ENDLESS NIGHT (1967) by Agatha Christie

Christie-Endless-Night-pbWe begin 2014 with a classic author trying something different. Many readers (myself included) regard this as among the most accomplished of Agatha Christie’s (admittedly variable) later novels. A clever variation on one of her best Golden Age gambits, this is none the less a book that definitely belongs to her later period. It was also one of her own favourites, a stand-alone story that certainly strives for something new and modern but that is unmistakably a work of its celebrated author.

““It’s rather different from anything I’ve done before, more serious – a tragedy really” - Agatha Christie

The novel is told in the first person by Michael, a drifter from a poor background with aspirations to something better. When he meets the heiress Ellie his deepest desires are fulfilled as they marry and build their own dream home at the beautiful if slightly sinister Gypsy’s Acre, a place that is said to be cursed but which seems to have a special hold on him. The house is designed for them by his friend Santonix, an unconventional architect as well as a peculiar and ailing man who seems to have a sense of foreboding about the house. And before long the man is dead, a riding accident occurs and tragedy strikes before a cunning plan is revealed and a major twist is sprung in the closing pages.

“Why not begin where I first caught sight of Ellie standing in the dark fir trees of Gypsy’s Acre?”

Christie-Endless-Night-fontana-pbEndless Night has always been one of my favourite Christie books, and not just for its prominence among the often somewhat inferior work she produced in her final years. My fondness stems from its successful attempt to try something new with its emphasis on youth, psychology, dark characterisation and its twisted fairytale styling, all very well conveyed by the septuagenarian author. The dreamlike atmosphere is something it shares with another personal favourite, By the Pricking of my Thumbs, a book about old age in which we revisit Tommy and Tuppence Beresford in retirement. What is unusual about Endless Night is that it features very young protagonists and manages, to some degree at least, to avoid that somewhat clichéd negative depiction of youngsters in the swinging sixties and the usual tired remarks about the ‘younger generation’ that could be so common to traditional detective stories of the era. But then this is a book somewhat out of the norm for Christie - there is no real detective and was designed to feel more like a psychological mystery in the style of Margaret Millar rather than one of her traditional investigations. There are few physical clues and the clever solution is based entirely on the makeup of the characters. However, Christie did also write a more traditional Golden Age version of this story …

“Ah,” said Mrs Edge, “we haven’t forgotten you, Mr Harry. Seems like a fairy tale to think of you married and building up a new house instead of that ruined old Kingsdean House.” - fromThe Case of the Caretaker

Christie-Endless-Night-pbChristie in fact based the novel on a short story that featured Miss Marple published decades earlier in The Strand magazine during the war. The 1941 short story, The Case of the Caretaker, begins with the spinster laid up in bed with flu. To aid her recovery the doctor hands over the case history of a crime from his past but with the conclusion omitted to see if she can figure out who did it. In its outline the story she reads is in fact very close to Endless Night. Harry Laxton was a bit of a neer-do-well but he has now married the charming Louise and decided to settle down in their home (here called King’s Dean). As in the later novel, their appearance creates a disturbance in the village and once again an old woman seemingly places a curse on them. Louise is thrown from a horse and dies. This seeming tragedy is later revealed to be part of a cunning plot – and yes, the solution is in essence also the same as the one from Endless Night too. It is useful to compare the varying approaches of the two iterations and the novel is certainly more successful for its strong atmosphere and fascinating, often truly enigmatic protagonists.

It’s been adapted for film, radio and most recently television and I’ll be reviewing some of those in my next post …

I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge Bingo in the ‘Time / Day’ category; Katie’s 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at her Doing Dewey blog (for links to the reviews, click here); and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme, which today is being hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog.

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73 Responses to ENDLESS NIGHT (1967) by Agatha Christie

  1. Sergio – You put that very well; it’s definitely one of Christie’s later novels – unmistakeably so. But it’s got a nice pace to it and I do like the twists. It’s clear she enjoyed herself writing it too, or so I’ve heard. And it’s interesting you mention that connection between this novel and the earlier story. Christie did that a few times actually, and I’ve always found it interesting how she found ways to expand her original ideas.

