“It begins, all this, at a funeral. Or rather, to be exact, after the funeral.”
At its heart, After the Funeral (alternatively published as Funerals are Fatal) is a story of England in transitioning times. The war has led to changes in all layers of society. Not just has the very upper crust seen their standing buckle in light of post war regulations, but those impacts have rippled to the staff or even the pre-war business owner in town. Christie has a knack for telling this sort of story. It’s not just the lord of the manor lamenting that he can’t find a good help anymore, but also the manor’s trained butler questioning his own place in a changing society.
Of course, After the Funeral also features a murder, and a damn fine one. The story unfolds after the natural death of Richard Abernethie – your typical rich corpse surrounded by a family pecking for his inheritance. At his funeral party, socially awkward Aunt Cora remarks to everyone’s horror – “But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” Twenty four hours later and Cora is occupying a coffin – her head nearly severed by an axe.
After the Funeral hits the nail on the head in so many ways that it’s hard to capture it. We have the classic “inheritance crime”, amplified by circumstances that turn it into a “missing will”. Then there’s the haunting question of “what did she know?” – nailed time and again by Christie in works such as A Murder is Announced or Death Comes as the End.
“And suddenly, seeing the picture clearly in her mind, Helen frowned… There was something wrong with that picture…
Was it an expression on someone’s face? Was that it? Something that – how could she put it? – ought not to have been there…?”
Although Poirot shows up eventually to investigate the case, the first portion of the story follows Mr Entwhistle – the family solicitor and executor of Richard Abernethie’s will. He simply can’t shake from his mind the question of whether his employer’s seemingly natural death was foul play. That everyone has a motive is perhaps predictable in this sort of story, but Christie supplies a strong cast of characters to investigate.
It’s through that investigation and those characters that Christie tells the real story. A story of England after the war. Of the fundamental changes to society that perhaps made these very country house murders a quaint relic of the Golden Age. Of course, those plot points are best experienced than described, but they’re the element of the story that sticks with me.
True to her form, Christie took me completely by surprise at the end. This is one of those rare cases where even if you guessed the killer, I still think you would be shocked. I actually had what I still consider to be a really clever alternate solution to the whole thing, but Christie’s solution came entirely out of left field. It’s funny because I’ve been cursed with a knack to see through most of the Christie misdirections that I’ve read, and I thought I had done it yet again. Not the case this time and I’m glad for it.
Finishing a Poirot book is always something to look forward to because I then watch the David Suchet adaptation. Of course this is a form of torture for my poor wife, who can’t stand watching these boring old movies.
The Suchet adaptation of After the Funeral really only maintains a shell of the story. With the exception of the set up of the crime and the solution, nearly everything else goes off script. The movie is still enjoyable, but it scarcely resembles the book. I’m impressed though that they successfully pull off the key misdirection on film.
My wife horrified me by spotting the motive for the murder immediately. I mean, come on, she doesn’t even read mysteries! Of course, she wasn’t interested enough to then tie the motive to the person who possessed the motive, but it’s better than I had done.
After the Funeral concludes my glut of highly recommended Christie books. That’s not to say that I’ve exhausted the best of her work – not by a mile. Rather, I’m changing tack for a bit. After dining on delicacies such as Death on the Nile, Crooked House, and Five Little Pigs, I’m going to try to mix it up more.
Now that I’ve read enough to be convinced that I’m committing to reading Christie – hell, who am I kidding, my first book convinced me of that – I’m going to try starting towards the beginning of her career and reading in order. Throughout, I’ll be interleaving books from elsewhere in her library that I’m curious about, as I’ve found sticking purely to a timeline can leave me feeling a little burned out. Of course, this will probably all backfire on me, and you’ll laugh as I unknowingly continue my binge of top-shelf titles – “Look guys, here’s an early book called The Murder of Roger Ackroyd!!!”
I’m still in love with my own solution to After the Funeral, and I figured I’d discuss it here since most of you have probably already read the book. I’m not going to talk about the real solution, but this is spoiler-related since I’ll be ruling out a solution. If you comment below, please be discreet.
My theory was that the least likely killer murdered Richard Abernethie – Cora. Her remark at the funeral was because being her awkward self, she assumed that everyone else understood that it was murder.
So, if Cora is the killer, then who has the motive to murder her? The only person who lost something by Richard Abernethie’s death – Lanscombe, the butler. He would have found himself in peril of being out of a job in an England that no longer had a place for his type. And that would be pure poetry given the theme of the book.