Rating: 4.5 out of five
Year of Publication: 1939
Motive for Murder: Hatred
Plot: In Wychwood-under-Ashe, there have been deaths in the last year. The names pass Lavinia Pinkerton’s lips as she talks to Luke Fitzwilliam, who sits opposite on the train. Pinkerton is on her way to Scotland Yard, for after a while she comes to realise that they are not accidents as everyone tend to believe. ‘It’s very easy to kill – so long as no one suspects you…’ she says.
Fitzwilliam learns about her death on the paper later on; she was run over near Whitehall. What is more, he notices one of the names she mentioned is also on the obituary, too.
At first, it is hard for the ex-police man to conjur an image of a murder in the picturesque English village. Once he meets the residents, a myriad of tales emerge about the deceased. Amy Gibbs swallowed a paint hat, which she had mistakened with a cough mixture. Tommy Pierce fell down the ladder while cleaning the library windows and Dr. Humbleby from a septic finger.
Further investigation draws Fitzwilliam’s attention to Lord Whitfield, a self-made millionaire. Of whom fired Pierce after he was mocking his employer and Dr. Humbleby had an argument with the Lord’s lawyer. Moreover, his chauffeur took Gibbs out with the Rollroyce to London for a day on the day Pinkerton died. As a result, the driver was dismissed and is found dead afterwards. Interestingly, a witness stated a number plate of the car that had been seen to have killed Pinkerton is matched to Lord Whitfield’s.
Meanwhile, a pair of shrewd eyes watch as events are unfolding,filled with a simmering hatred over the years. The look that killed Pinkerton. And yet, murder is easy and he is finalising a plan to strike once again.
Luke Fitzwilliam, an ex-police man, has just been a few hours in England, having come back after years of service abroad. He misses his train and must take the next one in which an elderly woman then tells him about a serial killer.
Enter a folklore writer in a quiet village, taking his residence at Ashe Manor. Fitzwilliam has decided to dig into the death of the woman. Exit the ex-police man for a while. Almost everyone believes Fitzwilliam’s saying for doing research about the Middle Age witchcraft rituals – except Bridget Conway. As he makes inquiries into the deaths, Conway soon makes him admit his intention and becomes the partner in crime. Tommy and Tuppence, Bundle and Bill Eversleigh; readers might understand what will occur next. But here is the catch: Conway is engaged to Lord Whitfield, Fitzwilliam’s host.
Before having the title, the self-made millionaire was known as Gordon Ragg, whose father made shoes. In his youth he was engaged to Miss Honoria Waynflatte, but then he broke it. Miss Waynflatte remains unmarried and works as a librarian. The village library used to be her childhood home before it was sold and bought by his ex-fiancee, who was then already wealthy.
In the meantime, Fitzwilliam has decided to come clean. For he finds motives and opportunities in a number of people; Major Horton vs Mr. Abbot, Dr. Humbleby vs Mr. Abbot, Tommy Pierce vs Lord Whitefield and Mr. Ellsworthy-Amy Gibbs. At the same time, he is baffled as regard to the victims: what cause them to have been killed? Motive and opportunity, says Poirot, are not enough reason. ‘There must be a crime temperament,’ he says (quoted from Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds; one of the stories in The Adventure of The Christmas Pudding. See the notes).
Personally it is not easy to differentiate red herrings from vital clues. For Christie keeps things in check. More importantly, she is consistent with point of view; that almost everything must be seen from Fitzwilliam’s.
I am most fascinated about Fitzwilliam’ role. The fact that he conducts his investigation purely without neither any financial advantages nor benefits entail. Could it be real? If anything, he does not seem to mind with his expenses. To my mind he is an idealist- not a Good Samaritan- who wants to right the wrong, just as his predecessor Anne Beddingfield and Bundle. Although towards the end he hands over the case to Scotland Yard.
As for the plot, it seems to follow a similar pattern of Christie’s books in the twenties. Besides Conway, Fitzwilliam picks Miss Waynflate as another partner, of whom she appears to him and Conway to be an intelligent and sensible woman. Fitzwilliam’s ruling out the possibility of a female suspect is suggestive. Is it because of his falling for Conway?
Conway as a sidekick is equally an interesting character. Apart from her intelligent eyes and wittiness, she points out to Fitzwilliam that there are things that men do not understand. Take the example of a woman’s pick for the colour of the paint for her hat, which sometimes does not make sense to men. Yet a red hair woman will not go out without a hat of a certain colour and therefore it has to be repainted. On the other hand, a hat paint is an old-fashioned custom and young women like Amy Gibbs would not want to paint her hat any more. Readers, you might wonder why I should deliberate on this small matter. Well, Christie is very good with details and this analogy is not just a talk…
What is most substantial argument in the book is distinguishing a healthy mind from a psychopath’s. In the era when the science of the mind is almost unheard of, Christie’s deliberation on the issue is incredible. In other books she often includes her views on mental illness through the character behaviour and remarks. Nonetheless, her subtleness in expressions and double-meaning phrases often conceal the mind of the murderer well.
In terms of the denouement, the conflicts that build towards the climax are simply brilliant. Bombshells are dropped along the way coupled with the presence of Superintendent Battle (The Secret of Chimney, Seven Dials Mystery). Then Mrs. Humbleby’s warning (see The Most Fascinating Character) comes almost too late. Both Conway and Fitzwilliam find out whodunit respectively, guided by their gut instinct. All end well; two pairs of lovebirds are saved.
