Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cat Among the Pigeons, by Agatha Christie (1959)

This is my first experience with Agatha Christie. Mystery is not a genre I read a lot of, but Christie is so well-known I thought I'd give it a shot. Many novels do have elements of mystery in them, of course, particularly in hiding certain plot points or motivations until the end, so I am familiar with the conventions. I find that mystery, like many other things in life, is at its best before everything is revealed. Monster movies are always scarier when you don't see the monster than when you do. Cat Among the Pigeons is no different. I think it has a satisfying reveal, but Christie cheats a little to throw us off track.

When a murder happens at an illustrious all-girl's school, Meadowbank, Inspector Kelsey is just as puzzled as the headmistress, Miss Bulstrode, about who would commit murder at such a place, and why. The reader knows a little bit more about the circumstances leading up to the motivation for murder, having to do with a revolution in Ramat and the death of Ramat's crown prince. The prince's valuable jewels were smuggled into the school with his most trusted advisor's niece, unknown to her. However, somebody else must have known. Was it one of the mistresses: Miss Rich, Madame Blanche, Miss Vansittart, Miss Johnson, or Miss Chadwick? Was it the secretary, Ann Shapland, one of the servants, or a student? Added to the mix is Miss Bulstrode's consideration to retire and hand off her headmistress position, a gardener who is a little more than he says he is, and a young princess who was in line to wed the recently deceased crown prince of Ramat. This is a lot to consider, and it'll be up to Hercule Poirot to clear it all up.

Overall an enjoyable book. I like Christie's writing style. She sprinkles plenty of wit and humor throughout her storytelling. There is a general feeling amongst the characters that there is a cat among the pigeons. Somebody doesn't belong, but nobody can put their finger on who. The reader will have their guesses, of course, based on evidence and hunches. Christie throws out plenty of red herrings, and it's our job to try and see past these distractions. I had an idea of who the murderer was, but I was proved wrong. At first I was okay with this, but as Christie revealed more details I felt like she cheated. Something happens that leads us off the trail of the killer, and while there is motivation behind this something that happens, it is nonetheless difficult to believe it would happen. I will leave this vague so as not to spoil anything for you.

Other than this, there was plenty to enjoy. The description of the workings of Meadowbank were fun to read, as was getting to know the key characters like Miss Bulstrode, who seems to amaze everybody, even the narrator. The introduction of Hercule Poirot feels random, but I guess it is necessary to solve the mystery. The early scenes in Ramat were also effective. There's a brief moment of interesting political discussion that took me off guard. The prince of Ramat can't understand why his people want to rebel against him. He wants to enact welfare programs to help his people, where his father was a murderous tyrant. Yet they want to oust the nice one. He's hurt and bewildered by these developments. It's as though his people aren't ready for a progressive leader just yet. The prince is left wondering the same thing as Miss Bulsrode - why murder at all?


  1. Very nice review. I am getting back to Christie after a long absence, and reviews to point me to good books by her are helpful. I agree with your statement that many novels do have an element of mystery, and when I like a non-mystery novel, that is usually what I like about it.

    1. Thank you! I plan on reading some more Christie once I come across more of her books, and I'm sure you would enjoy this one. Thanks for visiting!

  2. Hi Chris,

    I have always been an avid Christie fan, of the written word, as well as feature film and television adaptations, I try never to miss them, no matter how many times they are repeated.

    I like both of her main characters of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot equally, although if I were forced to choose a favourite, it would probably be Poirot, for his dry wit and pernickety ways.

    I guess that these days Christie books would almost be categorised as 'cozy' mysteries, which on occasion I don't mind reading, as I have quite eclectic tastes when it comes to my books.

    A really perceptve review, thanks for reminding me just how good an author Agatha Christie was.


  3. Thanks Yvonne! Ever since I decided to read a Christie novel I've learned a lot about what she's written from other bloggers, and I'm sure I'll read more of hers in the near future.

  4. You'll find that Christie cheats in quite a few of her mysteries but you just get used to it or, I guess, you don't. :) Just expect that there will be red herrings and that no matter who you guess is the culprit, you will always be wrong because she wanted you to be wrong. Still, she's one of my favorite authors.