  2. richmcd says:

    That’s very interesting. I *think* I’ve read everything by Christie, so I must have read The Case of the Caretaker at some point (is it in Miss Marple’s Final Cases?), but I didn’t make the connection with Endless Night. That makes the recent Marple adaptation (which I haven’t seen yet) seem a bit less bizarre…

    Endless Night is a very odd book. I think it’s better reading it a second time when you know the solution. The first time through it’s very weird and disorienting, but not in a way that I thought was much fun. But I was very young when I read it (maybe 13?), and I had pretty rigid expectations of what to expect from Christie. And I still vividly remember the experience of reading it 15 years later, which is more than I can say for a lot of books.

    People complain that it isn’t fair, and maybe it isn’t, but I think it’s demonstrably more fair than the other Christie that uses this trick. I think it’s a shame she didn’t get to it a bit sooner in her career, when she was more sure of herself.

    • Thanks Rich – yes, it’s in Final Cases. I actually think la Christie wasn’t fair a lot of the time (or certainly not when compared with Carr) and I agree, this one is more fun when probably read a bit later in life when one has a lot of her work under one’s belt (so to speak)!

      • richmcd says:

        I’ve seen quite a few people comment that Christie was rarely fair and my usual reaction is disagreement. But something occurs to me. I’ve always been pretty good at solving mysteries, but with Christie I’ve got almost a 100% success rate. In fact this is one of the few that surprised me. I don’t know whether that’s because her mysteries are objectively simpler, or because she relies on a relatively narrow range of techniques which are easy to study, or just because my mind works in a similar way to hers, but I think her murderers stand out a mile (same with Carr actually, even if the method fools me).

        I think my implicit assumption has always been: MYSTERY SOLVED BY ME = FAIR MYSTERY. But thinking about it properly, that doesn’t necessarily follow at all. For one thing I usually “solve” mysteries by putting myself in the author’s shoes and imagining how I would end the book myself. Then I look for things to support my theory. That’s effective, but it’s not really anything to do with the puzzle itself.

        My gut instinct is still that Christie is fair, because often I spot her clues as well as her killers. But it’s definitely given me something to think about.

        • That’s really interesting Rich – I was fooled by most of her famous books from the 20s and 30s but I often felt frustrated that the motives for instance often couldn’t be divined so in that sense I thought she didn’t play as fair as Carr and Queen, which were also better on physical clues. Having said that, it is the ‘psychology’ that Poirot always points to, so I may have been just looking in the wrong place!

          • richmcd says:

            It depends on your definition of “solved”, I suppose. I usually treat Golden Age detective fiction as a game to spot the murderer, unless the setup explicitly sets another puzzle (impossible crime is the most common, but very occasionally there’ll be a “why on earth would anyone do this?” scenario). Working out anything else is a bonus.

            Speaking purely from a puzzle perspective, I tend to regard the motive as a formality anyway. What does it mean to have a fairly clued motive in a format where everyone, almost by definition, is behaving artificially? I can’t think of a single crime story where it really, truly makes sense for the villains to commit the particular murders that they do.

            Queen is an interesting example. There’s much more likely to be an exhaustive point by point account of Ellery’s reasoning. But it’s also much more likely to be flawed (or one of many possibilities presented as cast iron fact). So I can see how that would feel more “complete”, but at the same time I’d regard that as LESS fair, because the solution is basically broken. It’s like a crossword puzzle with a dozen spelling mistakes – despite appearances, there was never a proper puzzle to solve to begin with. Christie would be more like a crossword with missing clues; you can reason as far as possible, and then you use what letters you’ve got to fill in the gaps. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you write BLURBLESCORCH and pretend that’s a word and you finished it anyway.

            I’m actually writing a writing theory post about Christie’s clueing at the moment (a lot of clients ask me for advice with clues and foreshadowing technique, even if they aren’t writing mysteries). Maybe that will give a clearer idea of where I’m coming from.

