Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie

288 pages
February 2002 (first published 1934)
St Martin's Miotaur (Mass Market Paperback)
New York, NY

The Book
Published the same year as Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Agatha Christie returns to England for the setting of her next crime/murder mystery novel, Why Didn't They Ask Evans?

As was the case with three earlier books (The Sittaford Mystery, Lord Edgware Dies, and Murder on the Orient Express), Why Didn't They Ask Evans has appeared under two titles. First as Why Didn't They Ask Evans in the UK in the fall of 1934 and then as The Boomerang Clue in the United States in early 1935. But unlike those three other novels, I'm still not clear as to the reason for this change, or for the particular choice in title. I guess it will remain a mystery of sorts.

Another unique aspect of the book is that Why Didn't They Ask Evans? is one of only 12 novels (out of 80) that does not include any police or private detectives in the solving of the crime. As noted in the synopsis below, the crime is discovered by a country vicar's son, Bobby Jones and later investigated and solved by Bobby and his childhood friend Frankie (also known as Lady Frances Derwent). For those readers who need a break from Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, this might be the book for you. As I read I was particularly reminded of two of Christie's earlier works: The Secret Adversary (1924), which includes two friends, Tommy and Tuppence, who take on sleuthing for some extra cash, and The Seven Dials Mystery (1929), which includes long-time friends Bill Eversleigh and Lady Eileen Brent (a.k.a. "Bundle").

The Synopsis
Was it a misstep that sent the handsome stranger plummeting to his death from a cliff? Or something more sinister? Fun-loving adventurers Bobby Jones and Francis Derwit's suspicions are certainly aroused-especially since the man's dying words were so peculiar: Why didn't they ask Evans? Bobby and Francis would love to know. Unfortunately, asking it of the wrong people have sent the amateur sleuths running for their lives-on a wild and deadly pursuit to discover who Evans is, what it was he wasn't asked, and why the mysterious inquiry has put their own lives in mortal danger... (summary courtesy of Amazon.com)

My Thoughts
When I started reading the book I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy it. The first few chapters seemed a little slow and I started to wonder if Christie might have lost some of her pizazz when writing this novel. But then, within a few chapters, the story picked up speed and I realized how wrong I was. Why Didn't They Ask Evans may have a slowish start, but it definitely becomes a page turner with the necessary plot twists to keep the reader involved until the very end. On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate Why Didn't They Ask Evans a 3.5. It was a good read, but not Christie's best. As mentioned above, fans of Murder on the Links, The Secret Adversary, and The Seven Dials Mystery may also enjoy this novel.

A Few more interesting details
I read an interesting fact online about the Why Didn't They Ask Evans character Bobby Jones. Apparently Christie used Bobby's character as a teasing nod to the famous American golfer, Bobby Jones. While the Bobby Jones of the book is horrible at golf, the real Bobby Jones was considered one of the greatest golfers of that era. (In modern times this might be like an author publishing a mystery that includes an amateur golfer and sleuth named Tiger Woods). I imagine it was quite humorous for readers in 1934 and 1935 who were familiar with the real Bobby Jones, a four-time winner of the US Open.

Another interesting fact about Why Didn't They Ask Evans? is that it was the first of Christie's novels to be adapted to the screen following her death and following a long hiatus when the author refused to release filming rights for her books. The reason being she had become very unhappy with several movie adaptations of her books in the early years. At any rate, Why Didn't They Ask Evans? was released in 1980 and was such a success that many more of her novels have since made it to film. Today's readers will be interested to note that there has been a new adaptation of Why Didn't They Ask Evans? which is to air next month as part of the 2009 Masterpiece Mystery series on PBS. Although I am excited about this, I was sorry to also read about some of the major plot changes, including the addition of Miss Marple to the story! (I can only imagine what Christie would have said if she were alive today.) Nevertheless, I do plan to watch the adaptation since I haven't been able to get my hands on the 1980 version.

And speaking of July... stay tuned for my next review: Three Act Tragedy -- the return of Hercule Poirot.

3 comments:

dancebythelight said...

Thanks for the interesting tidbit. I'm looking forward to the new Miss Marple series next month. I'll have to pick up the book to get the real story.

Kerrie said...

I haven't read this one yet (in my current challenge) Sarah, but I am looking forward to it. The Boomerang Clue seems an odd title doesn't it?
I'm interested in what you say about Miss Marple being added in the TV version - we haven't seen that one here yet in Australia.
Did you know that in the Margaret Rutherford films, they gave Miss Marple a male companion? Mr Stringer he was called. He was like her version of Captain Hastings.

Thanks fot participation in the Blog Carnival. I hope you do so again.

S. Mehrens said...

Actually I think I might have figured out why it was called "The Boomerang Clue" -- but I can't say anything lest it give away something important. :)