There is a Tide – Agatha Christie (1948)

ThereIsATideTell me that this isn’t the best book cover that you’ve ever seen.  Seriously.  Ok, so my 1955 Dell edition is a bit worse for wear, but with that exceptional William Rose illustration, I don’t mind.  The style, the color palette, the perfectly captured expression, even that subtle shift of the title type – I struggle to think of a cover that I like better.  Mmm… maybe Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliot Chaze, but I don’t have $200 to shell out on a book simply for the art work.

This is the type of cover that you want blown up and framed on your wall.  No, tattooed on your arm!  Err… that might get a bit awkward and regrettable – walking around with a picture of a woman getting strangled on your arm.  Err… well, enough about that topic…

Published in the UK as Taken at the Flood, There is a Tide doesn’t actually involve any water – a minor disappointment, as I had this fantasy of a country house crime scene beset by rising waters.  This 1948 Christie title is anything but disappointing though.  It’s a solid execution by Christie, and while it may not feature as memorable of a gimmick as some of her more renowned works, overall it reads just as well as any of them.

The plot of There is a Tide isn’t a million miles removed from much of Christie’s other novels.  An immensely wealthy man dies within days of getting married, and without opportunity to craft a new will.  His siblings, having lived their lives free to pursue their whims with knowledge of a comfortable inheritance, suddenly find themselves destitute, with all of the money going to the newly minted wife.

It’s an inheritance predicament ripe for murder.  And, while murder does eventually come, you’re looking at about half a book before you get to it.  That’s not a criticism at all.  If anything, it highlights just how good Christie is.  That I could be so enveloped by the story, without even getting a whiff of the nefarious, struck me at once as both so odd and so natural.  Christie needn’t rely on a locked room, a haunted house, seances, or other gimcracks to suck me in (note: I love all aforementioned gimcracks).  She hardly needs to rely on murder.  She can simply give me a country house, a fortune, and a cast of characters, and it all comes across as magical.  It’s like one of the rare well done horror movies, where you’re 20 minutes in and find yourself thinking “oh, I hope nothing happens to these people” – despite the fact that you sat down to watch exactly that!

Eventually we do get around to the actual murder, although exactly what happens was unexpected enough that I’ll leave it for your own read (or one of the 80 million other reviews you can probably find for any Christie book).  I can’t help but feel that the actual mystery is a bit minor compared to Christie’s more cherished works.  Things get a little time-table-y, and there isn’t really a memorable hook to the murder.

ThereIsATide2But what’s strange is that it’s all kind of brilliant.  The end contains what I have to classify as a slow burner of a twist.  I did not see the twist coming at all, although it’s not the type that makes you jump out of your chair.  It’s more of the “oh, that’s interesting” sort.  And then your mind starts to take in the ripple effect that it implies for the story that you just read.  It’s been two days since I read There is a Tide, and that ripple effect is still going.

I struggle to say that Christie has pulled off some giant misdirection.  It certainly doesn’t feel like the type of misdirection the likes of John Dickson Carr employ, where the reader experiences a series of events but misinterprets what they’re seeing.  And yet, Christie certainly swindles us.  Even the seasoned reader looking out for particular tricks is likely to lay their attention in the wrong spot.

There is a Tide is a success, and the more time that passes between my reading, the more I’m finding myself enjoying it.  How often do you get that?  It’s strange, because the book is at once forgettable, and at the same time vying for a seat at the table alongside my favorite Christies.

The David Suchet adaptation

As usual, the producers have decided to change a number of details, this time mostly in the periphery of the story.  Background events are moved from Africa to South America for no apparent reason, an explosion occurs because of a gas leak rather than a bombing raid, etc.  The most notable alteration though sucks one of my favorite elements from the story – the societal shifts taking place in post-War England.

Like many of Christie’s stories published around the time, There is a Tide is a testament of the transformation England underwent following WW2: the impact on people who had gone to war, the impact on those who stayed behind, the ration books, the difficulty of getting a job or finding good help.  All of this is gone from the film adaptation.  In fact, I don’t even know if I recall the war coming up at all.  It’s strange, because post-War England may be one of the book’s defining traits.

12 thoughts on “There is a Tide – Agatha Christie (1948)”

  1. The producers of the Suchet series evidently chose to set the entire Poirot canon in the mid-1930’s. That certainly lessens the impact of this title! I think it has the distinction of being the last Christie I ever read. I didn’t even know it existed until I stumbled upon a used paperback in a local dime store. It was like discovering a secret treasure. I wish I had enjoyed the book as much as you did when I first read it. I get the twist, but I still think the ultimate solution is a complicated hodgepodge of ideas. The best thing about this one is that it improves with re-reading. Unburdened with the need to discover whodunit, I find it a fascinating social document of post-war English society, with some really strong characterizations, especially in the central triangle of Lynn, Rowley and David, and in the other female characters. The mystery may, as you suggest, be somewhat forgettable, but the emotional impact of the book as simply a novel remains strong.

