Notes On Taken At The Flood

Rating: 4.3 out of five

Year of Publication: 1948

Motive for Murder: Lack of motive

Plot:

London, autumn 1944.  Gordon Cloade is killed in an air raid along with his two servants. His young wife, Rosaleen, of whom he married a few weeks before survives. She is now the sole beneficiary of the billionaire Gordon.

In the late spring 1946 Hercule Poirot receives a visit from a middle-aged woman, Katherine Cloade. The wife of Gordon’s younger brother wants the Belgian to find Rosaleen’s first husband, Robert Underhay. For the spirits have guided her to consult the matter as Mr. Underhay is possibly alive after all; that the report of his death from fever in Africa might not have been true. Poirot refuses to represent her on the grounds of her muddled explanation, particularly as it involves spiritualism.

In the early spring 1946 Lynn Marchmont comes home after four years service abroad as a Wren. In the aftermath of the War she finds out her mother, Gordon’s younger sister, is struggling financially, just like the rest of the Cloades. For they were all used to the idea of depending on the deceased whose fortune would have settled their debts and money worries.

Five days after Mrs. Cloade’s visit, Poirot reads on the paper about the death of Enoch Arden, a guest at the Stag inn in the village where the woman lives. He is found dead in his bed with fractures in his skull. More importantly he recalls a rambling of old Major Porter in the club after Gordon’s death. He said he had known Mr. Underhay. He then relayed the other man’s words: ‘”If a report of my death gets back that will make Rosaleen a widow, which is what she wants.”’ ‘And what about you?’ I said. “Well, maybe a Mr. Enoch Arden will turn up somewhere a thousand miles or so away and start life anew.”’

Is the dead Arden Robert Underhay? At the inquest, who is one to believe: Rosaleen Cloade, who says that she has never seen the deceased in her life or Major Porter, who contradicts her statement, having identified the deceased as indeed Underhay?  Afterward police arrest David Hunter, Rosaleen’s brother, for the murder.

 

Highlights:

The ghosts of the War seem to haunt the lives of the women in post-war Britain. Do their husbands die or their being missing in action?

The plot touches the impact of Enoch Arden that might have blighted the lives for many unfortunate women with small children needing to survive. Is it bad to wish their husbands have gone and their moving on?

In Christie’s world, the pressing matter is not the mere predicament, but the people who takes opportunity of the situation. Or some who would not want to lose a nice life deemed to be almost non-existent for most people after the War.

After ten years in a deserted island, Enoch Arden the merchant seaman finally returns home, only to find his wife has remarried and has a child.

Gordon Cloade was sixty-two years old bachelor when he met Rosaleen. His unprecedented marriage is quietly disapproved by his relatives, undoubtedly owing to their being unable to get their hands of his wealth. As the news of his death reaches them, all of a sudden their sheltered life is ruined. Supposing then Rosaleen’s first husband has not died after all?

Be that as it may, the Cloades are good people. As respected members of the community, their feeling bitter about the reality is not much different to everybody else whom is on the brink of bankruptcy. Yet in their upbringing it may not occur to their minds to act beyond a wishful thinking, let alone plotting a murder. A little trick, yes, as ‘Enoch Arden’ turns out to be Frances Cloade’s cousin.

Here Christie discusses the sentiment against a rich poor girl Rosaleen Cloade; a stranger who comes to fortune and the woman as a person. Opinions are divided among the Cloades; to the women Gordon’s widow is a lamb, yet to the men she is definitely a trouble. Her brother, a war hero, puts the family in a difficult situation owing to his cynical attitude and spiteful remarks to the Cloades.

Pride and prejudice as well as sense and sensibility are rife in the exchanges of words. Just like Arundells (Dumb Witness), the Cloades do not pretend about resenting David Hunter controlling his sister moneywise.

Hunter the Brutus is against Rowley Cloade the Cassius (see Clues about them).  The men hate one another; not entirely because of money but as a competitor to win the heart of Lynn’s. They deploy power differently; Hunter has the means of money whereas the young Cloade is able to conjure up Major Porter at the inquest with the help of Poirot.

What ‘Enoch Arden’ has done is to upset both plans. No sooner has he checked in at the Stag than he turns the tables. He makes Hunter believe he was Rosaleen’s first husband. Panicking, Hunter bows easily to the other’s demand of £10,000 in cash. He brings the money to the inn only to find a lifeless body of Arden’s. And it puts him in the tight spot because the body is still warm.

