A group of people in a remote village get together one wintry evening. Nothing could be more natural than neighbors getting together for some tea; nothing could be more unnatural than the company. Sittaford House in the village of Sittaford is occupied by tenant Mrs. Willett and her daughter Miss Willet. Inviting the residents of the small village to tea and entertainment one evening, things take an unexpected turn.
Major Burnaby, Mr. Rycroft, Ronnie Garfield, Mr. Duke and the Willets sit down to a game of table-turning. The perfectly harmless game involves calling spirits to interact with the people sitting around a table. With the start of the rocking the seven people are alarmed at a serious message sent to them by one of the ‘spirits’: Captain Trevelyan – the owner of Sittaford House – has been murdered.
The shock that follows only increases when Major Burnaby – Captain Trevelyan’s closest friend – tells of his intention to go and check up on his friend. The only problem is the heavy snowfall making roads impassable and the two hours it would take to get to his residence! Nevertheless, his unease is to the extent that he resolves to go, only to discover the truth of the message.
The motives behind the murder are investigated by Inspector Narracott. Money seems the strongest motive with four relatives inheriting equal shares of the Captain’s money. Very early in the investigation, James Pearson, the victims nephew and one of the beneficiaries, is arrested on suspicion. It’s not long before his impressive and confident fiancee, Emily Trefusis sets out to prove his innocence. She ropes in a young and attractive journalist Charles Enderby to aid her in her investigation – not a very difficult task for a woman like Emily to make him fall in line with her plans. Together they set out to investigate the truth behind the mystery. Pretending to be cousins, they journey to Sittaford to become acquainted with Captain Trevelyan’s neighbors hoping to discover a clue.
The table-turning seems to be the important factor. Was it really a supernatural phenomena? or did someone with previous knowledge unconsciously reveal the truth? The key to the murder lies in the answers to these questions – something Inspector Narracott quickly realizes. But it is Emily who discovers the final clue – something much more prosaic: a pair of shoes.
I didn’t really enjoy this novel. I found the identity of the murderer unsatisfactory and although Agatha Christie always makes sense (rarely are there loopholes in her plot) I couldn’t quite agree with her. The motive, although there, seemed to rely on one small clue to the murderer’s personality – something anyone would have missed and requires no great insight on the part of the reader. The clue to the mystery, for the most part, remains hidden from our eyes.
I labeled the character who investigate this mystery as ‘the young man in love with one of the women suspects’ because – well, you’ll see. Maybe it could also have been ‘the dominating woman who loves the main suspect!’