Review: Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

I’ve been on a bit of an Agatha Christie kick since discovering that David Suchet has narrated some of the audio books which feature Hercule Poirot and have discovered that the old stories, which I’d thought would be a bit dated and uninteresting, are, for the most part, entertaining tales.

Evil Under the Sun is familiar territory for Christie in that it’s a variation on the country house mystery, although the cast of characters are guests at a seaside hotel in Devon this time around. Arlena Marshall is a beautiful actress* staying at the hotel with her husband Kenneth (he’s her second or third, I can’t remember) and his daughter Linda. Also at the hotel are an elderly American tourist couple, a female fashion designer who has known Kenneth Marshall for many years and a young English couple: the Redferns. After some establishment scenes in which it is assumed that Arlena is having some kind of entanglement with Patrick Redfern her body is discovered in a secluded cove near the hotel and Hercule Poirot, a guest himself, must investigate the crime.

So far in my meandering journey through Agatha Christie audio books I’ve read four books narrated by David Suchet and this was the least entertaining for me. The story isn’t terrible by any standards but it doesn’t have the drama of Murder on the Orient Express, the humour of Dead Man’s Folly or the exotic characters and setting of Death on the Nile and therefore seems a bit under done. As Margot Kingberg points out in her recent post about the book the victim in this instance is a virtual non-event and it’s hard to care that she’s been murdered. The rest of the characters are more interesting than Arlena but none of them really got under my skin enough to worry much about whether or not they were the murderer. Quite a few of the characters, including the American tourist couple and the retired army captain, were excruciatingly stereotyped and I had an urge to fast forward any sections in which they appeared.

The ultimate resolution to the crime was suitably complicated for a Christie tale but because I didn’t really care much for any of the characters it felt like it took a long while to get there. Poirot’s dénouement this time takes place after he takes everyone to the murder site for a picnic and some kind of test of something that I have now forgotten and I thought involved one or two more absurd leaps of logic than he normally would engage in.

I guess in a body of work that includes something like 70 novels and numerous plays and short stories it’s to be expected that all titles won’t appeal to all readers in quite the same way. Evil Under the Sun is a perfectly enjoyable book but, for me, didn’t have the spark of drama and intrigue that I’ve come to expect.

*what is Christie’s fascination for actresses? she’s always killing them off in nasty ways or portraying them as insane murderers

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3/5

Narrator: David Suchet; Publisher: Harper Collins Publishing; ISBN: N/A (downloaded from audible); Length: 6hrs 24mins ; Setting: England

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Do check out the thoughts of Christie fan Margot Kinberg who featured this book as a contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet a few months ago. Margot is something of a Christie expert and her insights into the books are always worth reading. I agree with Margot on one crucial point: the 1982 film version staring Peter Ustinov as Poirot is utterly dreadful and is to be avoided at all costs.

If you’re thinking of reading some Agatha Christie yourself you should check out (and perhaps join) the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge

And if you’re interested in more Christie novels narrated by David Suchet try

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6 Responses to Review: Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

  1. Bernadette – Thank you for mentioning my blog, and with such kind words. Pity that you didn’t like Evil Under the Sun as much as I did, but as you say, not every book will appeal equally to everyone. And yes, that movie was terrible, wasn’t it? *shudder*


  2. Deb says:

    Re actresses: Agatha Christie was a product of the late-Victoria/early-Edwardian English upper-middle-class; in her childhood, “actress” would have been a euphemism for “prostitute” or, at least, a woman of “loose character.” Even though by the time Christie started writing actresses had acquired more prestige and appreciation, I’m sure those early childhood lessons were hard for her to put aside. I love Christie, but her books do reflect a certain worldview where actresses (and, for that matter, domestic servants) are often “dodgy” characters of unstable temperament.

    As for the Peter Ustinov movies, we’ve been spoiled by David Suchet–he IS Hercule Poirot; but Ustinov, judged on a non-Suchet standard, is not so bad. I think the movie of “Evil Under the Sun” is not as dreadful as a couple of the others Ustinov made. His version of “Three Act Tragedy” (or “Murder in Three Acts”–sorry, can’t remember the title right now) was one of the worst Christie adaptations I’d ever seen.


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  5. drush76 says:

    The novel “Evil Under the Sun” was so dreadfully boring to me that I was very reluctant to watch the 1981 adaptation of it with Peter Ustinov. Needless to say that the movie version was a lot more entertaining and enjoyable to me. I’ve seen the 2003 version with David Suchet, but it was so close to Christie’s novel that it bored me as well.


  6. rikkiscraps says:

    I need to go through your Christie reviews. I actually agree with you, Alean was a victim everybody was glad to see dead and I had no favourite person either. The solution was clever though.
    Even though Ustinov is not Poirot (whereas Suchet is) I like him anyway. In this film I also loved the American couple who was not at all like in the book, as far as I can remember. I loved the actress who played the wife, lol.


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