Murder on the Links – Agatha Christie (1923)

MurderOnTheLinksIs it just me, or is this one of Agatha Christie’s best books?  Crooked House?  Enjoyed it.  Death on the Nile?  Loved every minute.  After the Funeral?  Yeah, didn’t see that coming.  And yet, when it comes down to pure country house jamboree, Murder on the Links throws it down.

I’m not expecting anyone to agree, mind you.  But still, when I search through all of the lists of top Christie that I’ve seen, I’m kind of stunned that Murder on the Links isn’t even making a showing.  Really.  When I think back through all of the Christies that I’ve read (which admittedly isn’t that many), it seems as good as any.

No, it doesn’t have that masterpiece of an ending that you get from Murder in Retrospect.  No, it doesn’t have the hook of say, Death Comes as the End or Cards on the Table.  No, it doesn’t have the memorable twist of… well, I suppose I could list ten titles that you all know and love.

Christie’s second Poirot novel may be lacking in flair, but it excels in nearly everything else.  There’s a solid country house setting, a near constant pace of discovery, and some gorgeous misdirection.  Oh, yes, the misdirection is piled high, reminding me of shifty John Dickson Carr novels such as Death Watch, The Mad Hatter Mystery, or The Four False Weapons.  Indeed, if Agatha Christie ever wrote a Carr novel, this is it, and I suppose she had the advantage of publishing this nearly a decade before Carr ever hit the press.

Despite the title, Murder on the Links doesn’t really involve any golf.  A rich expat residing on the coast of France is found dead on the edge of a golf course.  That’s about it as far as the golf goes, but the murder goes a lot deeper.  I won’t really go into details, but there’s all of these bits of evidence that don’t quite add up.  As a seasoned mystery reader (or perhaps even a novice), you should be able to spot them and extract some meaning from them.  That’s kind of the fun part – playing armchair detective and anticipating moments of discovery, but still not quite understanding where they’ll lead.  I can’t imagine any reader not immediately figuring out what Poirot finds so fascinating about the flower beds, but the big question is what it all means.

Christie provides some nice trappings – a duel between Poirot and another detective, as well as an intriguing romance for narrator Hastings – and the story never really hits a lull.  As a reader of mysteries, I feel like I’m constantly thinking “well, let’s get on with the solution”, and yet with this one I was just enjoying the drive.  Christie also whips out one of my favorite tricks – a story within a story.  The author breaks the core narrative’s pace with a chapter devoted to the study of a crime some years earlier.  As with other examples –  such as The Red Widow Murders, The Plague Court Murders or hey, even The Cavalier’s Cup – you’re swept away into this side narrative, only to emerge disoriented by the puzzle of how it all applies to the case at hand.

As far as Christie goes, this is as solid as anything else I’ve read.  While it may lack the dazzle of her more renowned titles, it makes up for it with cover to cover consistency of quality.  Yes, the final explanation for it all is already rapidly fading from my memory.  Still, this has that country house swing that surprised me in The Mysterious Affair at Styles and enough misdirection to delight for days.  Is Christie’s first decade really as bland as it’s made out to be?  Not for me so far.

The David Suchet adaptation

I swear – it’s as if whoever wrote this screenplay listened to an audio book version of the story while in the throes of a fever dream, and scribbled down their hazy recollection months later.  The story is so completely different from the novel that I was constantly amazed while watching this whenever I realized that the essence of Christie’s tale was indeed being captured, even though the actual details were completely different.

The cast, bless their souls, makes the absolute best of what they’ve been given, and the result is a fine movie if you mentally divorce it from the novel that you’ve read.  As I always find myself saying, the settings of these Suchet versions are absolutely stunning, and this is no exception.  I almost wish I had pictures from the film adaptation to go along with my reading just so my mind could grasp the ornateness of everything.  While reading the book, I’m registering that there’s a nearby beach and a golf course, but then I watch the film and feel like my imagination is on the low end of the spectrum.

Between cast and setting you get a fine film, but I’m sure the nerd in you will rage at why all the details have to be different.  I guess that’s the price you pay for having any book translated to the screen.

15 thoughts on “Murder on the Links – Agatha Christie (1923)”

  1. Yeah, I remember loving this when I read it — er, maybe 15 years ago now, so the details are a little hazy — and, like you, I feel it tends to get overlooked when people are choosing the “best” Christie novels. I just remember the pace of it, and the enjoyable conceit of Poirot and the other detective going head-to-head…it’s a grand ol’ time.

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    1. I’m glad to hear that it wasn’t just me who had that thought. It’s funny, I came into this “first decade” reading experiment thinking it was going to be a bit of a trudge, but I think I’m enjoying these books the most. Perhaps things go south starting with the next book… I haven’t heard the best things about The Man with the Brown Suit, and the whole cabal angle doesn’t really seem like my thing.

