Usually, I write a very simple and short review under my umbrella Agatha Christie post (here), but I felt the need to post a proper length review for this one.
Endless Night is a relatively unknown piece of work from Agatha Christie, or at least it was to me. I’d never heard of it before, and I only found the title when I was desperate and searching through lists to find more interesting Christies to read. I’m so glad I did.
It’s a first-person narrative told by the main character, Michael Rogers, one of your typical young men who can’t seem to hold down a job, and simply want to spend their time as a ‘rolling stone’ (someone who floats here, there, everywhere with no goal or purpose in life). We first meet him when he is rhapsodizing about a beautiful piece of land in a small town, Kingston Bishop, with a house on it called Gipsy’s Acre. He is warned by a local gipsy, Mrs. Lee, that he has bad luck and should get away from Gipsy’s Acre as soon as possible. However, there, he meets a girl by accident, Ellie, and they soon fall in love and get married. It soon turns out that Ellie is not just a rich girl, but a tremendously rich girl, one of the richest in America, in fact.
They buy the land and house at Gipsy’s Acre, pull down the old house and build a new one, designed by his friend, Rudolf Santonix. The gipsy, Mrs. Lee, repeats her warnings to Ellie, and begins to visit Gipsy’s Acre occasionally to deliver the same threats and warnings to Ellie to leave the house and property. More and more characters begin flitting in and out of the narrative at this point, mostly Ellie’s relations though they are not related to her by blood. One of them even flits in to settle in their new marriage home, Greta Andersen, a half-Swedish Valkyrie of a girl who served as Ellie’s companion and on whom Ellie is largely dependent on. However, strange things begin to happen at Gipsy’s Acre, and Michael and Ellie begin to wonder if the curse is true.
So far, the whole premise of the story doesn’t seem to have an ounce of mystery in it. In fact, the actual mystery only comes into view rather late in the book, but it is testament to Christie’s writing that she is able to create a thick atmosphere of suspense and tension throughout the narrative despite there being nothing actually unusual happening. Every character left me guessing as to what their motives were, whether it was Ellie’s pretentious stepmother, or even her shrewd lawyer, Mr. Lippincott. Everyone seemed to be hiding secrets. Christie expertly conveyed through a narrative in which nothing much actually happens the falseness of the veneer of tranquility and bliss in the newlyweds’ country life, as well as the sense of something sinister just beneath the surface.
I felt also that Christie paid a lot more attention to character development in this book. The first half of the book or more felt like a case study on the social and psychological aftermath of a poor man who happened to fall in love with and marry a rich girl. She fleshed out the psyche of the main character, Michael Rogers, rather well. I liked that it differed from her usual style of concentrating largely on the mystery at hand rather than the characters involved. Here, I felt that I understood their human predicaments much better than her usual sort of characters. One thing to note, as well, is that Christie is a lot less censored in this book. She talks about, mentions and alludes to sex more than she usually does, and even uses ‘bitch’ a few times. It added to the freshness of the tone of this book.
But the mystery also did not disappoint! I had a fleeting idea of the true solution at some point halfway through, but had immediately dismissed the idea as impossible and had nurtured other more likely hypotheses. I was then happily bamboozled by the plot twists that came thick and fast at the last lap of the book, feeling that urge to go back and re-read certain segments of the book that would now be read in a different light now that I know the solution – and this urge is always a good sign.
This book had a very good mixture of two things: first, the comforting familiarity of Agatha Christie’s style of mystery, intrigue, as well as the reassurance that the ending is going to be something really unexpected, and therefore I didn’t feel too much like I was wandering into disturbingly unknown territory; secondly, a freshness despite the familiarity in the way the narrative was handled. It was undoubtedly an Agatha Christie style, but yet it was still surprisingly a breath of fresh air from her usual formula, which I have gotten used to by now, having consistently read most of her books over the past year.
Absolutely loved it. I wonder why it’s not more well-known!
Halfway through the book, I began to wonder if it was Michael that was the source of all this sinisterness, much in the line of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I dismissed the idea because, while in Ackroyd, the narrator was a detached observer and more of an investigator for the central mystery, Michael here was an involved narrator, getting not only physically but also emotionally and mentally into the heart of things. However, I hadn’t considered the possibility that he might have been lying, or been putting on a show before he finally confessed at the end.
I did actually suspect that he might’ve fallen in love with Greta when he met her for the first time, but was surprised when he didn’t. I never thought he’d have met her earlier and then pretended to dislike her. For all his so-called devotion to Ellie, I was thoroughly shocked when he suddenly announced that he was going to marry Greta immediately after Ellie’s funeral in America. Even then, I had no suspicions. I simply thought that he had transferred his affections quickly and suddenly, as sometimes characters in Christie do (I’m always amazed at how quickly they can fall in love and get married to one another). It never occured to me that Christie was going to pull a Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill with Michael and Greta.
I had initially suspected Santonix, since he was described as having a streak of evil in him, but I suppose he was meant to have shown what might have happened if Michael had instead “gone the other way”, i.e. the other shop, the way of good. Dedicated himself, as Santonix had, to a proper profession or career. Perhaps he may even have achieved the success and recognition that Santonix did.
Then I had also suspected Claudia Hardcastle, because of the cigarette lighter that she had left in the Folly, and the fact that she had been married to Ellie’s banker, Lloyd. I was really shocked when Claudia went down on her horse as well. It took me a while to figure out why she was even killed at all, but then I remember that bit in the solution where they mentioned that she smoked in the Folly and happened to see a capsule left over there when Michael and Greta had prepared to murder Ellie, and had probably guessed the whole thing.