Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie

The Sittaford Mystery is the 11th mystery/crime novel written by Agatha Christie. It was originally published in 1931 as The Murder at Hazelmoor, but the title was changed when it was published in the United States. This was the first of many Christie novels to appear under more than one name depending on which country you purchased the book.

The Sittaford Mystery is set between two small country towns (Sittaford and Exhampton) in the south of England during the early 1930s. Inspector Narracott is called in to investigate when the upstanding and very wealthy, but miserly Captain Trevelyan is found dead at Hazelmore Manor one stormy winter night. What initially appears as a breaking-and-entering gone wrong soon begins to look more like premeditated murder... that is if the stories from participants in a "table turning" at Sittaford House can be believed.

The Sittaford Mystery is a typical Christie detective novel. The story is set, the characters introduced, a crime is committed, and then the unraveling of the mystery begins. And like always it takes a while to get to the end, for there are a lot of sub-mysteries hidden within the main story. There's the obvious suspect and then there are several possible suspects, and then there are those no one is suspecting. Like in The Seven Dials Mystery, the police -- in this case Inspector Narracott -- receive assistance in solving the crime from two amateurs. This time they include a journalist and the fiance of suspect. But together the three see and hear things that help the reader sort out the mystery.

Overall I enjoyed The Sitaffaord Mystery, it was entertaining and clever, as Christie usually is. I was tuned in to several clues, but still didn't solve the crime before the detectives did. I might have been helped a little by the television adaptation MYSTERY! aired a few years back... but for the fact it was nothing remotely like the book.

In the MYSTERY! adaptation, the screenwriters took several liberties with the story. For starters, they made it a Miss Marple mystery, which it wasn't. Then they had the murder and mystery all take place at Sittaford House, which it didn't. And to add insult to injury, they changed who the murderer was and what their motive was. The end result was a film titled The Sittaford Mystery that had some elements and names matching those in the book, but otherwise it was a completely different story. All I can say is that the original, the book, was much better.

Some may object to the use of a "table turning" in the story (in the movie it was a ouija board), and I can understand this objection. But in all honesty its part in the story was very minor and had no more involvement than the evolution aspect did in the The Man in the Brown Suit. I was able to pass over it and focus on the story for what it was really -- a detective story, a traditional "Who Dunit" novel.

Even so, The Sittaford Mystery wasn't a favorite of mine. I enjoyed the setting, it was different, but there was something familiar about the story plot, as if I'd seen the formula in another set of characters and another crime. At any rate, on a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate The Sittaford Mystery a 3. It was good, but it wasn't Christie's best. I enjoyed her earliest works and I hope to find that I like some of her middle works, but we'll see. Peril at End House is the next in line, so stay tuned.


Framed said...

I just discovered Christie in the past two years and have a lot of catching up to do. I liked this mystery as I did all the others of Christie that I have read so far. I can't imagine how the production could have put the murder in Sittaford. The distance to Hazelmoor is a huge part of the mystery.

Kerrie said...

Thanks for contributing this review to the Agatha Christie Blog Carnival Sarah.
Thanks also for the thought provokingness of your review