Notes On Evil Under The Sun

Pixy - a mythical creature of folklore in Devon and Cornwall

In the book, Poirot asked about “this pixy”. Patrick Redfern responded: ‘Oh! that’s typically Devonshire. There’s the pixy’s cave at Sheepstor on the Moor. You’re supposed to leave a pin, you know, a present for the pixy. A pixy is a kind of moor spirit’.

 Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1941

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot: Jolly Rogers Hotel, Smugglers’ Island, Devonshire. A quiet spot on the seaside. Peaceful. The sun shone. The sea is blue. Arlene Marshall (nee Stuart) arrives on the scene and all hell breaks loose.

In the words of Reverend Stephen Lane she was a “scarlet-haired woman, a whore of Babylon”.  Her arrival created a flurry of excitement among the male guests. On the contrary, murmurs of disapproval emanated fromthe women. Less than seventy-two hours later the ex-actress was found strangled at Pixy Cove.

Poirot was the last person to see her alive. Her husband became the main suspect; there was a step-daughter who disguised her hatred of her glamorous stepmother and a priest obsessed with evil. Moreover, a jealous wife, for whom everyone felt sorry. It was common knowledge that her husband was infatuated by the late Mrs. Marshall. Furthermore, police found heroine on a ledge inside Pixy’s Cave.

To Poirot’s mind, it was a clever plot with precise timing and thorough research had been done into the target and the location. Nonetheless, of above-mentioned people, who had the motive?

‘But you forget, Miss Brewster, there is evil everywhere under the sun,’ remarked Poirot. What was more, Monsieur, the evil is in the detail.

 

Highlights:

Poirot: “I know what I should like to do”. Colonel Weston: “Yes, man”. Poirot: “I should like to go for a picnic”. Colonel Weston stared at him.

What seemed like a joke to Colonel Weston was actually crucial to the other. The sleuth had concluded that Arlene Marshall was not a random victim – rather, she had been picked by her murderer. During the interviews with suspects, ie. most of hotel guests he also had noticed lies uttered with distinctive aims;  either to protect other suspect or cover their own  tracks. But whose lies that contained white lies?

The answer was a picnic at Dartmoor, during which a theory would be tested. Readers, remember a sherry party Poirot had arranged in Three-Act Tragedy? The conduct of the “little experiment” of his was similar in which it focused on a fact the detective would have liked to confirm.

As usual, Christie was careful in giving readers the clue as to whom the observation was for.

Concerning the plot, I supposed it was a blend between Five Little Pigs and Three-Act Tragedy with The Mysterious Affair At Styles as the icing of the cake. Christie “the cook” presented readers with an entirely new cake superficially; the same basic ingredients of motive, similarities in characters and murderer profiles but different colour of marzipan and certain nozzles for the decorations.

Arlena Marshall was a much older copy of the shrewd Eva Greer  in Five Little Pigs. Although they were distinctive in their personalities- Arlena’s age was twice Eva’s  and the latter was not married- they were perceived as  a dark force- no one could hardly say a good thing about them.  Second, there was Linda Marshall, whose age was not far from Caroline Crale’s stepsister, Angela . Both teenagers were orphans and appeared to be unpredictable and vulnerable. Others took advantage of their bad tempers and lack of experience in life. Thirdly, just as in Three Act Tragedy, there were some plausible motives but insufficient evidence to pinpoint the murderer(s). Besides, some suspects had alibis in addition to opportunities to commit a crime. Hats off to Christie who checked that one thing would not exactly be the same despite great similarities and particularly the distractions created to take the readers’ minds off a clue and even dismissed it as a superfluous thing. Surely not for a few heads though!

One thing  I have pondered over and over again is a scene in Poirot’s picnic experiment. Horace Blatt was mentioned having taken pictures of people and gave copies to them. Copies? What camera would Mr. Batt have had? Did it mean  a Polaroid one, which was not invented until six years later in 1947? Or something else?

Above all, it was most pleasing that there was just a death (and a near-death incident). The experiment was a success one as Poirot had found the missing piece of jigsaw.

To sum up, Evil Under The Sun was not an irony but dangers lurking unbeknown. Perhaps, one should consider such at the back of their mind during a holiday next time.

 

The Twists:

A bottle nearly hit Miss Brewster hard on the head while she had her morning dip on the day of the murder

Scissors found in Pixy’s Cave

-Linda Marshall’s wrist watch

-The smell of Gabrielle 8 in the cave

-The game mistress who found the body of Alice Corrigan

Cast of Characters:

  1. Hotel Guests:

Arlene Marshall (a former stage actor)

Major Barry (an army officer)

Christine Redfern (a former school teacher, Patrick’s wife)

Emily Brewster ( a spinster)

Mrs. Castle (the hotel proprietress)

Mr. and Mrs. Gardener (the American tourists from New York)

Gladys Narracot (the chambermaid)

Hercule Poirot

Horace Blatt

Linda Marshall (Arlene’s stepdaughter, Kenneth’s daughter)

Captain Kenneth Marshall (Arlene’s husband)

Dr. Neasdon (the local doctor)

Patrick Redfern (Christine’s husband)

Rosamund Darnley (Kenneth’s old friend, a successful businesswoman)

Stephen Lane (a priest)

  1. The Police:

The Chief Constable/Colonel Weston

Inspector Colgate

Clues

Christine Redfern:

‘I wish I could sun-bathe! But I don’t go brown…’

(asking Linda Marshall) ‘What have you been buying candles for?’

