I enjoyed Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood, on several levels. There is the murder and mystery level, but also a great sense of the times, set in post-war Britain, reflecting the mood of the population, and, on top of all, that the characters stand out for the most part as well-rounded, convincing people. There are plenty of references to the changing social scene, to the attitude towards women and foreigners and to the difficulties of war heroes adapting to civilian life.
It was published in 1948, when the aftermath of the war is felt by some people as a restless dissatisfaction with life, feeling ‘rudderless’ just drifting along and by others, who had ‘come into their own’ during the war, benefiting from the need to plan and think and improvise for themselves.
Lynn Marchmont is one of the people feeling ill at ease and nervous; she was aware of ill will, ill feeling:
It’s everywhere. On railways and buses and in shops and amongst workers and clerks and even agricultural labourers. And I suppose worse in mines and factories. Ill will. But here it’s more than that. Here it’s particular. It’s meant! (page 65)
There is certainly ill will in her family after her uncle, Gordon Cloade had died, killed in an air raid, and left the rest of the family ‘out in the cold’. They had all relied on him to help them out financially and expected they would inherit his wealth on his death. But Gordon had married Rosaleen, a young woman, whose brother, David Hunter has no intention of letting any of them have any money. Rosaleen has a chequered past and when a tall, bronzed stranger arrives in the village calling himself Enoch Arden, the question of his identity becomes of great importance. I didn’t know the reference to Enoch Arden, but knew it must be of significance when it stirs some poetical memory in David’s mind, from a poem by Tennyson. Then Enoch Arden is found in his room at the local inn, The Stag:
‘Dead as a doornail,’ said Gladys, and added with a certain relish: ‘ ‘Is ‘ead’s bashed in!’ (page 161)
Poirot is called in to help solve the crime. Was Enoch Arden was Rosaleen’s first husband, Robert Underhay or had Robert died in Africa, as she said? Would the family fortune remain with the Cloades? Is Rosaleen’s life in danger, are the Cloades wishing her dead?
It’s a baffling case and Poirot tells Superintendent Spence that it’s an interesting case, because it’s all wrong – it’s not the ‘right shape.’ Eventually, of course, he works it out and it is complicated as Spence complains, protesting when Poirot quotes Shakespeare. Poirot, however, explains that it is very Shakespearian:
… there are here all the emotions – the human emotions – in which Shakespeare would have revelled – the jealousies, the hates – the swift passionate actions. And here, too, is successful opportunism. “There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at its flood leads on to fortune …” Someone acted on that, Superintendent. To seize opportunity and turn it to one’s own ends – and that has been triumphantly accomplished – under your nose, so to speak!’ (page 319)
8 thoughts on “Taken at the Flood by Agatha Christie: a Book Review”
Margaret – An excellent review – thanks :-). And you’ve put your finger on two things that wok quite well in this novel. One is the treatment of post-war social changes and their effects on people. Rudderless really is a well-chosen word for that, and Christie shows that to the reader. As you also point out, the characters are well-drawn, too, and the network of family relationships both engaging and convincing. Agatha Christie had a very keen eye for her society, and in more than one novel, shows that society to readers. This is one of those novels.
“…….that the characters stand out for the most part as well-rounded, convincing people.”
Thanks for this review, Margaret. I agree with you. So many people think that Christie just wrote to a formula, but rereading a couple of her books after a gap of 30 odd years I understand why she was so successful. She did write great characters, as well as clever plots and social commentary.
What a nice review – you really pick out the things which make Christie a much better writer than people tend to think of her as being. The way this book depicts that end-of-the-war feel is particularly interesting – it’s something that’s hard for younger generations to understand, I suspect. Christie manages to move quite comfortably between books like this, with well-rounded characters and plausible motives and the much lighter books where she shows – I think – a delicious sense of humour.
Thanks for your comments.
Margot, Christie is really good at showing isn’t she, rather than telling.
Norman, I used to think that too, until I started reading her books again (I’d read some of them many years ago) too.
GeraniumCat, this is what I like about her books – she manages such a variety of books and does indeed have a great sense of humour.
I have recently read The Secret Adversary by Christie, which is set just after the First World War. I thought that this also had some interesting points about the state of society at the time, the rise of the Labour movement, and the feeling that there was a danger of revolution.
I never read this Agatha Christie and I think I missed an exceptional work of hers. You review is fantastic and I love the quotes by Poiroit you included..vintage, plus it’s great that Poiroit brings Shakespeare into it. There’s no end to the jealousies and greed of two families fighting for money, it seems. So sad.
I’m definitely going to read this Agatha Christie! Thank you.
I agree, Margaret. This is a really good example of Christie’s skills, an under-rated story with a truly brilliant clue (train smoke!)
As others that have commented, I too am reading the Christie mysteries for the second time after a break of 20+ years and enjoying every minute of it. Her character development is so rich you can watch the scene unfold infront of you. I find the portrayal of English upper class life extremely interesting.The only part of Taken at the Flood that I found astounding was the end. Without giving away anything, I was shocked by the strong support shown by one character to one of the perpetrators.
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