Friday, April 2, 2010

Review - Sad Cypress

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie

Year: 1939

Pages: about 224 (Dell Paperback)
Genre: British Crime, cozy, private detective, whodunit
My Rating: Four Stars
My source: Library used book sale

The short of it: A classic Agatha Christie cozy whodunit featuring Hercule Poirot. If you like a tight plot with a clear short list of suspects, you may enjoy this one.

The long of it:

Elinor Carlisle seems to have it all - a pretty and level-headed young London socialite, engaged to the man she passionately loves, in line for a large inheritance - until things begin to go radically wrong. Her rich old aunt Laura has a stroke, her fiance falls in love with an enchanting woman, Mary Gerrard, who is also getting very close to her aunt. When both the aunt and Mary Gerrard die, Elinor is arrested with what seems to be a watertight case against her. Will Hercule Poirot be able to save her, or as he would put it, discover the truth?

Agatha Christie is master at creating a puzzle and leaving all the pieces in front of you, challenging you to piece it together, and she does it well in this book. Almost all the elements that I enjoy in a classic whodunit are present here - the important characters are all introduced early creating a clear short list of suspects, the characters are well-defined, the clues and red herrings are well-distributed (though one non-essential clue is a revealed rather late), and the reader should have everything in hand to solve the crime before the result is revealed. The characters are all well-defined to the point where one can probably find the equivalent of an Elinor or a Mary in one's life. Poirot makes his appearance only at about page 93 minus Captain Hastings, but is at his element in this book. One unusual feature of this book is the courtroom scene at the end, reminiscent of Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason novels. The mystery is eventually solved with all loose ends neatly tied up as is characteristic of Christie.

On another note, I have long been a fan of Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell and am thus a little familiar with the class distinctions that existed in English society in the Regency and Victorian eras, and the transformations that were taking place as opportunities for social mobility increased. Thus it was interesting to note that this book, written in 1939, addresses the persisting class differences. Christie writes about the difficulties faced by Mary Gerrard who, while being from a working class background, is given a well-rounded education by Aunt Laura. One of the characters comments:

"All this schooling and going abroad! It changed Mary. I don't mean that it spoiled her or that she was stuck-up - she wasn't. But it - oh, it bewildered her! She didn't know where she was any more. She was - well, put it crudely - she was too good for me, but she still wasn't good enough for a real gentleman like Mr. Welman."

Mary no longer fit in with the working class, but she can never be considered on par with the gentry!

While this book is not in the caliber of "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" or "The Murder in the Orient Express", it is very enjoyable and is a good book to read when one is in the mood for a quick, stimulating yet cozy read.

Bonus: The title was taken from a song in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Sad Cypress was adapted for TV in 2003 as part of BBC's Poirot series with David Suchet playing Poirot. Rupert Penry-Jones (of Persuasion fame) played Roddy, Elinor's fiance. Dorney Court, a Tudor manor house from about 1440 was used as a filming location.

Challenges: This book counts toward two challenges I am participating in.

1) The Marple, Poirot, Holmes challenge hosted by Kals, and

2) The Typically British Reading Challenge hosted by BookChickCity
This review is also now part of Book Review Party Wednesday (for April 7) hosted by Cym.


  1. I love the way you've reviewed this book, going beyond just the mystery to see themes in it. Especially the quote and Christie's take on class distinctions :)

  2. I remember reading this book a while ago and I enjoyed it a lot! I'm a huge Christie fan so I might be a bit biased. But I agree with you, Sad Cypress definitely isn't as good as some of her other books.

    from Une Parole

  3. Kals - Class distinctions seems to be a repeatedly occurring theme in Christie more so in her earlier works. I'll keep this in mind when I read her works now!

    Emidy - I am a huge Christie fan myself and there are very very few AC books that I did not enjoy. Postern of Fate is the only one I can even recall off hand - AC is great!

  4. I have an award for you! :)

  5. Thank you for your insightful review. Agatha Christie has long been one of my favorite writers. I picked up my love of British mystery from her work.

  6. Thanks for visiting, Nancy. Agatha Christie inspired me to read British mystery too!

  7. I have been listening to all the Agatha Christie novels I can find in audio format read by David Suchet. I recently listened to Sad Cypress and enjoyed it too, it is interesting to see the way Christie deals with the class issue and the changes in her social environment over time.

  8. Bernadette, I didn't know about the existence Agatha Christie audiobook read by David Suchet - I really have to check one out! He made the best screen Poirot by far.

    Yes, AC is good at addressing a number of social issues very subtly without making a big deal out of it - I enjoy that aspect of her writing very much.

  9. Thanks so much for this review. This is the only Christie book I figured out about 40 pages in... I've never been able to make it past that, but I will try again with the class pressures you've pointed out in mind.