First Published: March 1948 - AKA There Is A Tide - both titles taken from a line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in Act IV.
Summary: Gordon Cloade is the proverbial rich uncle who looks after his entire family, making sure each member has exactly what they need to thrive. The issue is the Cloade family became so reliant on his generosity, they never worried about the future. That is, until he married a silly wisp of a thing and then promptly perished in an air raid without writing a new Will. This turn of events left the Cloade family out in the cold and made a newly minted heiress out of his widow. The thing is, the widow’s first husband may be alive and living in Africa - which would be fortuitous for the Cloade family if he was found. Poirot is approached, however there seems to be little incentive for him to pursue the case...
Review: The holidays are here and we all know what that means....Cookies! Cookies! And More Cookies! And because the holidays means cookies, I feel it fitting I share an “important” theory with you...I speculate that meringues came into being because people needed something creative to do with egg whites after they made spritz cookies - the best recipes only call for the use of egg yolks. Created sometime in the 1500’s, the spritzeback, as the spritz is otherwise known, is a traditional holiday cookie in Scandinavian countries and Germany. Meringue cookies, on the other hand, consist solely of egg whites, sugar of one variety or another, a pinch of salt and perhaps cream of tartar and an extract of some kind (usually almond or vanilla). All ingredients which would be left over if you were baking other cookies, like spritzes!
(great looking spritz cookies, click the pic to got to the recipie and the source of the picture)
The earliest recorded meringue recipe was created in Berkshire, England, around 1604, found in a cookbook written by one Lady Elinor Fettiplace (well, technically a small bound manuscript - nothing like the cookbooks of today with gloss pictures of food held together with glue, laquer and toothpicks). She named her creation "White Basket Bread". In a serendipitous moment in culinary history another woman, Lady Rachel Fane devised a similar recipe at almost the same time in Kent, once again in England, (historians do not believe they knew each other). She called her dainties "Pets". But a rose by any other name would smell like meringue. Both Lady Fane’s and Lady Fettiplcace’s concoctions were meringues, they just lacked their “trade-marked” name. Enter a fancy pants French chef named Francois Massialot, who was Louis XIV’s first chef. Massialot penned his own cookbook in 1692, where he dubbed the earlier known "Pet" and "White Basket Bread" as "meringue" (he also is credited with creating creme brûlée and the innovation of alphabetizing recipes when printing them in a book).
Now I know simple geography is against my theory, since spritzes originated in Germany and meringues in England, but I have some wiggle room here! One simple thing stands out to historians : none of these three cookbooks claim the recipe to be their original creation, leading to speculation meringue’s recipe could be a bit older than 1604. Thus my theory could be plausible, but admittedly unlikely (I have absolutely no facts behind this theory, it is mainly fueled by wine). People could have traveled from England to Germany or vise versa and brought the recipe with them, thus making speculation into fact? It could have happened.....
Here the thing though. While I am a huge fan of spritz cookies, meringues not so much...
Seriously, they are a waste of space on any holiday cookie platter! My advice? When taking a tray of cookies to an office part or neighborhood social, substitute meringues with spritz, chocolate chip or butter cookies. Even the weird creation your five year old made in kindergarten would be better than subjugating people to meringues (unless you don’t like your coworkers/neighbors; then fill an entire platter with the suckers)! The reason why I dislike this rather innocuous little cookie is because it is completely forgettable and without substance. The only lasting impression they make is the weird aftertaste they leave in my mouth, which is the only sensation my memory here to hold onto to prove I didn’t imagine eating this fluffy, crumbling pretender of a confection.
So, what exactly do meringue cookies have to do with Taken At The Flood? I found this book to be utterly forgettable. Just like the meringues, this book didn’t have much flavor or substance and made me wonder if I’d really read a Christie mystery at all. My mind struggles to retain and retrieve facts about this particular title, like it suddenly developed a book-specific worm hole. The plot, while some might call it intricate, I think was just too convoluted and never kept my attention. Christie created a whole host of characters with interesting motives and then left them unexplored. Even Poirot, who usually can provide some substance, doesn’t really appear on the scene until halfway through the book and doesn’t appear frequently enough to provide much depth. This installment left me wanting to read a denser title in her canon like Ackroyd or Nemesis, which is the reading equivalent of eating a spritz cookie to make up for a meringue mistake.
The other significant quality which Taken At The Flood shares with a meringue is the fact both leave a weird aftertaste after they are consumed. Literally in the last two pages of the book, pages 262-263, Christie takes two characters completely off the rails. Lynn, the returning WREN (the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy’s female branch nicknames WREN, I had to look it up) has been engaged to Rowley for several years. However Lynn feels restless after she returns home from the WRENs, missing the travel and the action she’d become accustomed to during her period of service. The problem is Lynn thinks Rowley is far too boring and safe, having never fought in the war, which is the actual impetus behind her trying to break things off with Rowley (there was another man as well, but he was just an excuse in my view). When Rowley hears her rejection he flies into a rage and tries to strangle Lynn, only Poirot’s well timed intervention saves her life.