‘I gave her (Linda Marshall) one. The night after it happened. She told me she couldn’t sleep. She- I remember her saying- “Will one be enough”- and I said, “Oh, yes, they were very strong”- that I’d been cautioned never to take more than two at most’.   

Emily Brewster:

‘Oh, I’ve had my morning dip before breakfast. Somebody nearly brained me with a bottle, too. Chucked it out one of the hotel windows’.

Gladys Narracot:

‘I did think sometimes that Mrs. Marshall was frightened of her husband knowing’.

‘It was nothing really. Just abath being run. And I did pass the remark to Elsie, downstairs, that it was funny somebody having a bath round about twelve o’clock’.

Kenneth Marshall:

‘Only two years ago, Sir Robert Erskine who was an old friend of hers (Arlena Marshall), died and left her most of his fortune. It amounted, I think, to about fifty thousand pounds.’

Linda Marshall:

‘No, I don’t know who could have wanted to kill Arlena’. She added:’Except o f course, Mrs. Redfern’.

Patrick Redfern:

(in response to Horrace Blatt’s query about Pixy Cave): ‘Oh, don’t you know it? It’s on Pixy Cove. You can’t find the entrance to it easily. It’s among a lot of piled up boulders at one end. Just a long a thin crack. You can just squeeze through it. Inside it widens out into quite a big cave…’

‘Well, sometimes I’d meet her (Arlena Marshall) in the afternoon down at Gull Cove. You see the sun is off Gull Cove in the afternoon and so there aren’t usually many people there..’

‘You see Pixy Cove faces west and people go around there in boats or on floats in the afternoon. We never tried to meet in the morning. It would have been too noticeable. In the afternoon people go and have a sleep or much around and nobody knows much where any one else is.’

‘..Arlena was twice as strong pyshically as Christine. I doubt if Christine could strangle a kitten- certainly not a strong wiry creature like Arlena. And then Christine could never have got down that ladder to the beach. She had no head for that sort of thing…’

Stephen Lane:

‘But, man alive, don’t you feel it in the air? All round you? The presence of Evil’.

The Chief Constable Weston:

‘All the same, Mr. Redfern, jealousy is a very powerful motive. Women who are jealous los control of themselves completely’.

The Most Fascinating Character: Mr. Odell Gardener

He was an pleasant ordinary man, middle age, a Newyorker, and married to a jolly woman who talked about most things on his behalf.  He was what Emily Brewster remarked as  a wonderful husband. To be precise: “American husbands are wonderful”. He was not a man of words, having responded promptly after his wife’s quite long descriptions: “Yes, darling” . In some occasions, he’d say, ‘Mrs. Gardener is very sensitive.’

He was far from being a doormat husband. Being a quiet American, he would express his views as appropriate. He could be likened to Kenneth Marshall; a man whose self-control was so well that anyone could not read his mind.

More importantly, he was a good judge of personalities to whom  Poirot cared to consult.  – When queried about Arlena Marshall, he said to Poirot: ‘But if you ask me I’ll tell you my candid opinion and that is that woman was pretty much a darned fool!’ His remark was enough to interest Poirot because afterwards he seemed to correct his understanding about Arlena Marshall.

Mr. Gardener might have resembled every bit to the husband of Mrs. Copleigh (By The Pricking Of My Thumbs). But unlike Mr. Copleigh, Mr. Gardener did not contradict his wife. He had a brain of his own and was quite contended with his views without the urge to persuade others to follow his.

Readers knew he came from New York and had a grown-up daughter. His presence at the hotel sounded to be the last leg of his tour in England – relaxing was what his wife claimed for their staying. Nonetheless, I was keen to know further of who he was; his profession, interests and political views. Unfortunately those were not satisfied, which was seemed a bit awkward given that the Second World War had occurred and the US must have been on course for getting involved in it. And therefore it was rather dull that he sounded much more interested in famous Poirot than giving his cent of thoughts about the advance of Nazi in Europe.

What was most exceptional about him personally was his intelligence. Poirot mentioned his assistance in the end – a high appraisal to his sharp mind.

Lastly, there is a saying that a man is the head of the family but it is the wife who is the neck. The latter could turn the head in any directions she likes. Readers, I tell you what: it was not the case for the Gardeners. 

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6 thoughts on “Notes On Evil Under The Sun

  1. I like the structure you have chosen for your comments on each book. Feels very comprehensive and organised. Please keep adding them to the Agatha Christie Blog Carnival

  2. I love how you organized this review. I’ve read a lot of Poirot mysteries years ago but don’t remember many of the details. This sounds like one I would enjoy re-reading.

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