Evil Under The Sun
First Published: Serialized in Collier’s Weekly in December 1940.
Summary:Once again Poirot tries to escape London for a short holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel on the small island in Leathercombe Bay. The problem? Arlena Stuart is churning the normally placid waters of the hotel’s other patrons. How? While she has her own husband, other women’s husbands don’t seem to be off limits to her predatory nature. So when she is found dead on the beach, the majority of hotel’s guests are under suspicion. Like Arelna, Poirot to is unafraid of churning thing up, only in his case it in pursuit of a murderer.
Review: This is an interesting mystery with the old switcheroo at the end of the book motive-wise. The alteration does not startle you the way Endless Night or Crooked House does - but the shift in the motivation for murder makes the crime far more sensible, believable you might say. Which is all I can say about that without spoiling the entire book for you! I can say I enjoyed reading it; the complicated personalities of each of the characters made it a fun read. Even Poirot wasn’t overly fussy, even when he had to take a boat! So if you need a good beach read (you know when you go to the Caribbean over Christmas) I would suggest this installment.
I have to say the unsung work horse in this installment is the hotel Christie decided to place her murder in. It is the uniqueness of the Jolly Roger Hotel which helps cement the small number of suspects together until Poirot could sort them out. How? The Jolly Roger is a sort of island (by sort of I mean you can drive to it on a sort of road which is only available at low tides). This geographical individuality gives the hotel a distinctive feel to its patrons, helping to earning a fine reputation, “Awfully jolly hotel there, on a sort of island. Very comfortable and no trippers or charabancs. Good cooking and all that.” (pg. 2). By its very nature, it only allows access for a small portion of the day, while hemming it in at other times (if you are not keen on sailing). With a fiercely protected private beach on the island, it limits the number of outsiders access (while you could have tea on the island, strictly speaking it didn’t seem like someplace which would let you wander about) neatly creating the recipe Christie uses in her mysteries.
What I find fascinating is the fact the fictional Jolly Roger Hotel is based on an actual place - the Burgh Island Hotel in Devon. Just like its fictional counterpart, it is only accessible at low tide on foot and by sea tractor or boat at high tide (there isn’t any road. I think that may have been wishful thinking on Christie’s part). Burgh Island not only inspired Evil Under The Sun but her masterpiece And Then There Were None. Once again she altered the geography slightly for And Then There Were None, but the remoteness and the hotel itself helped provide the spark of inspiration. Burgh Island and Christie’s history doesn’t end there -- the 2001 Poirot adaptation (played by David Suchet) of Evil Under The Sun was filmed at the hotel (Can’t get much more authentic than that can you? And if you're interested, the 1982 film adaptation with Maggie Smith was filmed in Spain & London). Even Miss Marple wasn’t left out! The 2007 adaptation of Nemesis filmed several scenes in the Hotel as well.
The Bergh Island Hotel isn’t the only hotel to use a geographical or man-made features to provide something to set themselves apart from all the rest. A bank, brothel, bullfighting ring, brewery and a train station all have been converted into some seriously posh looking hotels. There are hotel rooms located under water, in old wine casks, on an airplane, in drain pipes and some epic tree houses. Then there are the themed rooms featuring archeology, Barbie, David Beckham (I am not kidding), in a trojan horse, and a Morris Minor suite. I know these places sound a bit over the top and up until last month I might have felt that way as well. But as they say there is something out there for everyone if you just look hard enough...
In my case I wasn’t looking for a vacation destination, I was inadvertently scrolling on my Tumblr feed that I found it. A literary themed hotel! While a Mercedes themed room seems over the top, books seemed brilliant. I only hesitated for a moment before starting to plan our vacation there, since I needed to make sure it was in fact a real place, not a front for train robbers or hemmed in by high tide (I mean this is the internet and it is not always noted for its credibility and honesty). With rooms dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Jules Verne, Jane Austen, Herman Melville and many others - how could I resist? So we set out a few weeks later to the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon.
