Notes On Ordeal By Innocence

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1958

Motive for Murder: Hatred

Plot: Arthur Calgary thought he has done the right thing to The Argyles. Seeing them, he has brought with him good news about one of the sons, Jack:  that he did not kill his mother after all. A stepmother, in fact. For Calgary was absent as a witness to Jack’s alibi when the murder happened two years ago. Jack died in jail six months after the sentence.

Calgary’s beneficence, however, is not reciprocated. ‘All of this is in the past. I try – we all try- that the boy must be regarded as an invalid. One of Nature’s misfits. That, I think, expresses its best,’ says Jack’s father. Nonetheless the guest dissents, having realised that had he not been in a motor accident, which impacted his memory; a life could have been saved.

The members of the family’s unanimous stand that Jack was indeed guilty intrigue Calgary. Particularly when he understand that Leo and Rachel’s five children are all adopted. Furthermore, the motive. For Rachel Argyle was wealthy and divided her fortune evenly among her husband and the children. As for Leo, he has fallen in love to his long-standing secretary, Gwenda Vaughan, to whom he wants to marry and it can only be done after Rachel’s passing. And there is Kirsten Lindstorm, who has lived with the family for years and is fond of Jack.

As for the family, Calgary brings up the home truth: Rachel Argyle’s murderer is still at large and might be one of them.

 

The Argyles in the book adaptation into Miss Marple series (2007), which highlights the family dynamics in Christie’s fifties’ novels.

 

Highlights:

This crime plot scrutinises a family in the aftermath of the death of the mother. Unlike the Crackenthorpes (4.50 From Paddington –see the Notes) or the Abernethies (After The Funeral –see the Notes), the Argyles accepted the court verdict and apparently has moved on; Leo has been engaged to Gwenda and the portion of money for each remaining child has made it possible for them to live as they wish. When their late mother was alive, she had loved and sheltered them well.

On closer inspection, issues emerge as a result of the domineering personality of Rachel’s. A mere outsider, Calgary believes it is his duty to clear Jack’s name in spite of warnings as to the consequences.  At the end of the first chapter Christie has already queried readers about a moral dilemma and more importantly whether they either side with the Argyles or Calgary. ’ So you all, ‘ Calgary said slowly, ‘had no doubts? No doubts of his guilt, I mean.’ Hester (Jack’s stepsister) stared. ‘How could we? Of course he was guilty.’ ‘ Not really guilty,’ Leo dissented. ‘I don’t like that word.’ ‘It isn’t a true word, either,’ Calgary took a deep breath. ’Jack Argyle was – innocent.’ As Calgary leaves the family home, Sunny Point, at the end of Chapter Two, the words of Hester’s, one of the daughters,  linger in his mind: ‘’It’s not the guilty, who matter. It’s the innocent.’

Just as in Crooked House, Christie brings attention to the victim: the centre figure in the family. Clearly, Rachel Argyle’s fortune made her powerful to others. To Leo, his wife’s guilt of not being able to have a baby was quite strong to the point that she then channelled it by creating a children’s home during the war. Gone was a kind woman he used to love; the one who could make him feel as a man. To her surviving stepson, Michael, she was not a mother but a woman who has severed his tie with his biological mother. To Hester, she hates the stepmother that was right about her not to have pursued a career on the stage and ridiculed herself with a fling to a married man. Likewise, Rachel warned Marry Durrant, the eldest, for not choosing a certain man as a husband.

Richard Armirtage stars as Philip Durrant in the novel adaptation into Miss Marple series in 2007. He is the man who Rachel Argyle has warned about.

 

Be that as it may, Rachel Argyle is actually an amiable character. She had strong views but generous; firm but kind to her children. Yet, she has been killed with such a force that the motive might be categorised as the crime passionnel, bearing in mind that besides the children there are two other women who live in the home; one is the secretary, of whom Rachel understood having been in love with her husband and a spinster and an ex-nurse whom always bowed to Rachel’s whims.