Major Porter’s suicide after the inquest astounds Rowley. He has not seen it coming, for he persuaded the deceased to give a false testament about Arden’s identity. He succeeds to have planted the suspicion to Hunter whereby he is charged with the murder of Arden.

The authoress’s focus on the male characters, inspired by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, is the most brilliant part of the book.  Most significantly Lynn Marchmont’s responses. A triangle of love that brings about a woman to see the contrasting personality between two men; one adventurous and attractive and the other contended in the quiet life of the countryside, untouched by war.

What is more, the dynamics among the minor characters are equal to a host of parodies attempting to claim the individual rights towards Gordon’s money. One comes with a spirit angle in her tale (see The Most Fascinating Character), another teams up with a crooked cousin and Lynn’s mother chooses the plain way of begging for a huge sum of loan.

Act Four in the play sees Brutus attacks Cassius who accepts bribes.  They reconcile after Brutus reveals that his beloved wife Portia had committed suicide under the stress of his absence from Rome. In Christie’s book, Rosaleen is sadly dead in her bed from an overdose of morphia. The harmless Bromide, prescribed by Dr. Lionel Cloade, is substituted with the similar-looking tablet containing the fatal dose.

As mentioned above, it is the lack of motive that motivates the murderer; two thumbs-up to the reverse logic that beguiles the readers.

The recruiting poster for Wrens in the Second World War.

My only criticism is the seemingly easy adjustment of Lynn Marchmont into civilian life. Surely the War has changed her as a person; a woman on the crossroads judging her option of being a farmer’s wife or eloping with a ‘dangerously attractive man. I wonder if she did not see anything in Egypt that are disturbing. Besides, there is no mention about what she did in the overseas unit – not even an inkling of it. Nor the lines which suggest her being sworn to secrecy and therefore is not at liberty to talk about her role. Instead, Christie’s focus is on her love life the domestic issues with  a trying mother.

Lastly, the book sees the beginning of the fruitful relationship between Superintendent Spence (Mrs. McGinty’s Dead and Hallowe’en Party) and Poirot.

To conclude, Taken At The Flood elucidates the impacts of the War for ordinary people wrapped in  crimes and passion.

 

The Twists:

 

– Enoch Arden’s real name is Charles Trenton

– The real Rosaleen Cloade is killed with her husband during the air raid whilst the housemaid is not

– Rosaleen Cloade is Catholic

 

Cast of Characters:

The Cloades:

Adela Marchmont (Gordon’s sister)

Frances (nee Trenton, Jeremy’s wife)

Gordon (killed in an air raid in London in 1944)

Jeremy (Gordon’s brother, Frances’s husband)

Katherine (Lionel’s wife)

Lionel (a doctor, Gordon’s other brother)

Lynn Marchmont (Adela’s daughter)

Rosaleen (ex Mrs. Underhay, Gordon’s wife)

Rowley (Lynn’s cousin and fiancé)

 

In the poem, Enoch Arden does not let himself known to his wife following his return for fear of ruining her happiness.

Others:

Beatrice Lippincott (the manageress at the Stag, the local inn where Arden stays)

Charles Trenton (a.k.a. Enoch Arden, Frances’s cousin)

David Hunter (Rosaleen’s brother)

Sergeant Graves

Hercule Poirot

Mr. Mellon (Poirot’s acquaintance at the club)

Major Porter (an ex-army man and a club member where Poirot hears about Gordon Cloade for the first time)

Superintendent Spence

The coroner at Enoch Arden inquest

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Katherine Cloade

Irony is what seems to be the fate of Dr. Lionel Cloade’s wife. To everyone she is ‘auntie Kathie,’ a slightly eccentric woman devoted to séance and the After World. In the prologue she pays a visit to Poirot; more or less eighteen months after her brother-in-law’s demise.

George the manservant describes her look to the Belgian: ‘She would be aged between forty and fifty, I should say, sir. Untidy and somewhat artistic in appearance. Good walking-shoes, brogues. A tweed coat and skirt – but a lace blouse. Some questionable Egyptian beads and a blue chiffon scarf.’

Her ‘provincial look’ resembles Mabelle Sainsbury Seale (see Notes On One,Two Buckle My Shoe) and the artisan touch makes her equal to Cora Lansquenet (After The Funeral). Reluctantly the sleuth receives her, knowing too well that she is quite determined to see him, having come straight from the country.

