Death in the Clouds

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by Agatha Christie (1935)
Slapdash Review

A delightful, brisk-paced Hercule Poirot mystery, showing Agatha Christie at the height of her powers, in the middle of the Golden Age era of literary detection.

This is the no. 9 Hercule Poirot novel, published in 1935. It is not very well-known, but it falls smack in the middle of Christie's grandest creative period: among masterpieces and/or world-famous mysteries such as Lord Edgware Dies, Three Act Tragedy, Murder on the Orient Express, and The A.B.C. Murders.

The reason why Death in the Clouds is perhaps not as well known may lie in the mystery's plot: it is far-fetched and implausible, and, really not very distinct from an alternative solution to the mystery proposed by one of the characters in the cast – a writer of mysteries and Agatha Christie's satire of her own profession. So, I for one found the resolution to the mystery disappointing; and, if you know the typology of the usual Agatha Christie villains, you might guess the solution (if not the exact mechanism of the crime) yourself long before the novel is over.

Strangely, unlike in some of the atrocious and superfluous late Hercule Poirot novels published in the 1960s and 1970s (such as Third Girl and Elephants Can Remember), you do not mind, while reading Death in the Clouds, that the mystery angle isn't so sharp this time. That's because Agatha Christie's writing is crisp and witty throughout; the novel is interspersed with Poirot's eccentricities in such a way as to enable Christie to convey some of her favourite messages regarding life and romantic love.

And, that is exactly what makes Agatha Christie a true classic! Her finest novels are those that blend perfect mystery plots with romance, psychology, and meditations on the nature of intelligence (or genius). It is, therefore, totally false to claim all Christie novels are the same, and once you've read one of them, you've read them all; that's a wrong claim, because it's only the best Agatha Christie books that manage to provide the mix of detection, romance, and psychology that is truly Christiesque. Death in the Clouds is one such novel that manages to pull off that trick; and if the mystery angle had been more exciting, the novel might be ranked among Christie's very finest.

Still, the story shows Christie's skills in describing a variation of the classic type of "Locked Room" mystery – except that the "locked room" is the cabin of an aircraft this time around. This novel is highly recommended to all Agatha Christie fans; it will make an excellent introduction to the Hercule Poirot phenomenon to anyone who might be interested; and the novel possesses an acceptable literary quality quite apart from its being a whodunnit. Rated B- on a scale of A+ to F-.

--Faterson 17:15, 19 April 2007 (CEST)
[original writing time between 21:23:12 & 21:37:39 (CET) on Sunday, 25 February 2007; subsequently revised for this webpage]

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Death in the Clouds webpage at Wikipedia

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