(1) Thursday 4th January
The Mystery Of The Skeleton Key
Like the work of Austin Freeman and Chesterton, this straddles the boundary between the late Victorian crime story and the true Golden Age tale. Unfortunately it has few of the strengths of the latter and several of the worst weaknesses of the former – notably a highly melodramatic and over-complicated plot, often ponderous prose, no real clueing (indeed key clues are actually hidden from the reader), and a rather stilted love story which adds nothing to the narrative. It is not without good points and entertainment but is not worthy of the praise accorded to it by, inter alia, Chesterton, who wrote a short introduction to a 1929 reissue of the book.
(2) Tuesday 9th January
I now rate this book much more highly than I did a few years ago – I last reread it in 2013. I’m still not sure it quite comes off as triumphantly as it might have done. Christie’s overuse of dashes and ellipses becomes very irritating and the ending feels anticlimactic, while Poirot himself doesn’t have a lot to do (apparently Christie regretted putting him in the story and I’m inclined to agree with her). His acquisition of a country cottage, Resthaven, feels out of character, shoehorned in to the story to get him on the scene – it is never mentioned again in the series, like Poirot’s “retirement” to the country in Roger Ackroyd.
However, it’s a clever and occasionally unsettling book, a well-told story, probably in my Top 10 Poirots. The solution is simultaneously complex and simple, and crucially does not stretch the suspension of disbelief too far. It is psychologically plausible and the plot emerges from the characters and their attitudes and relationships rather than being something that they exist to serve.