One of the traditional tools of the trade of the crime novelist is the killer who isn’t what they seem to be. Because these are murder mysteries it usually takes a great detective like Hercule Poirot to uncover the deception, especially when the murder is first announced at the funeral.
The classic with the clever alliterative title was the April choice in my year of reading mystery novels.
Funerals are Fatal (1953) by Agatha Christie was published in the U.K. as After the Funeral. The book opens as Richard Abernethie, the wealthy head of the family fortune dies suddenly in his Victorian mansion. One sister is convinced it was murder. When that same sister, Cora, is savagely murdered with a hatchet the next day in her home, the extraordinary remark she made at her brother’s funeral suddenly takes on a chilling significance.
At the reading of Richard’s will, all those present saw Cora — the family member given to blurting out unpleasant truths — tilt her head on one side “with a bird-like movement” and say: “It’s been hushed up very nicely, hasn’t it … But he was murdered, wasn’t he?”
The attorney handling Abernethie’s estate probes the mystery and uncovers a great deal that was previously unknown. However, this one seems unsolvable, even to a wise and very observant solicitor. In desperation, Mr. Entwhistle turns to his old friend Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery.
And Poirot has a great deal to unravel.
A bloody hatchet. A piece of poisoned wedding cake. The corpse of an eccentric widow whose face had been smashed beyond recognition. A housekeeper who listened at keyholes. Two nieces greedy for money and men. And a bunch of quarrelsome relatives who needed cash and weren’t fussy about how to get it.
The entire family had come together after the funeral to hear the reading of the will. Richard’s favorite sister-in-law, Helen Abernethie, had this nagging doubt that something was off — wrong — as they sat in a room in Richard’s mansion. Yet she couldn’t place her finger on it. Poirot follows his usual approach of holding conversations with all those involved. He was “a man of curves, like the kind he threw at unwary suspects when they were off guard.”
Classic Agatha Christie themes are evident in Funerals are Fatal: “a healthy inheritance casts suspicion on the family, but as ever, nothing is quite as it seems.” Richard has died and his sister Cora had been brutally murdered. But as he homes in on the killer, he has the family reassemble several weeks later and asks them, “How well did you all know Cora Lansquenet?” When another sister says, sharply, “What did you mean?” we know that Poirot has figured out what was behind Helen’s doubt after the funeral. The journey to get there is one more delightful Agatha Christie tale.
More to come…
To see reviews of the other books in my year of reading mystery novels, click here for January, February, and March.
The Weekly Reader links to written works I’ve enjoyed. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.
Image by Dorothée QUENNESSON from Pixabay
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