Rating: 4.5 out of five
Year of Publication: 1967
Motive for Murder: Wealth
A boy and girl story; Michael Rogers marries a ‘poor rich little girl’ Ellie Guteman – the heiress of an American millionaire. The girl fell for him the moment she sets her eye on him at Gypsy’s Acre. The boy then asked her out.
A Romeo and Juliet story; the marriage is strongly opposed. On the one hand, there is Mrs. Rogers, Michael’s mother. On the other is Ellie’s ‘cloud of vultures’; a stepmother who is a trophy wife, her guardian/lawyer, the personal banker and a cousin. All keeps their eye on her – or rather, her huge fortune.
A lovers’ tale: Ellie and Michael settle down in their dream house. Then accidents begin to occur. She sprains her ankle and something nearly falls on her. One day she goes out riding after breakfast and does not come back.
Here is the book in Christie’s later years with a touch of a ghost story interwoven in the crime. The first chapter is intriguing with a local tale about ‘The Towers,’ a non-inhabitant old ruin, which the villagers call it Gypsy’s Acre. A premises where all kinds of accidents happen, having believed them as a result of the curse done by the Gypsies; some kind of revenge on their part having been evicted from the land many years ago. Such belief stays and is then manipulated to execute a meticulous crime, which involves a target victim.
As in her previous books, Christie’s approach in using folklores and superstitions to induce her readers to want more seems to be matured over the years. This book in particular speaks volumes about her skill in that respect and more importantly its purpose to introduce readers to the narrator, Michael Rogers. A man with a big dream yet has no means to afford a piece of land and a ruin that looks down to a breath taking scenery of sea and ships. Until he meets Ellie.
As a narrator Rogers is unique. He is a dreamer and he dreams to own the property and the land and built his dream house on it. In doing so his remembrances move not in an orderly fashion, for they seem to be a dream that is not over yet. Such is not the case as he introduces Fenella Guteman, ie. Ellie. As their relationship blossom, they get married and Rogers has to deal with myriad characters in Ellie’s life, the dreamy-like tone of his alters. The shocking sensation of Ellie having managed to meet his mother-in-law behind Roger’s back is genuine and for the first time there is another side of him readers come to realise. He is caught off guard and clearly worries about a number of things.
Furthermore, as if Rogers is not interesting enough, Christie adds phrases from William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence. Perhaps it is inevitable that when either a poem or a Shakespearean play is incorporated in Christie’s crime then the plot bears some clues as to the direction of the plot – with difficulty in some parts, I am afraid.
In most cases, the authoress follows the interpretation closely. Yet it is her selection of words in Blake’s poem that is most fascinating. What is more, there is an invitation to see it from a different angle. In this context, Rogers appears to entice Ellie about Gypsy’s Acre; the augury of living in a dream house ‘happily ever after.’
Michael’s mother, Mrs. Rogers, is a minor character that plays significant part to tell readers about her son’s character. Nonetheless, here lies the question: is she a reliable voice? Or is she a jealous mother who is over-cautious when it comes to her only son’s well-being? Moreover, there is also a question of the mother and son relationship (see Clues). Is she dominant? Is she afraid of her son? Is she mad herself? The readers could not be certain, bearing in mind that she does not have a voice other than what her son conveys in their dialogues.
As the world is seen through the eyes of Rogers, I cannot help remember Dr. James Shepperd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926). They do not resemble one another but their self-control is similar. Christie recycling a character is second to none that none of them is the same – be it their appearance, sex or behaviour.
What I am not clear about the plot is whether Ellie was deemed to be the second major character. Or was it Greta, an au pair that has been Ellie’s companion and friend for four years? (see The Most Fascinating Character). Besides, I am in two minds about Ellie myself; whether she is an intelligent but naive millionaire or an ignorant young woman madly in love? For instance, after they were married, what is her intention to warn her husband that he would likely be ‘bought’ to divorce her? Was it genuine concern on her part or a warning?
The most important question personally is the whodunit. Readers, when does your suspicion begin? Could you guess his identity through other characters? Probably find him out owing to some curious behaviour of his? For all it is worth, subtleness and sensitivity become the cue; a cliché, a nod or a head turning like a bird – those non-verbal languages.
Above all, I wonder whether there are some parts of younger Christie in Ellie. A sweet girl who is in love. An orphan with a lot of money. A sensible business woman who needs a friend. Did she find it in her husband? Or in Greta, whose great influence to Ellie is the chief concern of her guardian, Andrew Lippincot?
Finally, Michael and Ellie is not Tummy and Tuppence given their contrast and the fact that readers know more the Beresfords much better. All the same, By The Pricking Of My Thumbs was published a year after Endless Night and readers would notice their difference in nature. I wonder what message the authoress had in mind through the portrayals of the Rogers and the Beresfords.