          • I shall look at that post chum – I sort of know what you men though I don;t approach thee books quite that way. They are clearly meant to be contests between author and reader but I always enjoy the best of them (which usually means Carr for me) but I do want to get sucked into the world and the situation, partly of course because it is so artificial. Fairness only has to match the rules of that universe and no further so to me it’s a question of whether, when you reach the solution as presented, that it was one that if you play the game the author’s way, you could have won. Now, it’s been a long time since I read a lot of Christie all in one go, and much as I admire the best of her work (The ABC Murders or A Murder is Announced) I often felt I wasn’t given all the fact I needed – but admittedly, this was an opinion formed decades ago!

  3. Kelly says:

    I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t read anything by Christie since I was a very young girl. She was among the first “grown up” books I read when I was an adolescent, so after I moved on I never looked back. I should revisit them, because I don’t think I was old enough to get much out of them.

    • Well, I read most of her books in my teens but I would say that books like this one, and By the Pricking of My thumbs, are titles that I greatly enjoyed revisiting much later in life!

  4. Sergio, a great start to the new year. I’m reading Christie in chronological order and it’ll be some time before I come to this title. My progress has been slow. Fortunately, I can read nearly every one of her books from my wife’s collection. I believe Christie had preferences about her own books though, as a reader, I’ve had difficulty in picking any one that I liked best. So far I’ve liked THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD and THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT the most. I’ve been told that some of her non-Poirot and non-Marple mysteries are really good though it takes getting used to reading one without either of them. Thanks for the interesting bit of information about “The Case of the Caretaker.”

    • Thanks Prashant – wow, great project to read them all in order, sounds like fun! She tended to be scathing of the Poirot books later on, but they are still the ones she is best known for probably! Ackroyd is certainly a classic book but it’s been too long since I read Brown Suit for me to comment …

    • John says:

      I read nearly all of Chrstie’s books when I was in high school, Prashant. I found the ones *without* Poirot or Marple to be my favorites. It wasn’t until I got into her mid-career books in the 1950s that I really started to like Poirot. I think it had a lot to do with the very adult and extremely British characters in her early books. Her books in the 50s and 60s begin to have more young people in them and obviously appealed to me more as a teenage reader. I think THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY was the first Christie I really enjoyed. It was strange and sinister and unlike any kid’s mystery I had read at the time.

      • Thanks for that John. I think Christie’s postwar Poirot book are much better in characterisation and I know what you mean about Seven Dials – not a favourite but I liked it a lot at a teenager (it may have been my first in fact) – That is a book that always seemed a bit in the Edgar Wallace mould to me (secret societies at whatnot)

  5. Rod Croft. says:

    Hi Sergio,
    I am yet another of those readers who devoured a great number of Christie’s books when I was about 17/18 years of age, many, many years ago; read them in sections on the train trip to work.

    Unfortunately I “devoured” so many of Christie’s mysteries one after another that I tired of her “style” of writing and have not read one since. While I missed her novel “Endless Night”, I did manage to see the 1963 film, and look forward to your review of this one and the recent Julia McKenzie TV series effort.

  6. Colin says:

    As it happens Sergio, I just ordered the facsimile edition of this book last night. I’ve read a lot of Christie but for some reason never got round to this one. Anyway, I haven’t read too deeply into your review even though I know you don’t drop spoilers.
    I was interested to see you cite By the Pricking of my Thumbs as a favorite of yours. Most of Christie’s later work tends to get slated, and rightly so in a lot of cases, but I also thought that was an extremely good book when I read it some years ago.

  7. Not my favourite Christie by quite some distance. The atmosphere is effective, yes, but I found it overlong and the ending, and the reason for the twist, just seemed daft. When I reviewed it on my blog, it was clear that this is a divisive book, probably due to the atypical style for a Christie novel but it’s a no from me.

    • Fair enough Steve,I remembered that you really were not keen on it from your review but is the twist really dafter from those from her classic books of the late 20s and 30s? I shan’t say which, but you know the ones I mean …

      • I’ve blotted out a fair bit of this one from my memory but I think my issue was that the reason for the twist (if you get my drift) was weak – the one for the other book is simpler and makes much more sense.

