‘Murder Is Easy’ by Agatha Christie

On her way to Scotland Yard to report a series of murders, an old woman is knocked down by a hit-and-run driver…. 

Luke Fitzwilliam could not believe Miss Pinkerton’s wild allegation that a multiple murderer was at work in the quiet English village of Wychwood – or her speculation that the local doctor was next in line. But within hours, Miss Pinkerton had been killed in a hit-and-run car accident. Mere coincidence? Luke was inclined to think so – until he read in The Times of the unexpected demise of Dr Humbleby….

‘Murder Is Easy’ was new to me and I enjoyed it for its freshness and its distinctive tone of quiet menace. This is a book about subversive, powerful, determined women – the kind who, in earlier times, in their village of Wychwood, would have been branded as witches. It is a warning to men who underestimate the older, invisible women or who accept the exterior image of the young, attractive ones. It’s a book in which most men are fools or tools or both. There’s a sort of proto-Marple feel to the book except that while these village women, like Jane Marple, miss nothing, they feel entitled and perhaps obliged to intervene in events and force them to a conclusion.

I think that Christie deliberately masks the subversive, never-mind-the-patriarchy-it’s-the-women-pulling-the-strings nature of ‘Murder Is Easy’ by having a man as the hero. Fitzwilliam is a ‘rude colonial’, blinkered by a Public School education, an outdated understanding of England, no recent personal experience of English women, a romantic streak a mile wide a middling intellect and the limited imagination of a plodding policeman. When the book came out in 1939, I imagine that Fitzwilliam would have made the male readers feel comfortable while the women readers saw right through him.

As usual with Agatha Christie’s books, ‘Murder Is Easy’ is ripe with good candidates for being the hand behind the killings. I was happily mislead a number of times and kept revisiting my own assessments of people. I found the absence of a clever detective quite liberating. I didn’t have to wade through their logic or put up with their mannerisms (OK, so I find Poirot annoying and Marple scary. I refuse to be ashamed of that.). It seemed as if this opened up the possibilities in the book and apart from the too-hapless-to-be-dangerous Fitzwilliam, left me with no safe place to stand.

Like other Christie books, this one has some into-love in it. I didn’t believe it. I never do. But, this time, I don’t think I was meant to. It seems to me that while Luke Fitzwilliam, a man with very little experience of women and now in search of a wife, might easily convince himself of love at first sight, Bridget Conway’s far too strong-willed and intelligent and has too great a sense of her own worth, to entertain the idea. My favourite image in the book is of Conway, head down, in the witches’ field, thinking. It’s the only time we see her when she isn’t presenting herself to create a particular impression. It’s an image of quiet, independent strength accustomed to reflection. Fitzwilliam should have known then that he was in over his head. I think I was meant to see Conway as a woman who having fully understood the cost of her future comfort, has decided to change course and hitch a ride with a man she knew that she could out-think and, if necessary, replace later.

I listened to the audiobook version of ‘Murder Is Easy’, narrated by Gemma Whelan, who did an excellent job. I recommend this version rather than the Hugh Fraser version because this is a book that needs strong female voices and Gemma Whelan provides them. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

2 thoughts on “‘Murder Is Easy’ by Agatha Christie

  1. Thanks Mike, another really good review and I shall give this a try. I’m generally a fan of Agatha Christie, but yet to sample this one. Something to look forward to.


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