Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?

Rating: ***

Bobby Jones is the son of a vicar and his life is at the moment going nowhere. His father disapproves of him and he disapproves of his father. Clearly things are not working. One day, out golfing with a friend, he comes upon a man who has tumbled from a cliff. The stranger is beyond saving, but Bobby volunteers to stay with him until help arrives. That is when the man opens his eyes, says the mysterious words in the title, and dies. Bobby also finds a picture of a woman sticking out of his pocket. Later, remembering an engagement he must keep, he is relieved when another young man who introduces himself as Bassington-ffrench appears and offers to stay with the body.

We are then introduced to Frances Derwent, known as Frankie to Bobby. The daughter of a Lord, she and Bobby don’t occupy the same social sphere, but played together as children and have remained somewhat friendly. Meanwhile, the body is identified as an Alex Pritchard by the woman in the photograph which turns out to be one of his sister. Pretty soon, weird things begin to happen: Bobby is first offered a job in South America and after his refusal he is almost killed by being given 8 grains of morphia. It is Frankie who makes the connection; it was only after telling the sister Alex Pritchard’s last words that these things began to happen. Obviously, someone wants Bobby out of the way. But why? what do the words mean? what is the mystery behind the dead man? was he murdered? are the people who identified his body really his relatives?

Convalescing in the hospital, Bobby sees a copy of the sister’s photograph in the newspaper and discovers a vital clue to the mystery: it is not the photograph he saw. Someone has obviously switched out the photograph with one of the supposed sister. But who? Frankie and Bobby remember the young man who stayed with the body – Bassington-ffrench. Armed with one small clue, the couple plan a dangerous and risky adventure following the photo swapper to his own home.

Some thoughts
Trust me, once you’ve read Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, you’ll be going, “ohhhhh, that’s who Evans was.” And it makes sense that that’s who Evans was! Nevertheless I found a lot of loopholes in the plot. Bobby and Frankie, the detectives of the piece, are amateurs and you can’t expect them to be brilliant – but how they manage to solve the crime after so many mistakes is beyond me. Don’t get me wrong, they’re hugely likeable characters, but they don’t know squat about detective work. They don’t stick to the facts, are influenced by everyone they meet into revealing all their secrets, and biggest of all – they don’t really follow the evidence! Poirot’s first rule of detection – each and every fact must fit in with the theory, or else discard the theory! But Frankie and Bobby discard facts right and left, distort them or leave them out altogether to fit in with each new ‘feeling’. As it is, they manage to solve the crime by sheer accident or extraordinary coincidences! As I said, not good detectives but really entertaining people.

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The Pale Horse

Rating: ****

On a foggy night, a certain Father Gorman is murdered after hearing the confession of a dying woman. Inspector Lejeune, the lead detective on the case, discovers a list of names hidden in the priest’s shoe. What significance do those names bear? What is the connection of those names to the dying woman? Far away at a cafe in Chelsea, Mark Easterbrook, a historian, watches as two girls fight and one pulls out tufts of the other’s hair. Later, he reads of the death of one of the girls.

By sheer coincidence, Mark Easterbrook comes into contact with the list of names. Slowly, he discovers that the list is a list of victims. The girl at the cafe, his god-mother, a friend etc. …Were these people being blackmailed? Or something more sinister? What was the dying woman involved in?

Mark Easterbrook believes from the onset that the list contains the names of dead people. He finds that many of the names are known to him as of people who have recently died. This list becomes connected in his mind with a name: the “Pale Horse” (a hugely coincidental connection). Casually mentioned by an empty headed girl at lunch one day, the place apparently deals with murdering people for money. Shortly, he himself travels to the Pale Horse and meets Thyrza Grey, its mysterious owner. At first inclined to dismiss the superstition attached to the place as ridiculous, he finds himself horrified by the rantings of its occupants. Thyrza Grey apparently believes in the concept of being able to kill people by suggestion. A lot of scientific jargon popular in Christie’s day is used and ‘thought-waves’ and ‘mediums’ are considered as the supernatural basis for the deaths as the victims – all rich – supposedly suffered a natural death.

The young historian finds himself in a curious position. He confides his suspicions to Ginger, a girl he met in the locality of the Pale Horse. Together, they hatch up a plan to approach the people involved as prospective clients. In a dangerous situation, it is in the end Inspector Lejeune who uncovers the true leader behind the ring.

Some thoughts
Re-reading was more fun than I thought. The Pale Horse had some interesting characters and a small romance to round it all off. I always enjoy Agatha Christie’s depiction of characters. Mark Easterbrook, although somewhat credulous as far as ‘thought-projection’ and ‘waves’ are concerned, was a reliable and intelligent hero. He provides most of the narration in the novel which ends on the normal twist: whodunnit is never so simple in Agatha’s mystery novels. It’s the suspense that keeps you hooked till the end.

The Pale Horse is one of Agatha’s later mysteries. Published in 1961, it contains famous characters Ariadne Oliver the detective fiction writer, Rev and Mrs. Dane Calthrop (also in The Moving Finger) and Colonel and Mrs. Despard (also in Cards on the Table).

I categorized this novel as one with the ‘young couple’. Agatha Christie occasionally stereotyped her characters. This is most apparent in novels with Miss Marple, whose method consists of ascertaining ‘types’ of people. Although it was generally done with foreigners to make it easier for her readers to understand them, in my opinion it stretched to the protagonists in certain novels.