After The Funeral
First Published: AKA Funerals Are Fatal and Murder At The Gallop - Serialized in the Chicago Tribune in 1953
Summary: Richard Abernethie is dead. 'Natural causes' is what his death certificate states and his doctor stands by this ruling. When Richard’s Will is read to the family after the funeral, his younger sister Cora makes the observation, “But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” (pg. 21). The thing is with Cora, while her remarks are often completely outrageous, there is usually a kernel of truth in them...which makes everyone uncomfortable. Because everyone in the Abernethie family had a reason to want Richard dead.
Review:While I can appreciate the fact Christie tried to stretch and grow as a writer by trying new genres and styles, I have to say I am usually pleased when I read one of her straight mysteries. It is her sheer cunning which amazes me; in this book she gives us a very early clue to who did the deed (known to the reader and not the detectives) and if you are like me, you read past it without realizing its significance. It wasn’t until I reached the end and looked back at the crime that this seemly innocuous scene took on a serious level of creepiness! I loved it!
In some ways, this mystery reminds me of some of the Marples, where for at least half of the book an amateur sleuth handles much of the case. In this case, it was the Abernethie family lawyer running hither, thither and yon trying to figure out who the murderer was. It wasn’t until about halfway through that Poirot was contacted and brought into the case to help wrap things up. Similarly to Marple, who often let people think she was a fussy bit of fluff who shouldn’t be taken seriously, Poirot affected a heavier accent, mannerisms and such to lure his suspect pool into thinking he was completely harmless, which was entertaining to read and it got even better when he was called out for it! It’s not often Poirot is caught in a fib!
I know I say this a bunch, but I really enjoyed reading this mystery. It reminds me of the elegant food served in fancy restaurants which boast they only used six ingredients to create their signature dish. It is the quality of each element which helps to create the dish, but it is really the skill of the chef which turns something simple into the extraordinary. Many people can try to recreate the dish at home and come close to imitating it, but it won’t taste quite the same as the plate at the restaurant did. Writing works in a similar fashion, Christie has plenty of imitators but there is only one Queen of Mystery and in her deft hands a simple murder turns into clever twist. After The Funeral I think easily reaches the top of the pot roast level in her canon.
Speaking of all things enjoyably edible, this last weekend I attending a wedding. The chapel was pretty, the bride elegant (and nervous) and the ceremony relatively free of cliches. What I don’t know is how many of the traditions the wedding party followed like placing a penny in your shoe, wearing something borrowed & something blue, you know that sort of thing. While many of these traditions surround the bride, there are also a number which pertain to the cake. MMMmmm...Cake, you like cake....The cake is not a lie....
If you lived during Roman times and got married, you were flat out of luck in the cake department! Instead they broke a loaf of bread over the bride’s head while guests scrambled to pick up the crumbs which they believed would bring them luck. When brides finally had enough of having their wedding clothes ruined by lucky crumbs and guests eating bread off the floor, the tradition changed. Eventually the wedding pie came into fashion; they were usually filled with fruits like plums or mincemeat to symbolized fertility for the bride and imparted luck to everyone who ate a piece. To sweeten the pot even further the pie, designated to be eaten by the bridesmaids had a glass ring hidden inside and whoever found it was thought to be the next one to get married (this meaning eventually transferred to the catching of the bouquet - which sounds a bit safer than eating glass depending on how competitive the group catching the bouquet is). When pies fell out of favor and the wedding cake as we think of it started to come into being, the tradition once again changed. Now the bride would pull a small portion of the cake through her ring for any and all guests to help bring them luck. Eventually this time consuming tradition was simplified in a retro sort of way, guests once again vied for leftover cake crumbs to increase their luck (and eating off a cake stand has to be more hygienic than the floor). And now any woman wishing to dream of her future husband simply had to place a sliver of wedding cake under her pillow (to me it sounds like a good way to get ants and ruin a pillow). Who knew a one kind of cake was filled with so much potential luck?
Now you may be asking what on earth do wedding cake traditions have to do with this mystery? One of the biggest clues for the police (and the readers) came in the form of a smooshed piece of wedding cake sent anonymously through the post. Miss Gilchrist indulged in a little flight of fancy and placed a potion of leftover wedding cake under her pillow. The problem was her piece was laced with arsenic instead of luck and sent her to the hospital. What I find remarkable about the incident is she ate the cake at all! Who on earth eats anything which comes through the mail when you cannot readily identify the sender? Even back in 1953 when this was written this must have been an unwise for a person to do, especially after your employer has just been brutally murdered. And who on earth would send a slice through the mail to begin with? I know the pieces are suppose to be lucky, but isn’t that a bit tenuous?
This is what I loved about this book. Christie took a simple tradition stretched it out and crafted it into something sinister. One which simultaneously gave the police a lucky break and dealt an unlucky blow to Miss Gilchrist (but fortunately not a fatal one). Plus this incident seems like something which could happen in real life, since a slice of cake can be very tempting and sometimes it is difficult to resist temptation!
“There’s a story about a customer saying once as a joke, ‘Wish you’d sell me something to poison my wife, ha ha!’ And Banks says to him, very soft and quiet: ‘I could...It would cost you two hundred pounds.’” (pg. 151)
“More or less forgotten by all, Hercule Poirot leant back in his chair, sipped his coffee and observed, as a cat may observe the twitterings and comings and goings of a flock of birds. The cat is not ready yet to make its spring.” (pg. 212)
“And Poirot twirled his mustaches with enormous energy.” (pg. 91)
Random Fact: How many times have you gone to the movies to see an adaptation of your favorite book only to be disappointed with it? Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings, Divergent, Sherlock Holmes, anything by Shakespeare have all been adapted into movies which have been slammed by a segment of their fan base, critics and sometimes the authors themselves.
After The Funeral was adapted for the big screen in 1963 by MGM and no surprise Christie was rather dissatisfied with it, mainly due to the fact they replaced Poirot with Miss Marple! Which I could see doing in the last novel I read, Taken At The Flood, but I am not sure it was necessary change for this novel. Plus Margaret Rutherford played Marple in the movie, whose portrayal of Miss Marple Christie always found dissatisfying - since Rutherford played to her own strengths as an actress and made Marple into a comedic sleuth, instead of playing Marple as she really was, a woman who occasionally displayed some dry wit but never indulged in slap-stick humor. Plus a great many things had to be changed in this version in order to make Marple work as the main sleuth! All in all this adaption, while funny on its own bore only a superficial resemblance to the original mystery.
But as all readers know, the book is better than the movie ninety-nine percent of the time and this adaptation didn’t break the mold this time!
Cheating: One more week! I can do it! Yay!
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2014