Here’s what leaves the weird meringuey-like aftertaste, Lynn’s reaction to Rowley trying to murder her, “When you caught hold of me by the throat and said if I wasn’t for you, no one should have me - well- I knew then that I was your woman!....I’ve never, really, cared very much for being safe---“” (pg. 262-263). Seriously?! He tries to murder you and you think the extra pepper this provides is just the thing to keep the excitement alive in your marriage? Really? This scene can make a bit of sense with the background Christie provides throughout the book on Lynn. But then you put the book down and stand back and then the sheer bizarreness of her reaction hits you - would you stay with someone who just a few moments before tried to strangle you? In this case, there is no other abuse mentioned or other extenuating circumstances which we know in real life can factor into a decision of a woman to stay in a relationship which contains an event like this. And the sheer fact that Christie wrote this and thought it was at least all right to publish? Yeah, one of the few scenes I’ve found in her books I didn’t enjoy reading, this book just left a weird taste in my brain.
Incidentally, 1604 - the same year Lady Fettiplace’s created her White Basket Bread - is also the same year Shakespeare’s Othello took the stage for the first time. We know this because scholars found a performance record for the play in the Office of the Revels’ documents. Perhaps since Christie pulled the title, Taken At The Flood, from a line in Julius Caesar she also drew inspiration from Othello, possibly attempting to give Othello and Desdemona a happier ending by timing the revelations of murderous plots in their favor so they could live happily ever after. If this was the case, I think Christie missed the mark.
P.S. - Sorry to the meringue lovers out there (my husband included). I have weirdly strong opinions on the stuff! And btw I don’t like the meringue on lemon meringue pies either, in case you're curious. I flip the top off the pie like a lid.
“Nevertheless reasonableness has never been a quality that appealed to lovers.” (pg. 95)
“What do they wear on their heads? Proper hats? No, a twisted-up bit of stuff, and faces covered with paints and powder...Not only red nails -- but red toe-nails!” (pg. 190) - The sheer scandal at red toes nails made me giggle....
“...You’ll be a leetle suspicious of anything so convenient as a smashed watch. It can be genuine -- but it’s a well-known hoary old trick.” (pg. 120)
Random Fact: In the Christie canon of works, she penned a character who believed to one degree or another in spiritualism, not religion mind you, but in spirits, magic and/or the occult. The Pale Horse, Dumb Witness and Murder Is Easy, just off the top of my head, all contain characters who believe in spiritualism to one degree or another, and Take In The Flood can be added to this list. In this book, Katherine Cloade believes spirits speak to her though a ouija board. In this case it was the spirit telling her that the newly minted widow/heiress’s first husband was really alive and well in Africa, which means her second marriage wouldn’t be legal (thus the Cloade family once again inherits his fortune) which prompted her to seek out Poirot to find the missing first husband.
While it sounds a bit far-fetched now, at this point in time spiritualism and ouija boards were at their height of popularity. Even since an American woman named Pearl Curran claimed to contact a Puritan woman through her board, a new golden age of spiritualism was founded, due to the fact the board removed the middle man from seances. You didn’t need a medium or a group of friends to make contact with the spirit world. You could do it on your own or with another person easily, giving the users a more visceral sense of connection. Pearl Curran is credited with creating the link between the ouija board and the spirit world; before this point it was viewed as a sort of game. Pearl and her spirit "Patience Worth" went on to pen seven books together as well as reams of poetry and short stories. Her first book was hailed by the NY times as a “feat of literary composition” and featured in several poetry anthologies. Pearl was turned into an instant phenomenon, she toured and lectured with he spirit board for many years.
Since then many writers have admitted to receiving a bit of help from a ouija board. William Butler Yeats himself didn’t use a board but did find inspiration in his wife’s (Georgie Hyde-Lees) automatic writing abilities for his 1925 book A Vision. Sylvia Plath found inspiration over a ouija board for many of her poems, most notably Ouija and Dialogue Over A Ouija after her husband Ted Hughes introduced her to it. More recently, Pulitzer Prize winning poet James Merrill used the board extensively when writing his three volume long epic poem The Changing Light At Sandover in 1982. Even Alice Cooper claims his name was derived from a session with a spirit board!
Unlike some mystery authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or G. K. Chesterton, I haven’t found anything to indicate whether Christie herself was a believer or not in ouija or spiratulism. Mainly in her writings it seems to be used as a plot device more than anything else. However it was regarded as a harmless parlor game up until Christie’s early twenties so it is possible she encountered it before and after it became a huge fad, thus allowing for her to have a unique view on its use, as she lived in a world before ouija worked itself completely into our public consciousness.
In an interesting twist, while Pearl Curran is credited with the linking of ouija with the spirit world it wasn’t until the 1973 film The Exorcist that Ouija took on the sinister connotations that it has now (since this movie has in large part been incorporated into the fabric of our pop culture). Who knew that a 1890 invention by Elijah Bond would take up such an interesting and unique place in both literature and pop culture?
Cheating: Nope. We’ve had to postpone the London trip until closer to spring (stupid life getting in the way)! But even with the slight delay I am still going strong! No cheating yet! (Did I just write yet? Seriously! I meant not going to happen!)
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2014