Her nonsensical story about some spirits that pinpoints ‘H.P.’ and her quoting a part of a children’s nursery rhymes for symbolising ‘Underhay’ are hilarious. Her confusing words about detective’s fee  intrigues him at that time; beyond her mishap sartorial choice and comical behaviour. Unfortunately she is then turned down (which is a big mistake on Poirot’s part as he gets his due from her nephew Rowley)!

With dignity she accepts his refusal and leaves. Perhaps she does not think of their crossing their path again.

Celia Imrie gives an outstanding performance as ‘aunt Kathie’ in 2006’s Poirot TV series.

Beyond the muddled mind of hers there is a woman suffers greatly in silence. Ever since the War her husband has been a drug addict. Their wealth has dwindled fast owing to his dependence to morphine and his empty promise to stop the terrible habit. Nobody else needs to know about  it  and she will not dream to tell anyone either.

I admire her in a way, sticking to the principle of not begging. For unlike her husband she does not ask a penny to Rosaleen. Instead she offers the other to live with her after Hunter is charged with Arden’s murder. Despite being nearly in destitute, she gives her niece Lynn a homecoming party.

In the book she is like a shadow, speaking very little about herself. There is not much interest about this childless woman who is warm at heart and sincere. Fortunately she does seem to have a real friend and her relationship with Adella Marchmont and Frances are limited to the pleasantries for sister-in-laws. And therefore I would very much like to be her friend.

 

Clues:  

Brutus and Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.Christie reinvents the characters in David Hunter and Rowley Cloade in the book.

 

Conversations between Rosaleen Cloade (RC) and David Hunter (DH):

RC: ‘I’ll do what you tell me, David.’

DH: ‘There’s the girl! All you have to do, Rosaleen, is to stick to your story. Hold it that the dead man is not your husband, Robert Underhay.’

RC: ‘They’ll trap me into saying things I don’t mean.’

DH: ‘No – they won’t. It’s all right, I tell you.’

RC: ‘No, it’s wrong – it’s been wrong all along. Taking money that doesn’t belong to us. I lie awake nights thinking of it, David. Taking what doesn’t belong to us. God is punishing us for our wickedness.’

DH: ‘Listen, ROsaleen. Do you want me to be hanged.’

RC: ‘Oh, David, you wouldn’t – they couldn’t –‘

DH: ‘There’s only one person who can hang me – that’s you. If you once admit, by look or sign or word, that the dead man might be Underhay, you put the rope round my neck! Do you understand that?’

RC: ‘I’m so stupid, David.’

DH: ‘No, you’re not. In any case you haven’t got to be clever. You’ll have to swear solemnly that the dead man is not your husband. You can do that?’

‘Look stupid if you like. Look as if you don’t understand quite what they are asking you. That will do no harm. But stand firm on the points I’ve gone over with you. Gaythorne will look after you. He’s a very able criminal lawyer – that’s why I’ve got him. He’ll be at the inquest and he’ll protect you from any heckling. But even to him stick to your story. For God’s sake don’t try to be clever or think you can help me by some line of your own.’

RC: ‘I’ll do it, David. I’ll do exactly what you tell me.’

DH: ‘Good girl. When it’s all over we’ll go away – to the South of France – to America. In the meantime, take care of your health. Don’t lie awake at nights fretting and working yourself up. Take those sleeping things Dr. Cloade prescribed for you – bromide or something. Take one every night, cheer up, and remember there’s a good time coming!’

 

Rowley Croade to Hercule Poirot in the presence of David Hunter and Lynn Marchmont:

‘Ever since that party at Aunt Kathie’s I’d realized – well, never mind all that. I’ve sometimes thought I’m going mad –perhaps I am a bit mad. First Johnnie going – and then the war – I-I-can’t talk about things but sometimes I’d feel blind with rage – and now Lynn- and this fellow. I dragged the dead man into the middle of the room and turned him over on his face. Then I picked up those heavy steel tongs – well, I won’t go into details. I wiped off fingerprints, cleaned up the marble curb – then I deliberately put the hands of the wrist-watch at ten minutes past nine and smashed it. I took away his ration book and his papers – I thought his identity might be traced through them. Then I got out. It seemed to me that with Beatrice’s story of what she’d overheard, David would be for it all right.’

 

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