Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie: a Book Review

Death in the Clouds is a kind of locked room mystery, only this time the ‘locked room’ is a plane on a flight from Paris to Croydon, in which Hercule Poirot is one of the passengers.

In mid-air, Madame Giselle, is found dead in her seat. It appears at first that she has died as a result of a wasp sting (a wasp was flying around in the cabin) but when Poirot discovers a thorn with a discoloured tip it seems that she was killed by a poisoned dart, aimed by a blowpipe.

At the inquest the jury’s verdict is that the murderer is Poirot! However the coroner refuses to accept this and finds that the cause of death was poison with insufficient evidence to show who had administered the poison. All the other passengers and flight attendants are suspects and Poirot together with Inspector Japp, studies the passenger list with details of their belongings. There is a helpful plan of the cabin at the front of the book showing who sat where, including a crime fiction writer, a flute-playing Harley Street doctor, two French archaeologists, a dentist, a hairdresser, a Countess (formerly an actress), a woman who is a compulsive gambler, a crime writer and a businessman . Despite all this I was quite unable to work out who did it.

The question is who could have acquired the rare poison and how could it have been shot at Madame Giselle without anyone noticing that happening. Why would anyone want to kill her, and how were any of the suspects connected with her? Even when Poirot details the clues, including the Clue of the Passenger’s Baggage (and I read through the list a few times), I still didn’t work it out.

Apart from the ingenious mystery, which the coroner describes as the most astonishing and incredible case he had ever dealt with, there were other things I enjoyed in reading this book. First of all the ‘psychological moments’  in which people don’t notice what is happening in front of them because their attention is diverted. Then there is the way Christie makes fun of crime fiction writers and readers, making Japp comment that:

I don’t think it healthy for a man always to be brooding over crime and detective stories, reading up all sorts of cases. It puts ideas into his head. (page 63)

Poirot’s dénouement at the end of the book clears up all the confusion, detailing his impressions, precise ideas and methods in dealing with the case. Looking back through the book, all the clues were there, of course, but so cleverly concealed that in most cases I had overlooked them or not realised their significance. A most enjoyable book!

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Masterpiece edition (Reissue) edition (3 Mar 2008)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 000711933X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007119332
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My rating 4/5

8 thoughts on “Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie: a Book Review”

  1. This is one of my favorite Christie books. I’ve read it several times and marvel at the way she tucks the clues in among the rest of the story. Truly, they are all there. But it’s your perspective. Like turning the photo to see the proper angle or one of those pictures that you have to unfocus your eyes in order to see the hidden (I’m not ever able to do that, by the way). I also liked the sense of what airplane travel was like at that time. Very luxurious in some ways, and spartan in others.

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  2. Irene, I often forget who did it, but with this one I think I will remember as I spent some time trying to work it out before I got to the end and then went back over the book to see where I’d missed the clues.

    Margot, I liked that too about Poirot – he does have a heart!

    Kay, you’re quite right and I do like those pictures where you have to let your focus go to see the picture – perhaps I should try that for the next Christie book I read and see where my relaxed gaze takes me! And I did mean to mention how air travel has changed too, so different from today – thanks for reminding me.

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  3. I haven’t read many Poirot books but this is one of the few that I have read and I really enjoyed it. I thought it made an interesting change to have a locked room mystery set on a plane instead of in the usual country house!

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  4. I’m glad I’m not the only one who forgets the final solution in Agatha Christie novels. I often wonder why I do that. I think that maybe I read them too quickly

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