Guest Author - Jacqueline Suffolk
The Pale Horse is a novella by Agatha Christie, approximately 50,000 words and was published in 1961 by Fontana Books. I found this book in a parcel of a dozen books in a charity shop (Goodwill) in Sourthern England for a princely sum of 50pence (0.70 cents).
This story revolves around an amateur sleuth, Mark Easterbrook, an historian who resides in Chelsea, a wealthy part of London. Parts of the story are written in the first person, Marks narrative and others in the thrid person, when the story dosen't include Mark. The story is set in two distinct places, which is usual for a novella, a country village, near Bournemouth and Chelsea, in London.
It opens with a womans deathbed confession, a priest and a list of names. This list contains amongst other things, the police surgeon's name, he jokingly, imparts this information to Mark. Mark is coincidentally, aquainted with several of the names on the list, a few of whom have recently died, of natural causes, naturally. Their relatives have benefitted from the deceased's will and the stepmother of one is now leading a very comfortable life.
The main story takes place in Much Deeping,a fictional village near Bournemouth. All the suspicious characters we expect are there, the vicar and his bossy wife, a rich eccentric, (where did his money come from?), three ladies who live in ‘The Pale Horse’ an ex public house. The old dirty pub sign remains over the fireplace inside, a clue there for you. The three ladies, Sybil, a medium, Bella, the servant and Thyrza the modern woman in charge, live and thrive on their notoriety of practicing the dark arts. They offer a service, a very expensive one, to remove a relative, allegedly by witchcraft but with a modern scientific twist, an electrical box.
We are used to Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, collecting everyone in the room at the end of the story and pronouncing to the assembled, the murderer. So, although we have a central character in Mark Easterbrook, he solves the crime with Chief Inspector Le Jeune, not by himself. He also has two love interests, the first, Hermia a very suitable young lady but boring and the second Ginger, who you warm to immediately, who puts her life in danger, so the crime can be solved.
The story is very well crafted; I enjoyed being misled by the many red herrings. Although in a similar vein to her other novellas, I wondered if she was developing her central character to be a modern Hercule Poirot. I think Mark’s a bit wet for my liking, but intellectual, and in the end when brains couldn’t solve the mystery, Ginger’s spark for life and direct action did. I definitely think my charity shop find was a bargain. I’ve only another eleven to read.