Towards Zero by Agatha Christie

Towards Zero by Agatha ChristieTowards Zero by Agatha Christie
on June 1, 1944
Pages: 233
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
four-stars

What is the connection among a failed suicide attempt, a wrongful accusation of theft against a schoolgirl, and the romantic life of a famous tennis player?

To the casual observer, apparently nothing. But when a house party gathers at Gull’s Point, the seaside home of an elderly widow, earlier events come to a dramatic head. As Superintendent Battle discovers, it is all part of a carefully laid plan — for murder.

This is the fifth, and last, of the Superintendent Battle interconnected mysteries. Superintendent Battle wasn’t one of Christie’s favorite creations, apparently, since she only wrote 5 books with him, but to my mind, they are five of the most enjoyable! He does exist within the same universe as Hercule Poirot, as he appears with Poirot, Colonel Race and Ariadne Oliver in Cards on the Table, although none of them appear in this book. Superintendent Battle does, however, make reference to Hercule Poirot while he investigating the murder of Lady Tressilian, noting Poirot’s attention to detail and its usefulness in crime solving.

The obsessive need for revenge takes center stage in this book. Agatha Christie has previously plumbed the depths of the obsessive personality, in books like Death on the Nile and And Then There Were None, and she will return to the theme in her psychological thriller Endless Night. The more I read – and reread – Agatha Christie, the more convinced I am that she had a way of cutting through societal niceties to see the blood and bone beneath, and frequently the true sight was terrifying. Her character sketches are quite compact, and while the negative or positive traits can be exaggerated, they are also remarkably perceptive given their brevity. This book demonstrates the devious and malicious undercurrents that can flow between two people – a victim and a perpetrator – while society sees something entirely different. And, until the very end, as is so often the case, Christie hides the truth in plain sight.

There are several supporting characters in this book that I particularly like, including Mary Aldin. About Mary Aldin, Christie said:

She has really a first-class brain—a man’s brain. She has read widely and deeply and there is nothing she cannot discuss. And she is as clever domestically as she is intellectually. She runs the house perfectly and keeps the servants happy—she eliminates all quarrels and jealousies—I don’t know how she does it—just tact, I suppose.”

If there is one thing that this book needed, it was more Mary Aldin!

One significant weakness to this book, I think, was Christie’s failure to develop the character of Angus McWhirter, using him as a prop to jump in and save the day, and the damsel, at the end. Christie had a thing for literal (not figurative) love at first sight, in which her male characters are constantly plunged into deep passionate love with a pretty face at first glance. While I am perfectly willing to buy lust at first sight, or infatuation at first sight, the shallow manner in which her characters profess love at first sight annoys me, and demeans the emotion. I also didn’t care particularly for the ending, although the promise of a legitimate happy ending for Mary was pleasant.

If you’re a fan of Dame Agatha, and you’ve somehow missed this one, I recommend it. If you are coming to Christie as a new reader, there are others that I would recommend before Towards Zero, although it is an enjoyable read and shows many of her skills to advantage.

A note on the television adaptation: the Miss Marple series grabbed this one for an adaptation, along with several other of the non-Marple independent mysteries, a fact which I personally consider a travesty. It was poorly done, so don’t bother with it. I really wish that someone would do a solid adaptation of the Christie mysteries that don’t involve Marple and/or Poirot. There are some really good books, and trying to shoehorn them into the Marple series doesn’t do them justice!

four-stars

9 Comments

  1. I hear you on the Marple adaptations. Personally, I really like them, but they have barely anything to do with the books – I mean, in some the plots change and in some even the murderer isn’t the same. (Nemesis, Sittaford Mystery, Bertrams all come to mind instantly!)

    I mostly love the cast, tho. But yes, if looking at them from a Christie-appreciation point of view, they are pretty bad.

    • Christine

      December 22, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      I much prefer the Poirot adaptations. Although some of those have some major plot changes as well, for the most part, they track the books more faithfully.

      • True. Also, Poirot is just so much more fun to read about/watch. If the marple adaptations (the newer ones) actually portrayed Marple as she is in the books, I would not watch them (not a fan of old Marple). Probably why I don’t like the adaptations with Joan Hickson, even though they are probably truest to the Marple stories.

        • Christine

          December 22, 2016 at 3:16 pm

          I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I’m planning to read Marple in 2017!

          • That sounds like fun! I think I still have some Marple’s left on my Christie read. Let me know if you fancy a buddy read on any of them.

            The Marple’s I have left are:

            4.50 From Paddington
            A Pocket Full of Rye
            They Do It with Mirrors
            The Body in the Library

            😀

          • Christine

            December 23, 2016 at 11:48 am

            I will! I’m tentatively planning on one per month.

  2. Are you reading them in order of publication?

  3. 12 novels + 1 book of short stories (The Thirteen Problems)
    The short stories are not all that memorable.

    I’m still transferring stuff from BL to WP. The Agatha posts are next on the list.
    I have transferred the list of novels by publication date, tho links to reviews still need updating. It’s here if you want a quick reference….
    https://brokentuneblog.com/dame-agatha-surfer-girl/

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