Some are born to Sweet Delight; Some are born to Endless Night
– Ellie Gutteman meets Mrs. Rogers, Michael’s mother, in secret after she has got married
– Stanford Loyd is the ex-husband of Claudia Hardcastle, Ellie’s neighbour
-Claudia Hardcastle is Rudolf Santonix’s stepsister, an architect who designs Ellie and Roger’s house
-Greta has known Michael Rogers prior to her working for Ellie
-The police find a woman’s lighter with a “C” initial on it in the Folly – a rendezvous place in Gypsy’s Acre
Cast of Characters:
Andrew Lippincot (Ellie’s guardian and a lawyer who sees things for Ellie)
Claudia Hardcastle (Ellie’s neighbour and friend, Lloyd’s ex-wife)
Cora Van Stuyvesant (Ellie’s stepmother)
Esther Lee (a Gypsy woman, who lives in a cottage near Gypsy’s Acre)
Fenella Guteman (a.k.a. Ellie, Michael’s wife)
Greta Andersen (Ellie’s companion and confidante)
Sergeant Keene (who investigates Ellie’s death)
Michael Rogers (Ellie’s husband)
Major Phillpot (Kingston Bishop’s Judge of Peace)
Rudolf Santonix (an architect who designs Ellie and Michael’s house)
Mrs. Rogers (Michael’s mother)
Stanford Llyod (Ellie’s personal banker, Hardcastle’s ex-husband)
William R. Padoe (a.k.a. Uncle Reuben, Ellie’s cousin)
The Most Fascinating Character: Greta
She is German and first mentioned by Ellie. In her words she says, ‘She helps me. She’s on my side. She arranges so I can do things and go places. She’ll tell lies for me. I couldn’t have got away to come down to Gypsy’s Acre if it hadn’t been for Greta. She’s keeping me company and looking after me in London while my stepmother’s in Paris. I wrote two or three letters and if I go off anywhere Greta posts them every three or four days so that they have a London postmark.’
Ellie’s attachment to Greta is evident; her being a friend and confidante in the last four years she works for the other. Greta remains in the shadow nevertheless until she has to come to live with Ellie following the accident of her spraining the ankle.
What readers understand about her mainly comes from Rogers. On the one hand, he seems to admire to Greta’s efficiency and skills. On the other, he wants her not to be the third person in their marriage; he objects Ellie’s idea of inviting Greta to their wedding and had a heated argument overheard by Ellie. The latter view is also shared by Andrew Lippincot during their conversation in Claridge’s. The subject of the companion being broached, Lippincot remarks,’..I don’t think that the influence Greta has over Ellie is a very desirable one…’
Mysterious Greta seems to be, she is a minor character that is curiously being mentioned a number of times. It is as if Rogers knows her well somehow, but is inclined to keep a distance at her at the same time.
Who is she actually – on Ellie’s side or Michael’s?
Rudolf Santonix (to M. Rogers):
‘You damned fool…Why didn’t you go the other way?’
Michael Rogers (about Ellie):
‘….I felt a priggish distaste for the corruption of modern society in its richer phases. There had been something so little-girl-like about Ellie, so simple, almost touching in her attitude that I was astonished to find how well up she was in worldly affairs and how much she took for granted. And yet I knew that I was right about her fundamentally. I knew quite well the kind of creature that Ellie was. Her simplicity, her affection, her natural sweetness. That didn’t mean she had to be ignorant of things. What she did know and took for granted was a fairly limited slice of humanity. She didn’t know much about my world, the world of scrounging for jobs, of race-course gangs, and dope gangs, the rough and tumble dangers of life, the sharp-Aleck flashy type that I knew so well from living amongst them all my life. She didn’t know what it was to be brought up decent and respectable but always hard up for money, with a mother who worked her fingers to the bone in the name of respectability, determining that her son should do well in life. Every penny scrimped for and saved, and the bitterness when your gay carefree son threw away his chances or gambled his all on a good tip for the 3.30.
Dialogues between Mrs. Rogers and Michael Rogers:
R: ‘Is it a girl, Micky?’
MR: I didn’t meet her eyes I looked away and said, ‘In a way’
R: ‘What kind of a girl is she?’
MR: ‘The right kind of me’
R: ‘Are you going to bring her to see me?’
R: ‘It’s like that, is it?’
MR: ‘No, it isn’t. I don’t want to hurt your feelings but- you’re not hurting my feelings. You don’t want me to see her in case I should say to you “Don’t”. Is that it?‘
R: ‘I wouldn’t pay any attention if you did’
MR: ‘Maybe not, but it would shake you. It would shake you somewhere inside because you take notice of what I say and think. There are things I’ve guessed about you – and maybe I’ve guessed right and you know it. I’m the only person in the world who can shake your confidence in yourself. Is this girl a bad lot who’s got hold of you?’
R: ‘Bad lot?’ I said and laughed. ‘If you only saw her! You make me laugh.’