Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
January 6, 2013
If you are considering reading all of the Hercule Poirot novels from beginning to end, may I suggest that you skip Hickory Dickory Dock, AKA Hickory Dickory Death. This is not Agatha Christie's greatest achievement in literature.
First of all, there are just a lot of characters. I was tired from trying to keep them all straight. I do give Christie credit, because I was, indeed, able to keep them straight... beginning about a third of the way into the book. And I'm very inclined to not pay attention to names and get lost. And, I don't want to call her a racist, because I don't believe she was, but some of the characters – the majority of whom are foreign and some from Africa and India – were not very developed and the result was that she seemed to rest on racist stereotypes. In her repertoire, Christie doesn't have a lot of characters of color. I just felt a little uncomfortable with her treatment of them in this book. Not all of them, but enough to make me uncomfortable.
The book does have some redeeming qualities, though. There's the issue of Communism. The book actually does a good job of recording the mindset of the time. Written in 1955, it is post-WWII, the beginnings of that long ideological conflict known as the Cold War, and after McCarthy's famous declaration of his list of names. Though the word McCarthyism is not used, the word Communist is thrown around frequently, especially by frustrated men who have nothing more substantial to accuse the foreigners of, so they default to the inquisition-style of accusation. Interestingly, she doesn't seem to make the issue of Communism a sinister threat, just an epithet used by men who should probably mind their own business.
It's also amusing the way Christie pokes fun at Poirot – square crumpets and symmetrical sandwiches. He likes square rooms and furniture rather than round. He almost seems like a precursor to Monk, the OCD detective of television.
But, the plot includes smuggling and blackmail and Christie doesn't seem at her best with those subjects. In reading different reviews, I've come across more than one complaint about the convoluted plot, and it is almost comical in its twists. It was virtually impossible for me to suspend disbelief, and I'm a very forgiving reader. I think, though, that the overly twisted plot had more to do with her being in unfamiliar territory than just being unable to come up with a workable story line.
And God bless that Ariadne Oliver. She makes an appearance in the very next novel, Dead Man's Folly. In it she says, "It's never difficult to think of things. The trouble is that you think of too many, and then it all becomes too complicated, so you have to relinquish some of them and that is rather agony."
Some people who reviewed the book wrote that all in all it was worth the read because it was entertaining. Honestly, I had never thought of it that way, and I've been reading books for over thirty years. Possibly I've felt the same way before, but really, what an idea: a bad book is okay because one enjoyed oneself while reading it. I'll have to think about that a while. However, in this case I disagree. I don't think I enjoyed myself enough to justify having spent time reading it. Square crumpets can only take you so far.
Thank you for reading.
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