Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (1934)

Plot: Bobby and Frankie looks for clues and find love

Such is the way of blogs. I wrote a post for this and lost it somewhere. If this were a clue in Why Didn't They Ask Evans, Bobby would probably stumble upon it in the shrubbery, or plucky Lady Frankie would charm it out of my laptop with good manners.

There are people who will tell you that this book is a marvellously Wodehousian frivolity, a confection as light and charming as a meringue. Personally, I've always found meringue cloying.

This isn't to say that I hated this book - just that it's an inferior go at somemthing like The Secret Of Chimneys or early Tommy and Tuppence (indeed Francesca Annis has played both Tuppence and Frankie). Oddly enough it's the kind of plot that somehow feels more suitable to early Allingham, Mrs Bradley or Ngaio Marsh. Christie does good stuff with it, but it's all a bit... oh, I'm being unfair on it. But, for every lovely sinister touch (like the victim's sinister relatives, the creepy sanatorium or Bobby's early poisoning) there's a lot of things that feel quite thin.

For instance, Frankie's main idea for solving the crime is to literally crash a houseparty and become fast friends with everyone in the neighbourhood. Which is genius, but does mean that she spends an awful long time having tea. This is not Wodehousian - his Jeeves books have quite a lot going on in them while appearing untroubled on the surface.

Similarly, the book has a curious approach to suspects. It sets out its stall early and sticks to it, announcing that you can take your pick from
- The Creepy Creepy Doctor
- The Good-For-Nothing Dashing Young Man
- Someone picked out almost at random and who is the Last Person You'd Suspect

Without laying out the details, Christie manages to have all three slices of cake, to a greater or lesser degree. For instant, there is a Surprise Villain. When they're revealed you don't clutch your pearls and think "that is a surprise", you cry foul. And then have to think about it carefully and decide "Actually, yes, that's very clever", but by that point the Surprise Villain has abandoned all former subtlety and is behaving with gay abandon. So it's not surprising that our heroes spot them.

That's the other thing - Frankie and Bobby really are either lucky or cursed. In While The Light Lasts there's a lovely romantic couple on a treasure hunt and they're ingenious and adorable... and then there's Frankie and Bobbie. Oh, they're fine, they're just a bit thin. Intellectually, you just don't quite feel they deserve the prize they get. Frankie we'll give a pass to because she's fabulous, but Bobbie succeeds simply because he's nice. Which is initially sweet, but after a while does make you wonder how we ever won a war.

But I should stop grousing - even thin Christie is a great read, whizzing past, full of madcap situations and events.

NEXT: The ABC Murders


  1. Thanks for the thoughtful review. As Miss Lemon found suspension of disbelief a bit difficult to maintain with Secret of Chimneys, she might give this one a miss. But she must agree: Agatha Christie at her weakest still beats most at the top of their game.

  2. Really? Secret of Chimneys was an utter blast. But yes... there does come a point when you think "marvellous as this is, i'm glad she doesn't write like this all the time".