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      1. This whole “Christie’s first decade isn’t very good” thing is an opinion that I’m only dimly aware of hearing recently — sure, an author’s rarely at their peak in their first few books, but there’s a real joy of invention in Christie’s 1920s work where she’s obviously playing around with a lot of what would become the tenets of GAD.

        The central reversal in The Seven Dials Mystery, the short-stories-that-form-a-novel setup of The Big Four, the “cheat” in Roger Ackroyd that we’re still picking over a century later…there’s such great work done in these years. And the decade culminates with Partners in Crime, which is surely one of the most joyous and savage deconstructions of the cliches of detective fiction as it stood ever written.

        I’d say that I find this desire by some people to dismiss the foundation works of arguably one of the most important proponents of detective fiction odd, but let’s face it — some people just like pissing on things and then complaining that they’re wet.

        More power to your discovery of Christie’s greatness, Ben!

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      2. Interesting comment on The Big Four – I’ve seen quite a few comments just in the past few days about how bad that one is. At this point though I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy this entire run of 20s books.

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      3. I’ve very much enjoyed the supposedly terrible later works — though, yes, Postern of fate is still ahead of me — so it’s always nice to remember how much elbow-room there is for individual opinion.

        The Big Four was an early one for me, and is very different in tone from her “classic” works, but it’s spiritual kin to the likes of The Man in the Brown Suit and The Secret Adversary, and I enjoyed both of those as well. I was fairly agog when I discovered, yeeeears after reading it, that The Big Four was supposed to be terrible.

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      4. I tend to agree with the “first decade” = bad theory, compared to what she accomplished in the 30s and 40s. But it probably IS exaggerated how bad the 20s were on balance, and it might look better to you because you’ve been prepared for “completely awful” when it’s really “not up to the standards she would later achieve.”

        Also, the 20s are heavy on the spy/adventure novels, which most Christie fans consider deeply inferior to the mysteries and enjoy less, myself among them. But they actually aren’t terrible. (Other than The Big Four-there is no excuse for The Big Four). The Man in the Brown Suit is kind of fun-remarkably silly, but fun.

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      5. I don’t think the Big Four is a result of Christie playing with the genre or making experiments at all. Brown Suit, Seven Dials and Partners in Crime all are in one way or another.

        But Big Four is the result of her having hit rock bottom but still having to hand in a book to her publisher. It does follow her mother’s death and the end of her marriage, and Christie probably suffering depressions (and of course her infamous disappearance). So her brother in law suggested to use some early short stories, which were published in a magazine, somewhat link them together and publish it as a new novel.

        And IMO, it reads exactly like this. The overall plotting is just awful. Even when I read this for the first time as a teenager without knowing the backstory, I realized that it had almost nothing of Christie’s usual plotting. It’s full of singular incidents that normally have nothing to do with each other, but somehow they have. Now I understand the reason. But what I don’t understand is why she didn’t just send in the short stories without trying to tie them together.

        By the way, Christie herself had a soft spot for her early thrillers. She called them fun to write. The two books from the 20s, that she hated were Big Four and Blue Train, the later not being a Thriller (at least not really). Though I have no doubt that this is also because of the time in which these books were created.

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  2. I must not have thought much of it-certainly it’s not on my best list-because the only clear detail I remember is Hasting’s romance.
    What’s hilarious-in her autobiography, Christie has a line about including a romance for Hastings this time, and says she was getting rather tired of him. Uh, Agatha? This was only his 2nd book.

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  3. I was impressed by how streamlined the plot was. After the introductory bit on the train, Christie manages to present the detectives (literally) driving straight into the case. The revelation gymnastics at the end teeter on the edge of silliness, but she pulls it off. My only complaint was the Hastings/Poirot duel. It wasn’t horrible, but Hastings strays a bit too far out of character.

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  4. I’m glad you enjoyed this. I’ve read Murder on the Links only once, about forty years ago, but I’ve always been baffled why it isn’t better known, and wondered whether my memory was at fault. Christie wrote several better books in the 1930s and 1940s, but I think this is her second-best book from the 1920s, next to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (The Mysterious Affair on the Styles is an impressive debut, but I thought it dragged occasionally; this one didn’t).

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      1. You may well disagree with me. Though I think 1930-1950 (Murder at the Vicarage to A Murder Is Announced) was her peak, I found nearly all of Christie’s 1920s books enjoyable (except for The Big Four), even The Mystery of the Blue Train, which Christie herself trashed; it has some trite elements, but it also has, I think, one of Christie’s best heroines. Most of her 1920s books have things I could carp about (and maybe will someday if I start a blog), but… damn, they were FUN to read.

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