Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Hollow aka Murder After Hours by Agatha Christie

Plot Summary

It is a sunny, warm and cheerful day. M. Poirot has been invited over to lunch by the Angkatells at the Hollow, their beautiful abode in the country. The Angkatells are Poirot's neighbors in the country just outside London. Henry and his eccentric wife Lucy Angkatell have also invited their old friends Dr John and his wife Gerda Christow, the Angkatell's are also having over some more of family and old acquaintances staying with them at the Hollow.

Poirot leisurely walks over to the Hollow expecting a scrumptious lunch and good conversion. Alas, what poor Poirot gets is murder! Dr Christow has been shot and his lying on his back, blood is slowly dripping from him into the blue water of the swimming pool, standing over him is his wife Gerda Christow with a gun in hand.

Review: Its been often said that Dame Christie books especially the ones which feature Poirot and written after the second world war are weaker then their antecedents, so is this true for the 1946 piece of detective fiction "The Hollow"?

Its a resounding Yes from me, while the book has many great points and is actually not a bad read, but where this one fails me is that the mystery is at best pedestrian. I think the Hollow has some of the most memorable characters that Christie has ever created, the Collins edition which is around 400 pages gives enough time and space for characters to develop and form a background story. Christie manages to have the reader sympathize and connect with the characters.

The Mystery takes a backseat there is more focus on the Love quadrangles, even with a plethora of suspects  it isn't very difficult to figure out the murderer, I did it half way through the book. I thought with so many suspects and good characterization Christie will pull off a masterstroke but that did not happen.

Poirot looks weak in the book, the usually confident detective seems diffident and it looked like that not until the very end he realized who the murderer actually is. I read somewhere that Christie did not want Poirot in the book and she added him only later which ruined the book. In my humble opinion I don't think Poirot had anything to do with the weak story line he is hardly noticeable in the book.

One characteristic which I personally dislike is infidelity. In this book Christie tries to portray the philandering doctor as some kind of hero and his mistress as a clever and tragic heroine. No matter how hard you try or no matter how good an author you are, you can never make something which is ignoble look noble. Colin Dexter uses the same theme in his books where infidelity is quite common, frankly speaking they fall flat on their face.

Although Hollow isn't Christie's worst novel, I can still say that there are far better Christie books readily available. I'm rating this two and half out of five.

Where you can buy it? Its very cheap order it online from Infibeam for around Rs 130.


  1. Ha, I saw this seconds after I posted about "The Hollow" as being Christie's worst novel. I don't have any objective measure for its "worstness", but it took me three tries to get through the book, and I believe it is the only Christie book that I have read just once. But, it has been many years and I should try it again if only for the characters as you point out. I do find that I enjoy her non-poirot-marple books much more lately. Maybe age has tempered my capricious mind.

  2. Hi Peter,

    completely agree with you, I think if taken an average the non-series i.e. the books without Poirot and Miss Marple would be rated higher.

  3. I would give the novel another chance. I think it is Christie's best novel -- where Agatha Christie and Mary Westmacott (the name under which she wrote her romance novels) collaborated on a book that involved both sides of her talent with each enriching the other.

    You are correct that the novel has the best drawn characters in her mystery fiction -- THE HOLLOW anticipates the later work of P.D. James and Ruth Rendell. The portrayal of women is particularly noteworthy, and I feel that Christie is writing from her own deep personal experience of and thoughts about being a woman.

    In some ways, this greater psychological nuance diminishes the pure detection elements of the book: people not being who they say they are -- a favorite Christie tool -- does not work in a more psychological novel. P.D. James faces this same issue in her novels. After THE HOLLOW, Christie's books will return to their sketchier psychology, but in this novel she moves in a glorious new direction (I have wondered if surviving WWII -- which she was not sure she would -- prompted the new depth and nuance of this novel. There is plenitude and gratitude in this book that is luxurious).

    Also, though we readers did not know it, she had killed off Poirot in a book written several years earlier. Poirot does have a ghostly quality to his presence here, and when he tells Henrietta at the end of the story that his place is with the dead, we can now see that Christie was telling her audience the absolute truth -- an in-joke that would be revealed 30 years later with the publication of CURTAIN.

    Christie is once again chronicling privilege, in this case a group of entitled people who believe they have the extra-juridical right to frustrate a murder investigation (much like the killers in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS believe they have the right to murder a kidnapper). In both these cases, the victim has committed a wrong. John Christow's treatment of his wife Gerda is horrific: Christie is brilliant in detailing it and his murder is one of the best motivated crimes in not just Christie, but all detective fiction for me.

    Lastly, when Poirot informs Henrietta that he will tell Gerda's son the truth when he comes to ask about the crime, he is asserting Christie's own understanding of life where the desire to avoid hurt conflicts with the desire/need to know. I love how Christie writes: "The truth, however bitter, can be accepted, and woven into a design for living."

    THE HOLLOW may be less of a puzzle than other Christie novels, but often, those novels have only the puzzle to offer, so re-reading them can be tiresome, But the richness and complexity of THE HOLLOW in both its characters and moral vision, repay repeat visits over the years, which is what for me defines a great work of art.

    1. Wow! thank you for having a different and eloquent opinion on this. I have never given the story so much thought and was prejudiced against it after reading another online review. Also, I wrote this review at very different time in my life, I have since gone through some very different experiences in my own life; and I think I have grown more tolerant and mature and hopefully wiser towards infidelity, love and life. Perhaps one of these days I will re read this one again.

      Thanks again for you detailed and expert comment.


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