunt by marriage to Roddy) is not long for this world and that the young woman who lives at the lodge on the grounds of the house, Mary, is sucking up to the old woman presumably hoping to be left money in her will.

Upon arriving, Roddy finds himself immediately smitten with Mary, and when Aunt Laura has a second stroke, her death soon follows, much sooner than either Doctor Lord or Nurses Hopkins and O’Brien had thought. But it soon turns out that Laura Welman had never written a will, and so the money all falls directly to Elinor. Unable to marry her now, in case people think he’s only doing it for the money, Roddy ends the engagement and sets off for Europe to decide if he really does love Elinor, or if it’s now Mary he adores. Elsewhere, Nurse Hopkins discovers that some morphine has gone missing from her bag, but she convinces herself that she left it at home by mistake. It’s only when Mary Gerrard is found dead, and morphine poisoning is stated as the cause, that suspicion falls on Elinor, the only person who seems to have had the means, motive and opportunity to commit the act.

Now everyone has questions. Why did Elinor give Mary money before killing her? What made Mary so eager to write a will of her own? Where has the morphine gone? And what significance does a rose bush have to the solving of the crime? Poirot has his work cut out for him again, but with his little grey cells, he’s certain that he’s on the right track.

A little more emotionally pliable than some of her works, in Sad Cypress Christie plays with the notion of the love triangle again, and lays out the red herrings and genuine clues so beautifully that you can’t help but slap your forehead at the end and realise exactly what’s going on. And if you happen to be a horticulturist, you may be able to get it sooner even than that. It’s all there, and it’s all so obvious once you’re told the solution, but nonetheless it’s a good, fun tale.

It’s divided into three parts, which roughly coincide with the murders and everyone’s reactions to and around them, Poirot’s investigations, and then the court case. The latter section deals with the witnesses for the prosecution and the defence. Elinor seems very definitely in the frame – and things are complicated further when Laura is exhumed and they find she too shows signs of morphine poisoning – but Poirot and the very capable lawyer Sir Edwin Bulmer are on hand to make sure justice is fair.

The cast is small, but it’s a big mystery, and a very smart one too. Just remember that everyone lies, and their lies often reveal truths they didn’t intend.

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