What is interesting is the third women; the so-called ‘black horse’ Maureen Clegg, Jack’s wife. They were married a few weeks before his arrest. She turned up at Sunny Point a day afterward, of which it astounded the family as they had been in the dark about the marriage. Yet, the greatest shock was on the murderer’s part, who received Clegg on the day.

As regard to the protagonist, he is a bachelor who sounds like the ex-police officer Luke Fitzgerald (Murder Is Easy – see the Notes).  Only that Calgary is a scientist and has been on an expedition to the Pole. But all the same both have been driven by love; it is no longer to right the wrong but to save the neck of a woman they have fancied. Their being adamant about the innocence of a suspect might remind readers to Dr. Peter Lloyd in Sad Cypress (1940).

With neither Mr Quinn nor Parker Payne in sight, Calgary’s dwelling upon the family takes him to a retired village doctor, Mr. MacMaster. Having known the Argyles since before the War, he lays all facts about each member of the family. He is another outsider who regards Calgary’s intelligence and the one who is actually unconvinced that Jack was the murderer. Most intriguingly, Macmaster’s view point is based upon realisation that a bloody murder would not have been opted by Jack (see Clues). Whilst the killer instinct is intact in Jack, he might have not been keen at doing the job himself. So who was he asking?

I have great admiration about Christie’s skill in ‘shielding’ the murderer right until the end and the presence of a witness that puts things in perspective. Nonetheless, I feel sometimes they can be simplified and it need not a second victim to reveal the murderer. Personally, I am a little bit ‘disappointed’ that Philip Durrant must die, especially as the death can be perceived as a solution for a disabled man trapped in the comfort and care of a wife he has despised.

More importantly, I come to conclude that the murderer is not actually a killer. The struck on the head to Rachel Argyle is partly due to the repressed anger. In my view her poisoning Marry Durrant’s husband is done out of fear.

Above all, readers might realise in the end that there are three separate investigations carried out; two by amateurs whereas the other by ‘the authority’. This, on top of the red-herrings, makes the plot even more complicated that it should have been. Calgary’s views are often recurred in Superintendent Huish’s remarks.

On the whole, this fifties’ novel of Christie’s is one for those who wish to reflect about life and explore the intricacies of emotions. For the thrills and excitements are ample in the authoress’s twenties’ and thirties’ era.

 

The setting for the filming at the marvellous Nether Wichenden House, Buckinghamshire, England, UK.

 

The Twists:

– A statement about Jack Argyle from a middle-aged woman, a witness, whose money has been swindled.

– Donald Craig thinks that Hester Argyle might have killed her stepmother

– Kirsten Lindstorm’s warning to Hester Argyle: ‘…Be on your guard. Be on your gaurd against me and against Mary and against your father and against Gwenda Vaughan.’

– Christina Argyle’s car was spotted at Sunny Point on 9th November. She then tells Michael Argyle that she heard voices of a man’s and a woman’s whispering on the ground of the house.

 

Cast of Characters:

The Argyles:

-Christina (the yo

Jane Seymour as Rachel Argyle in 2007’s Miss Marple series

ungest, a librarian who owns a red bubble car)

-Hester (other stepdaughter)

-Leo (Jack’s stepfather)

-Marry Durrant (nee Argyles, the eldest child)

-Michael (a car salesman in Drymouth)

-Philip Durrant (Mary’s husband, an ex-RAF pilot who is then disabled having contracted with polio)

-Rachel (the stepmother)

 

Others:

-Dr. Arthur Calgary (the protagonist, nearly forty)

-Donald Craig (MacMaster’s successor. He is in love with Hester)

-Major Finney (the Chief Constable)

-The Greens (the son, Cyril, saw Christina’s car after the dark at Sunny Point)

-Superintendent Huish

-Gwenda Vaughan (Leo’s secretary)

-Kirsty Lindstorm (ex-nurse, Swedish, who used to work in a children’s home created by Rachel Argyle and then continues to live in the house until after Rachel died)

-Dr. Macmaster (the retired village doctor)

– Mr. Marshall (the Argyles’s family lawyer)

-Maureen Clegg (Jack Argyle’s ex-wife who is remarried to an electrician)

-A middle-aged woman, whose name is not revealed, a witness to Jack’s personality

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Dr. Macmaster

He is featured in two chapters in which he discusses the Argyles with Arthur Calgary and his conversing with Donald Craig about Hester.  This elderly retired doctor is an invaluable resource to Calgary, for his insights into each person who live at Sunny Point and the dynamics among them.