I cannot say how loud my inner fangirl squeed when we got there (once again I tried to keep it together and I think once again I utterly failed) and we were able to check into the room that I really wanted....the J.K. Rowling room and you guessed it! All Harry Potter! Hedwig, Moaning Myrtle, a flying broom stick, potion ingredients and your own four poster maroon curtained bed were all there and it was fantastic! I know the Agatha Christie room would have been more appropriate for the blog but, and this is a large "but", it never opened up the entire time we were staying there! And I thought it might just be frowned upon if I “accidentally” happened to futz with the lock and wander my way into the room to take some pictures. My husband agreed with this and pointed out if we couldn’t see it this time then it gave us a perfectly valid reason to come back down again! There is no wifi, televisions or phones in any of the rooms but there are books, books and more books to be found. I cannot tell you how much fun we had while staying there, all because of the book theme. It made it special, memorable just as I suspect the owners intended.
I can say this fun theme (plus a sensational view of the Oregon coast, seriously we were just steps off the beach and it had excellent food) is exactly why we stayed there and will return again. Just like the quote above, “Awfully jolly hotel there... Very comfortable and no trippers or charabancs. Good cooking and all that.” (pg. 2). Unlike the Burgh Island Hotel which inspired books, Sylvia Beach hotel is inspired by books and both are very special for very similar reasons.
“--so difficult to know which pieces are part of the fur rug and which are the cat’s tail.” (pg. 214)
“Ah! Madame, I reserve the explanations for the last chapter.” (pg. 194)
Random Fact: On the back of each of the new William Morrow/Harper reprints is the statement that Christie is only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare, which seems a bit fitting as Christie peppered her books with quotes from both of these two other sources. Evil Under The Sun in fact has a rather fervent if not fanatical, Bible-quoting clergyman who Christie offers up as suspect, whose motivation is one of removing evil in the name of God. With The Pale Horse, Christie snatches the title from Revelations 6:8 and uses this idea of death to help create a malevolent atmosphere.
But while Christie uses these two sources to accent her own, it is something else which has me curious: how - exactly - did they determine Christie was only outsold by these two other canons of work?
Since asking this question, I discovered that perhaps the publishers were hedging their bets. Why? There isn’t any way to really accurately determine how many copies of each of these canons have been printed. For Shakespeare and the Bible, it is largely due to their age; they have been around for centuries and generally publishers' records don’t survive quite as long as the texts they print. Just for Shakespeare, if we calculate just the modern editions that have been printed, you come up with a staggering 2-4 billion books (no one wanted really to guess at the Bible, but the Gideons have passed out 1.4 billion Bibles alone over the last 106 years).
Second, both are in the public domain, meaning anyone can print their own version based on the source text - and believe me they do. One suggestive figure published by UNESCO estimates Shakespeare has been translated 4,281 times since they’ve been keeping count and other records place the Bible at around the same number. Now with Christie, you’d think we wouldn’t have these problems. Her works haven’t even hit the century mark yet (six more years). However she has been reprinted many times by several different publishers both in the UK and US, and there is a similar problem to the other two texts. Plus in the UK, accurate numbers are particularly difficult to determine because some of the early publisher’s records were destroyed during The Blitz.
There is one other problem I have with the dust jacket claim - while Shakespeare and the Bible in all probability beat Christie in the sheer number of books sold - the comparison isn’t really accurate. The Bible and Shakespeare are required reading for large portions of the world. The Bible is a religious text, required reading for the faithful and for them owning at least one is generally a good idea. Similarly, Shakespeare is required reading in classes all around the world. I can say I conservatively own twenty different editions of with single plays or complete works. Unlike these other two texts, Christie by and large is read for pleasure; you have to want to read it. So while both texts beat Christie in the physical number of copies produced - why people are reading them, buying them are not the same. So it’s a bit like comparing apples, oranges and grapes; all of them are part of the same kingdom but not the same order, family or genus.
Perhaps leaving the claim at, ”Christie’s the most widely published fiction writer of all time.”, would be more accurate - but too grandiose for a woman who was renowned for her shyness, even though she’s been translated over 7,233 times, sold between 2-4 billion books and holds fifth place for the best selling single volume book of all time for And Then There Were None. And while I could not definitively determine if Shakespeare and the Bible have outsold Christie, at least I have some good empirical data which suggests the statement is true! Not that I actually doubt it, mind you, I was just curious if it could be definitively proven...
(For those of you who wondered what books have outsold And The There Were None: A Tale of Two Cities, The Lord of the Rings, The Little Prince and Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone place before it)
Cheating: We are getting passport photos this weekend! So excited! So no cheating yet!
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2014