Agatha Christie, Death in the Clouds (1935)

If you ever decide to read Pierre Bayard’s challenging book on Agatha Christie, beware: you might not be able to read another mystery of hers the same way as before… I actually experienced a tiny but nagging feeling of frustration as I read this mystery: I wasn’t as satisfied with its resolution as I probably would have been without Bayard’s book.

I guess Agatha Christie must have challenged herself to set her mysteries in any closed space she could think of, where strangers mingle without knowing each other: hotel, train, boat… and here a plane. During a flight from France to Croydon, a passenger gets killed, apparently by a poisoned dart fired by an Indian blowpipe… Can you imagine such an improbable scenario? Every passenger on board is immediately a suspect, including fellow passenger Hercule Poirot.

The unintentional fun aspect of the book was about air travel around 1935: the first class cabin had several attendants serving meals like in a restaurant, for which apparently you paid separately, and the luggage compartment wasn’t overhead or in a hold but grouped together in the cabin. Rich people were apparently getting used to this new means of transportation, but their maids usually traveled separate, by boat and train. No mention of delay or security measures or cramped seats or air rage (unless murder is considered as such?)…

Of course I enjoyed Poirot’s little quirks and all the twists and turns of the investigation too, focusing on equally improbable objects: a bee, a cup with two spoons, a flute, an empty match-box etc. All these clues make quite a Surrealist list, don’t they? The whole fun was to see how each of them found its place in the puzzle.

I listened to Death in the Clouds on audio-book and not being able to turn pages back and forth was slightly annoying, because there were many suspects and, being a visual person, I couldn’t remember all their names (Maybe because I heard it in multiple installments whenever I had to feed the baby).

[spoiler ahead] I found the motivation and psychological aspects of the murder (the “why”) well mastered but I was frustrated with the “how”. The murderer was supposed to slip into the toilets, put a doctor gown that would resemble a flight attendant’s uniform to avoid being spotted, then go to the victim’s seat under the pretext of bringing her a spoon and stick the dart into her neck, release a bee out of a matchbox, then go back to the toilet and undress… Am I the only one to find this convoluted and plain impossible to do? I know air travel has changed a lot since 1935, but just try changing clothes in a plane’s toilets…

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2 thoughts on “Agatha Christie, Death in the Clouds (1935)

  1. I’ve actually never been able to get into Christie’s mysteries, although admittedly I might have tried to move onto them too quickly when I was younger and not ready. Perhaps I’ll give them another try…perhaps…

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