Published by Harper Collins
Publication date – 9 February 2017
Source – own copy
(My copy was a 1970s Fontana edition)
A wealthy Greek businessman is found dead at his London home…
The Leonides were one big happy family living in a sprawling, ramshackle mansion. That was until the head of the household, Aristide, was murdered with a fatal barbiturate injection.
Suspicion naturally falls on the old man’s young widow, fifty years his junior. But the murderer has reckoned without the tenacity of Charles Hayward, fiance of the late millionare’s granddaughter…
Charles Hayward meets Sophia Leonides in Cairo and falls in love. When he returns from overseas, Sophia writes to him, telling Charles that her beloved grandfather Aristide, is dead, murdered, and Sophia can’t marry Charles until she knows who killed Aristide. So Charles, encouraged by his father, who happens to be the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, heads to Three Gables, the Crooked House, to find out the truth.
A large country house, numerous family members and a young step-mother married to the elderly patriarch. Throw in a pots of money and a devious murder method and you have yourself the makings of a great mystery novel.
I’d thought I’d read all of Agatha Christie’s novels, though many of them were read so long ago it’s almost as if I’ve never read them. My memory of course is made up of fragments and the lasting impressions of the many TV adaptations. Crooked House seemed familiar but I’d not seen the latest adaptation and was intrigued to read it.
Crooked House is one of Christie’s standalone novels and doesn’t feature either Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple. However, that doesn’t mean this book isn’t any good, because it is. The little grey cells and the elderly spinster are not noticeably missed.
The characters are a mixed bag. There’s Sophia, sensible and practical, not swayed by much but who clearly adored her grandfather. Sophia’s mother, an actress, is indulged by her family, her father, Aristide’s son, is methodical, lost in his books. There are Sophia’s siblings, her brother on the cusp of adulthood and her sister who listens at doors and keeps a diary of the “secrets” she uncovers. Sophia’s aunt and uncle live in a separate part of the house, austere in its decor, her uncle only too keen to please his father, though this is not difficult as he was Aristide’s favourite. As for Sophia’s step-grandmother, she is young, attractive and an obvious suspect. Throw in the sister of Aristide’s first wife and there are more than enough suspects.
Crooked House is fuelled by secrets and petty jealousy. Philip, Sophia’s father is introspective, having to deal with the fact that his brother Roger is the favourite. Roger’s wife Clemency is a scientist; practical, aloof and not without the skills to replace Aristide’s insulin with his eye drops. The family want Brenda, Aristide’s wife and the tutor, Lawrence, it be the murderers. They are the easy targets, tolerated at best and for them not to be at fault would mean it was someone else inside the family, which would cause the wrong type of scandal.
The mystery is engaging, with enough suspects and red herrings to try to through even the most hardened of armchair detectives off the trail. The denouement, when it comes, is cleverly dealt with, though the clues are there for the reader to work out who was to blame.
A brilliant country house, golden age murder mystery, it was a pleasure to read.