To sum up, Murder Is Easy is one of Christie’s best ventures on people’s mind. It is a favourite for many of her loyal readers that is worth reading and re-reading.
-Gordon Ragg and Honoria Waynflete’s engagement broke because of a Canary bird
-Waynflete tells Fitzwilliam that the engagement was terminated because Ragg had killed her Canary
-The hat paint that causes the death of Amy Gibbs is not raised in the inquest
-Wonky Pooh, Lavinia Pinkerton’s Persian cat, has a septic ear before Dr. Humbleby dies
– Lord Whitefield’s ex-chaffeur dies after a row with his ex-employer
-Bridget Conway breaks her engagement to Lord Whitfield
Cast of Characters:
Mr. Abbot (a local solicitor who employed Tommy Pierce)
Mrs. Anstruther (Bridget’s aunt who lives with her at Ashe Manor)
Superintendent Battle (of Scotland Yard)
Bridget Conway (Jimmy Lorrimer’s cousin)
Mrs. Church (Amy Gibb’s aunt)
Mr. Ellsworthy (owns an antique shop and is keen at pagan traditions)
Dr. Geoffrey Thomas (the village doctor, the partner of the late Dr. Humbleby and Rose’s fiance)
Honoria Waynflete (an old spinster, who employed Ammy Gibbs before the maid died and an ex-fiancee of Gordon, ie. Lord Whitfield)
Major Horton (owns bulldogs, a short-tempered man whose wife also died a year before)
Mrs. Humbleby (the wife of the late Dr. Humbleby, Rose’s mother)
Jimmy Lorrimer (Luke’s friend, Bridget’s cousin)
Mrs. Pierce (Tommy’s mother)
Lavinia Pinkerton (found Tommy Pierce died and drew Luke’s attention to the deaths at Wychwood)
Luke Fitzwilliam (an ex-police officer in India, an old friend of Jimmy’s, who met Pinkerton on the train)
Rose Humbleby (the daughter of the late Dr. Humbleby)
Mr. Wake (a local rector)
Lord Whitfield (i.e. Gordon Ragg, a self-made millionaire, Bridget’s fiancé, who owns Ashe Manor)
Sir William Ossington (a.k.a. Billy Bones, Luke’s friend at Scotland Yard)
The Most Fascinating Character: Mrs. Humbleby
‘There’s a lot of wickedness about…One must be prepared – to fight it! John (her late husband) was. He knew…,’ she says to Luke Fitzwilliam as he sees the widow at her home for the first time.
Her only daughter, Rose, is engaged to Dr. Geoffrey Thomas, the junior partner of his father. Rose’s father’s demise means that her fiancée has been ‘benefited’ from the death, for he is now being fully in charge of the surgery. On the other hand, their engagement hangs owing to Dr. Thomas becomes one of the suspects.
Mrs. Humbleby’s words give Fitzwilliam the impression of her deep sorrow. Yet she is scared and therefore is discreet as well . She then does not say anything further to Fitzwilliam.
Much later on she happens to notice Fitzwilliam going out of the inn where he stays (after facing Lord Whitfield’s anger). She asks him Conway’s whereabouts, which is responded by such and such. She rephrases the above sentences of hers concerning ‘wickedness’. For she already has known who murdered her husband and so has Lavinia Pinkerton. Both women apparently compared their notes. Further on she says, ‘You don’t believe me? Well, why should you? But I can’t forget the day when John came home with his hand bound up from her house, though he pooh-poohed it and said it was only a scratch.’
Mrs. Pierce (to Luke Fitzwilliam):
‘Tommy was always good at imitations. Make us hold our sides with laughing the way he’d mince about pretending to be that Mr. Ellsworthy at the curio shop- or old Mr. Hobbs, the churchwarden- and he was imitating his lordship up the manor and the two under-gardeners laughing, when up came his lordship quiet-like and gave Tommy the sack on the spot-and naturally that was only to be expected, and quite right, and his lordship didn’t bear malice afterwards, and helped Tommy to get another job.’
Rose Humbleby (to Luke):
Because-it’s so odd- she (Pinkerton) seemed quite afraid that something was going to happen to daddy. She almost warned me. Especially about accidents. And then that day – just before she went up to town-she was so odd in her manner- absolutely in a dither. I really do think, Mr. Fitzwilliam, that she was one of those people who have second sight. I think she knew that something was going to happen to her. And she must have known that something was going to happen to daddy, too. It’s-it’s rather frightening, that sort of thing!’
Mr. Wake (to Bridget Conway and Luke Fitzwilliam):
‘…But you know, my dear Miss Conway, sometimes cruelty is not so much innate as due to the fact that imagination is slow in ripening. That is why if you conceive a grown man with the mentality of a child you realize that the cunning and brutality of a lunatic my abe quite unrealized by the man himself. A lack of growth somewhere, that, I am convinced, is at the root of much of the cruelty and stupid brutality in the world today. One must put away childish things – ‘
Lord Whitefield (to Luke):
‘Matter of fact we (Lord Whitefield and Miss Waynflate) had a bit of a row over something. Blinking bird she had – one of those beastly twittering canaries- always hated them-bad business-wrung its neck. Well- no good dwelling on all that now…’