A dark offering from the Queen of Crime. This represents the world-famous author’s most successful foray into the dark world of murder and black magic. To understand the strange goings on at The Pale Horse Inn, Mark Easterbrook knew he had to begin at the beginning. But where exactly was the beginning? Was it the savage blow to the back of Father Gorman’s head? Or was it when the priest’s assailant searched him so roughly he tore the clergyman’s cassock? Or could it have been the priest’s visit, just minutes before, to a woman on her death bed? Or was there a deeper significance to the violent squabble which Mark Easterbrook had himself witnessed earlier? Wherever the beginning lies, Mark and his sidekick, Ginger Corrigan, may soon have cause to wish they’d never found it…
My first time with one of Agatha's novels in about 40 years. I'm pretty sure I read something as a schoolboy, though Lord knows what. I have read a collection of Marple short stories a fair few years back - Miss Marple's Final Cases. Anyways I'm long past due checking out the widely acknowledged Queen of Crime.
Well, The Pale Horse then. Not Poirot, Not Marple, but a standalone maybe - unless anyone can advise differently.
A priest is killed in the fog shortly after visiting a woman for a death bed confession and to offer absolution. The deceased Father had a list of names concealed in his shoe that offers only the slightest hint that it concerns his death. (Undoubtedly it does.)
The one eyewitness to the incident preceding the attack on the priest - a man pursuing him - is a chemist named Zachariah Osborne. He offers some assistance to the police and is positive he can identify the mystery man.
Mark Easterbrook, a local historian and author (how or why he gets involved, I can't actually remember) is fascinated by the priest's list - some of whom seem to have become fairly recently deceased and he tries to identify the others. The police pursue other lines of enquiry.
Seances, a dodgy bookmaker, The Pale Horse - an inn in Much Deeping - the mere mention of which causes a frightened reaction to some who obviously fear it, a man in a wheelchair, fighting girls, an amateur investigation, a cunning plan, an eventual outcome and a bit of romance to boot.
Quite a moody book. Very atmospheric and dark in places. There's a touch of the present day in the attitudes and behaviour of some of the younger characters, almost a precursor to the Swinging Sixties. I think I was a bit surprised by that.
Overall I enjoyed it. I think my aversion over the years to Agatha Christie and other GA mystery authors is a preconception that they write about a certain class of character, people rather well-to-do, Lords and Ladies of the Manor with servants and butlers and wealth. I'm not especially interested in reading about such people. Here our cast comprises some more earthy sorts.
I have to say I had my suspicions about the murderer which proved correct. Some of the other elements that surrounded the mystery left me a bit puzzled though. One of the weaknesses of reading via Audible is a difficulty in stopping and pausing and rewinding to listen again to an incomprehensible bit of narrative. ie I didn't particularly understand the involvement of the bookmaker and how he did or didn't connect to the crime. Smoke and mirrors or was he a red herring? Similarly I didn't really vibe how the murderer gained from his crimes. I understood perfectly how he committed them and there's a sort of hiding in plain sight scenario which is ever more obvious once it's was revealed.
That apart and courtesy of a silky narration by Hugh Fraser, I had a good time with this one. So much so I started another Christie immediately afterwards.
3.5 from 5
Read - (listened to) August, 2021
Published - 1961
Page count - 275 (6 hrs 42 mins)
Source - Scribd trial
Format - Audible