Saturday, August 31, 2013

Murder at Hazelmoor: Agatha Christie

Murder at Hazelmoor, published in 1931, is one of Christie's non-series books. The original title in the UK was The Sittaford Mystery.

This book introduced me to a term that I am not familiar with: table turning. At Bartleby.com, this is defined as:  "The presumed art of turning tables without the application of mechanical force. Said by some to be the work of departed spirits, and by others to be due to a force akin to mesmerism." The rocking table indicates letters and spell out messages. I have, of course, read books and seen movies where this activity takes place, but I was never familiar with the term. Table turning plays a significant part in this book.

A group of neighbors in the very small village of Sittaford get together for tea on a very cold and snowy night. They have been invited by Mrs. Willet and her grown daughter, Viola, who are visiting England after living in South Africa for many years. Captain Trevelyan has rented his large house in Sittaford to the Willets because of the money he will make on the transaction and has moved to the nearby town of Hazelmoor for a few months. The guests are residents of the smaller houses that have been built in the same area as Trevelyan's home. These guests include Major Burnaby, a friend of the Captain's for many years; Mr. Rycroft, interested in psychic phenomena and criminology; Ronnie Garfield, who is visiting his elderly aunt.

After tea, table turning is suggested as a diversion. As it progresses, a message is spelled out saying that Captain Trevelyan has been murdered. Up to that point, the activity has all been in fun. Immediately, everyone loses their taste for table turning and several of the participants are quite upset.

Major Burnaby decides he must immediately walk to Hazelmoor and confirm that the Captain is safe. Everyone protests, due to the impossibility of the trip on foot (or by car) in the snow, but he insists. He sets off immediately. And, two and a half hours later, he arrives at the house and discovers the dead body of Captain Trevelyan. It turns out the approximate time of death is about the same time as the incident of the table turning.

That is the setup of the story. The unusual part of this story is that there are two investigators. One is Inspector Narracott, summoned from Exeter to lead the investigation. The second is a young lady, Emily Trefusis, who is the fiancee of Captain Trevelyan's nephew, who has become the prime suspect.  Emily knows that her fiancee has some flaws, but she is sure he is not capable of murder.

This is another Christie mystery featuring a strong, confident female character. Emily adds spice to the investigation as she and Inspector Narracott run into each other as they follow leads. Emily is aided by a newspaperman, also from Exeter, who opens some doors for her that would otherwise have been closed. But she is so enterprising and determined, we know she would have found a way no matter what.

The mystery is quite good and kept me guessing for most of the book. Even in the end, although I considered the solution as one of many possible solutions, I was quite surprised at how it was done. Yet it all makes sense. Christie is so good at diverting the reader, and that is one of the reasons I am enjoying her books so much.

This post is my second submission for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VIII event, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. That event celebrates reading of books of mystery, suspense, and horror. The event continues through October 31, 2013. Reviews for that event are here.

It is also submitted for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, hosted by Mysteries In Paradise.

24 comments:

  1. I love Christie but have never heard of this novel. Now I will be on the lookout for a copy. Have you read And Then there Were None? That's my favorite.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have not yet read And Then There Were None. I am reading the books roughly in order of publication. I will probably read it in the next few months.

      Delete
  2. Not my favourite Christie, but not a bad one. Glad you enjoyed it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have not read enough (recently) to have a favorites list, although Crooked House would definitely be there. But I have been very surprised that I have enjoyed immensely everyone I have read since I started the Christie Reading Challenge.

      Delete
  3. Nicely reviewed, Tracy. I agree Christie's mysteries wouldn't have been as gripping without her diversions and the element of surprise in her stories. I am yet to come to this title.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Prashant. I feel like the Christie books are hard to review because I am saying the same things about each book. But I have truly enjoyed each one I have read... so far.

      Delete
  4. Tracy - Excellent review, for which thanks. Christie was certainly skilled at leading the reader 'up the garden path...' And I agree that Emily is a good character. Thanks for the reminder.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Margot, Even though the things I like about each novel are very similar, I don't get tired of these books.

      Delete
  5. I haven't even heard of this one, presumably she wrote it just after Murder at the Vicarage (much dramatized) which I've just finished and was first published in 1930. I'll have to look for this one. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Katrina, I was not familiar with this one either. Although she wrote so many books, it is hard to keep track. Hope you like it.

      Delete
  6. Loved this book, and I adore Emily. Christie was terrific at writing strong female protagonists.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ryan, I agree. These stand alone novels by Christie have been a surprise for me. I must have read more of the series books when I was younger.

      Delete
  7. I've been meaning to read some Christie for this challenge--and I do like the idea of a strong female investigating the mystery! I'll have to keep this one in mind as a possibility.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheryl, I have been surprised by the Christie books I have read. I am enjoying the stand alone books and the Miss Marple series more than Poirot.

      Delete
  8. This is a new Agatha Christie to me -- this one might appear on my R.I.P. list for next year! Great review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks very much, Col. If you like Christie, you will probably like this one.

      Delete
  9. Tracy I had not heard of this one either but then I saw The Sittaford Mystery and I have seen that episode of Miss Marple on PBS! I'll have to keep my eyes open for this one. Never ever disappointed with Christie!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Peggy, I certainly have not been disappointed yet.

      Delete
  10. I was just looking at Agatha Christie books at the used bookstore the other day trying to decide which one I wanted. I'm definitely going to see if this one is there when I go next! I hadn't heard of table turning either. You learn something new every day :) Sounds like a great read for this challenge!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Samantha, I hope you find a copy. It is perfect for RIP.

      Delete
  11. Another reminder that I need to read the one solitary Christie book I have. In all honesty, I'm probably not tempted by this one though. Glad you enjoyed it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Col, You are going to read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd? That is supposed to be the best one. I know I read it years and years ago, and haven't decided whether to re-read it or not.

      Delete
  12. It's called The Sittaford Mystery in the UK. I like it very much because of the dark atmosphere of a winter's night, the séance, the villages snowed in on the moors, the escaped prisoner. The set up has to be one of her best.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so much better at noticing atmosphere and details than I am. I get caught up in the story and lose track ... but there was a scene where she noted Mrs. Willett's clothes as "just over the borderline of suitability for country wear." Which I loved because of the association of clothes with a setting.

      Delete