        Some of the schemes from the early books are ludicrous – in fact, I’d probably say the schemes from all of the classic Poirot and Marple books are ludicrous – but they’re usually presented as such by having such ludicrous people investigating the crime. By presenting this book as a lot darker and more serious, it makes the nonsense stand out.

        But we’re not going to agree on this one, are we?

        • Nah, probably not going to agree – the ending is a great jolt and one could argue the toss about its plausibility but it doesn’t spoil what it’s trying to do with the characters and atmosphere for me …

          • robert says:

            I would say it goes a little bit for “Endless night” as it went for “the murder of R. Akroyd” in the sense that it’s a little bit cheating the reader. But overall not too bad a book that is for sure. Unfortunately I believe tv and films, especially the Suchet/Poirot series killed a little bit the purpose of reading the A. Christie books. Or maybe it’s because times have really changed a lot… :)

          • Well, let’s not get too spoilery … I find reading the books and watching the films almost completely different entities, especially as the adaptations of late have tended to be so broad!

  8. KerrieS says:

    Sergio, I have added this to the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Blog Carnival for January. http://acrccarnival.blogspot.com.au/

  9. Ela says:

    ENDLESS NIGHT is not one of my favourites to re-read because I can’t ever forget the ending, and it otherwise seems so sad, in retrospect. Santonix is a really interesting character, though. I’d read EN before the Miss Marple short story which foreshadows it, and think the novel much better – there’s so much more atmosphere.

    • Thanks Ela – and I agree, the Santonix character is crucial. Annoyingly, he gets dropped from the latest TV version though they came up with a smart replacement – more to come on this next week …

  10. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I’ll be interested to see if you touch on the UK ITV adaptation from over the Christmas period – they plonked their current Miss Marple into the plot and although there might be a precedent in the short story, I objected violently and refused to watch it! (partially because I don’t like Julia Mackenzie’s Marple, if I’m honest!)

    • I’ll be getting round to it on Tuesday next week – I actually like McKenzie’s portrayal more than Geraldine McEwan’s though I remain devoted to Joan Hickson first and foremost!

      • richmcd says:

        I’d be very interested to see it. I’ve also avoided it because I don’t like Julia McKenzie’s portrayal. She’s a great actress, but (presumably in response to criticism of Geraldine McEwan) her portrayal is so safe and boring. They’ve also left her with all the duff stories! While I admit there were a lot of absolute stinkers, the McEwan episodes that work are so much more lively, and actually retain quite a lot more of Christie’s original dialogue.

        I wish I could see what people like about the Joan Hickson adaptations. I want to enjoy them! But I find them so plodding and dull. (And Inspector Slack! Sure, be annoyed and incredulous the first time, but how can you still think Miss Marple is a no-nothing busybody when you’ve seen her solve eight murders in a row? Such lazy characterization for a bit of half-hearted comedy.)

        • I like the physical recreation of the era in the BBC serials and in some ways it represents an era in TV adaptations that, like the book themselves, is now thought of as a golden era of the past – I do think, more than anything, that Hickson just was perfect in her owlish persona. I know what you mean about McKenzie playing it safe, you are right, but the previous ones were just too garish and silly for me.

      • kaggsysbookishramblings says:

        Me too! I thought Hickson was just perfect!

        • I can sense a groundswell building here !!!

        • richmcd says:

          I think Hickson is perfect when she’s reading the books. I’ve got a few of them on cassette and they perfectly encapsulate what Chrisite was going for, I think. But the adaptations are a different matter. I know everyone thinks of the recent version as running roughshod over the books, and I can’t deny they made some sweeping and often stupid changed.

          But the Hickson adaptations actually make a lot of stupid changes as well. But because it’s to Miss Marple’s *reasoning*, rather than the events of the plot, people are less likely to notice. But actually that’s just as serious a change (in a mystery) as cutting a character or changing the setting. A Murder is Announced, for example, makes absolutely no sense the way Miss Marple explains it in the Hickson adaptation.

          • kaggsysbookishramblings says:

            Good point – I can’t comment on the accuracy or not of the plotting as it’s a *long* time since I watched the Hicksons. But as far as her *performance* as Marple goes I think it’s perfect.

