The Clocks is one of Agatha Christie’s later books, published in 1963. I read it in December and then watched the TV version. They are different and for once that didn’t irritate me, although I do wonder why some of the names were altered. The main difference is that in the book, Poirot doesn’t appear until about halfway into the book, whereas in the TV version he is the main investigator. So be it, I liked both versions. This post is now just about the book.
Sheila Webb, a typist, had found a dead man in the sitting room at the home of Miss Pebmarsh at 19 Wilbraham Crescent. He had been drugged and then stabbed. Miss Pebmarsh who is blind didn’t know the dead man and denied ringing the secretarial agency and asking for Sheila. The strange thing was that there were five clocks in the sitting room and all, except for the cuckoo clock which announced the time as 3 o’clock, had stopped at 4.13. Sheila ran out of the house in a panic into the arms of Colin Lamb. Colin has his own reasons for being in Wilbraham Crescent, which only become clear later in the story. He reports the death to Detective Inspector Hardcastle and together they investigate. The first problem is to identify the dead man as no one knows who he is. In fact no one seems to know anything.
This is where Poirot gets involved because Colin knows him. Colin has changed his surname; his father had been a Police Superintendent – presumably Superintendent Battle. Colin asks for Poirot’s opinion, and challenges him to solve the mystery. At this point Poirot then runs through what amounts to a potted history of crime fiction and the art of detection. He refers to real crimes and then to examples of criminal fiction, including The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green (which reminds me I have a copy on Kindle still to read). He lambasts fictional writers such as Gary Gregson (one of the characters in The Clocks) and Ariadne Oliver, another of Agatha Christie’s creations, thinking her books are highly improbable.
Colin gives him the facts and wants the answer. He says:
I want you to give me the solution. I’ve always understood from you that it was perfectly possible to lie back in one’s chair, just think about it all, and come up with the answer. That it was quite unnecessary to go and question people and run about looking for clues. (page 193)
I enjoyed these aspect of the book immensely, where I imagine Agatha Christie was amusing herself at her characters’ expense. Poirot sends Colin away instructing him to talk to people and to let them talk to him. Later on his curiosity gets the better of him and he does leaves his chair and visit the scene of the crime.
I also liked the descriptions of the neighbours in the Crescent and the confusing way the houses are numbered. I did work out the significance of the numbering quite early on in the book, which rather pleased me. There are many red herrings and I didn’t think the separate plot involving Colin’s work as a British Intelligence agent was terribly interesting,or necessary, although the two plots do connect by the end.
For a more detailed account of the book see Wikipedia.
My rating: 4/5