Tell 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.
But 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.