          • I think it’s the atmosphere and the acting that I liked the most – but, it has been many, many years since I watched any of these so …

          • I would have to re-watch it – I know you have spend a lot of time looking at her work (love some of your in-depth Marple posts) but I remember liking that adaptation a good deal (written by the great Alan Plater) but it sound like I need to re-read the book and then watch the TV version too – consider the gauntlet thrown down, I’ll get back to you in a month or two!

  11. The later Agatha Christies are problematic. Some critics think that Christie may have been suffering from Alzheimer’s in her later years. Word analysis shows Christies later mysteries have a third fewer unique words than her work from the 1950s.

  12. John says:

    Count me among the fans of Endless Night. But I think all the talk about the previously used trick may be too much of a spoiler for even diehard Christie fans who haven’t yet read the book. Just my opinion, of course. Never knew about the Marple story similarities. Very cool. She did that a lot though. “The Yellow Iris” became Sparkling Cyanide, etc.

    I’ve always wanted to see the UK adaptation (TV, I think?) of EN with Hayley Mills. At one time it was available for rental from Netflix, but it’s gone from their DVD catalog now. Maybe it’s still available for online streaming but I’ll never know as a rental customer. The entire video streaming catalog is hidden from Netflix customers who only rent DVDs.

    • The 1972 adaptation of Endless Night was a cinema film written and directed by Sidney Gilliat, who made the wonderful film of Green for Danger with Alastair Sim, easily one of the best and most atmospheric mysteries of British cinema. It pains me to say this, as you know, but Endless Night is on cough YouTube

  13. TracyK says:

    I haven’t gotten to this one as I am reading the Christie books roughly in order; I did break that rule for Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, and for the standalone books I have hopped around some. So maybe I will get to it sooner based on your recommendation. I am glad you will be reviewing some adaptations, because I have no knowledge of the quality of most adaptations for Christie’s novels. Except for Murder on the Orient Express.

    Re Kelly’s comment above, I read a lot of Christie when I was much younger (teens, twenties?), and I liked them. But coming back to them many years later, I definitely am getting so much more out of them.

    • Thanks TracyK – I have never tried reading them in chronological order – is there a discernable development do you think? I still enjoy them but the best of the later books are the ones that seem better written to me, more psychologically penetrating anyway!

      • TracyK says:

        I must correct myself, I am reading each series in order, so of course reading Miss Marple will quickly move me up to the 1950′s. But so far I have mostly read books from the 20′s and 30′s, and just a couple from the 40′s. I haven’t read enough to see if there is evidence of development in style, but my real goal was not to read any spoilers. Especially with her books, that would ruin the enjoyment of the book for me. I want to see if she fools me, etc.

        • You are dead right TracyK and with her it is easy to get spoilery – indeed, John rightly pointed out that we are getting a bit close to that here, which would definitely be a sin!

  14. Rod Croft says:

    Sergio,
    Although it is reported that Christie disapproved of the filmed adaptations of her novels in which the wonderful Margaret Rutherford took the role of Miss Marple, the author did dedicate her novel, “The Mirror C’rack’d” to her, and for my money Dame Margaret Taylor Rutherford is the personification Miss Marple. Perhaps I am biased, but Rutherford enlivened any film in which she made an appearance.

    • I love Rutherford and have all four of the films (well, five if you include the quirky but to me undervalued Alphabet Murders in which she has a cameo), but she is not the character from the book by any stretch!

  15. Bev Hankins says:

    This is one that I really need to reread. I know I didn’t appreciate it much the first time I read it…but that was a much younger me. It would be interesting to see what I think now. And–look at you–first Bingo square on the board (and among the challengers!). Go Sergio!

  16. DoingDewey says:

    I don’t think I’ve read any of Christie’s later works and it sounds as though in some cases, I might not be missing much. This one seems as though it was well done though and the idea of reading something a little different from Christie definitely intrigues me. I love everything of hers I’ve read, so I’d love to read more of her books :)

  17. Pingback: Nautical naughtiness – Classic crime in the blogosphere, January 2014 | Past Offences

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