The Pale Horse
The Pale Horse: Agatha Christie, December 8—13, 2015
My rating: ♦♦♦◊◊
Agatha Christie returns to her paranormal inclinations with The Pale Horse; a shadowy inn that appears to bewitch and kill targets identified by paying clients.
Though featuring Ariadne Oliver, Rhoda Dawes and Colonel Despard of Cards on the Table
, and Rev. and Mrs. Calthrop of The Moving Finger
, it is newcomer Mark Easterbrook who leads the cast as primary sleuth. An amateur, he is joined by a bloated supporting cast of police officers who have very little input into the plot.
There’s quite a drag to begin with. Though the initial murder happens quite quickly, the menagerie of characters take it very slowly through the (somewhat convenient) grapevine, from Inspector Lejeune to Jim Corrigan, to Easterbook. The ‘pale horse’ phrase passes through a similarly sluggish set of Chinese whispers which leads to much repetition of previously established facts. It’s one of Christie’s flaws; over-telling where narrative overview would suffice. Though it works for Poirot’s grey cells and his particular compartmentalisation, for others it really slows things down.
The conclusion to more supernaturally-leaning mysteries is always tricky: the author must decide whether to offer a completely practical, or else entirely paranormal, climax and somehow take the audience with her. Here, Christie is flawless. By the second half, and certainly the final third, there is urgency and cohesion, and the ending is perfect. Yet again, Christie shows her skill and intelligence by making seemingly unambiguous, throwaway comments entirely significant.
It’s not a perfect entry in the series, but with a little determination and patience, it’s worth enduring with.