Compared to other village doctors in Christie’s books, MacMaster is quite open to a stranger. His honesty is remarkable and to my mind the extent of his knowledge speaks volumes of what a doctor profession is: a doctor as a philosopher.

He is being in doubt that the killer can be captured is surprising nonetheless. It is a response to Calgary’s quoting Hester’s that it was the innocents who had mattered. ‘Yes if we could only know -… Even if it doesn’t come to an arrest or trial or conviction. Just to know. Because otherwise –‘ At this point Calgary cannot make him say further.

As Donald Craig comes in, the fatherly MacMaster’s attention shifts and listens to his worry about the same woman. ‘I’d better say it for you, hadn’t I, Don? You’re afraid that it was your Hester who heard the quarrel between her mother and Jacko, who got worked up by hearing it, perhaps, and who, in a fit of rebellion against authority, and against her mother’s superior assumption of omniscience, went into that room, picked up the poker and killed her. That’s what you’re afraid of, isn’t it?’

MacMaster fascinates me because of his shrewd observation and succinct words, which puts him on a par with Judge Lawrence Wargrave(And Then There Were None) and Dr. Haydock (Murder At The Vicarage –see the Notes).  Also, he reminds me of Dr.    , Julian Fellowes’s character in Downtown Abbey Series. His suggestion of taking Lady Sybil Crawley to hospital is thwarted in favour of a famous physician the Crawleys has brought to help with the labour. Sadly, the village doctor is right and just as MacMaster, there is nothing they can do prevent a death occurs.

His brief appearance is crucial in the plot. I wonder who did he have in mind to have killed Rachel Argyle? And why? Too bad Christie does not make him appear again in the ending.

 

Clues:

Arthur Calgary and Leo Argyle (at Sunny Point):

Calgary said, ‘You will confirm that I have stated the facts correctly?’

‘You are perfectly correct,’ said Leo, ‘though I do not see why it has been necessary to go over painful pacts which we are all trying to forget.’

‘Forgive me. I had to do so. You do not, I gather, dissent from the verdict?’

‘I admit that the facts were stated – that is, if you do not go behind the facts, it was, crudely, murder. But if you do go behind the facts, there is much said to be said in mitigation. The boy was mentally unstable, though unfortunately not in the legal sense of the term. Then McNaughen rules are narrow and unsatisfactory. I assure you, Dr. Calgary, that Rachel herself – my late wif, I mean- would have been the first to forgive and excuse that unfortunate boy for his rash act. She wasa most advanced and humane thinker and had a profound knowledge of psychological factors. She would not have condemned.’

 

Dr MacMaster to Arthur Calgary:

‘So you weren’t surprised,’ said Calgary,’ when he was arrested for murder?’

‘Frankly, yes, I was surprised. Not because the idea of murder would have been particularly repugnant to Jacko. He was the sort of young man who is conscienceless. But the kind of murder he ‘d done did surprise me. Oh, I know he had a violent temper and all that. As a child he often hurled himself on another child or hit him with some heavy toy or a bit of wood. But it was a child usually smaller than himself, and it was usually not so much blind rage as the wish to hurt or get hold of something that he himself wanted. The kind of murder I’d expected Jackto to do, if he did one, was the type where a couple of boys go out on a raid; then, when the police come after them, the Jackos say, “Biff him on the head, bud. Let him have it. Shoot him down.” They’re willing for murder, ready to incite murder, but they’ve not got the nerve to do murder themselves with their own hands. That’s what I should have said. Now it seems I would have been right.’

 

Christina Argyle to Michael Argyle:

‘They said – one of them said, “Between seven and seven-thirty. That’s the time. Now remember that and don’t make a muck of it. Between seven and seven-thirty.” The other person whispered, “You can trust me,” and then the first voice said,” And after that, darling, everything will be wonderful.”’

 

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