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    1. This seems like a strong way to go out on a favorite author. It’s funny to think of all of the permutations that people have read these books, and to what degree any given title has ever been someone’s last for an author as widely read as Christie.

      Your comment also reminds me of how things were up until the late 90s or maybe even early 2000’s – just because you loved an author/musician didn’t mean that you had access to a source that documented everything they had produced. That weird epiphany that you’re favorite had decades ago produced something that you didn’t even know existed… there’s something to be missed about that.

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  2. I agree with you that there’s no real hook or memorable element of this, and yet it is a compelling book and — as Brad says above — a great social document of the era. I also remember it because I was about 80 pages from the end when I thought “Huh, it’d be really cool if [this happened], but she’d never do that…” and then, 60 pages later, she did.

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    1. I’m kicking myself because I was hard on the lookout for the trick that Christie deployed, and yet I was foolishly looking in the wrong direction. In hindsight it seems so obvious. Kudos to you if you saw it coming.

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      1. I can’t say I saw it coming per se — I more just had an idle moment of speculation, like happens when I attempt crosswords, and the dominoes fell in such a way that I was fairly impressed with myself for coming up with it. The it turns out Christie had already come up with it, so that’s possibly less impressive.

        IIRC, this was around(ish) the time that I anticipated an incorrect — and I think better — solution to Sparkling Cyanide, so clearly that was my crime writing peak…!

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  3. The romantic angle of the plot is definitely more unusual for Christie, with one of Lynn’s suitors being something of an anti-hero. What troubled me with Lynn’s romantic adventures is how it all ends. The ending seems to advocate male violence as firstly a proof of devotion and secondly as an attractive quality? Not typical Christie really.

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    1. (I wrote a long response to Kate’s comment of which I was very proud. I wrote it on my iPad, and then it wouldn’t post and was, of course, lost, so I’m trying to recover from the emotional devastation of that moment as I attempt to recreate it.)

      SPOILERS AHEAD: I couldn’t agree more with you, Kate. Here we have a triangle of real depth, with three complex characters that a “typical” mystery would never sustain. Rowley is the most original: a gentleman farmer who “loses out” on going to war by the toss of a coin, survives where his partner/competitor doesn’t, and then feels emasculated by the trauma. We find other examples of Lynn and David in the canon. He’s the soldier of fortune, the handsome, charming-when-he-needs-to-be, slightly sociopathic man who’s good for nothing without a war (like Christie’s brother Monte). She’s the radiant heroine who’s not only lovely but useful: she’s the smartest person in her family, she saved lives in the War (we see her again in the next book, in the person of Sophia Leonides), and she is meant for more than simply settling down. But then you get that ending, where the mechanics of the mystery betray the men, and Sophia’s ultimate actions betray all women. She should have got in a tractor, run both guys down, and then run the farm herself, keeping on the lookout for a farmhand who may not be much to look at but is great with the animals. Decent husband material!

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      1. I’ve lost long comments too, so you have my sympathies.
        I think Christie could have done something quite interesting with the love triangle but instead she almost reverts to a thriller romance trope. Your version sounds much better!

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      2. I have never read her Mary Westmacott books, but I do wonder whether that was a more prominent and acceptable romantic fiction trope then. Was there not a throw away comment in a Sayers novel which went even further than Rowley? I remember being similarly perplexed by (MILD SPOILERS AHEAD) by the end of another Christie book and one of Margery Allingham’s pre-war books where two successful woman give up their careers to get married at the insistence of their husbands to be. I do prefer the end of 4.50 to Paddington where Christie allows the audience to choose which pairing they prefer.

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      3. Adriandominic, 4:50 From Paddington is another interesting situation. After decades of creating one dumb domestic servant after another, in the 50’s and 60’s she introduces these university-educated or just plain bright women who choose domestic service. The first one does it for nefarious purposes. Then comes Lucy, who I absolutely love. It’s just so odd to me that Miss Marple is more focused on marrying her off. I hope it was to Dermot Craddock and that Lucy keeps working. In the 60’s we meet Cherry Baker and her husband Jim. I don’t know. Maybe Christie’s point was that some people live to help others, or maybe someone has to take care of Miss Marple, so it might as well be someone competent.

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    2. Yeah, the ending is a definite WTF moment, and it’s galling how the violence is simply brushed off. No, brushed off is too kind – it’s accepted. The ending feels very truncated. Christie had just delivered a fine solution, and she seems to have found herself with loose ends that would take at least a bulked out chapter to handle. Instead we get these two pages that just sort of shrug their shoulders.

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  4. SPOILERS!

    I agree the romantic ending is hard too swallow. To my mind the comparisons with women who give up their career to marry are beside the point. That is being old-fashioned, here Christie romanticizes serious abuse.

    But staying on the subject of gender roles, does anyone feel that there is a bit of thematic connection between the gender role reversal exemplified by Lynn and Rowley, and part of the solution to the mystery?

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