The Hollow is a 1946 novel written by the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie and the 26th book to feature Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. It features the classic setting of an English country house and the usual cast of characters and suspects in a murder which takes place there. It is notable for not including Poirot until about a third of the way through the book, an introduction which Christie felt had actually ruined the novel. Another notable feature is the setting of the murder itself and its rather striking description, aspects of which normally appear on the covers of editions of the novel.
This is a spoiler free review. However, I have included the identity of the murdered character below as you can find it in pretty much any synopsis of the book, so therefore I don’t think of it as a spoiler. If you’d rather go in completely blind though, then give the rest of this post a miss for now.
The action mainly takes place at the country estate of Lucy and Henry Angkatell who have invited various family members and friends for a weekend visit. The invitation is also extended to Poirot who has rented a cottage a short distance away, next to a glamorous movie star with links to one of the party gathered at the Angkatells. The novel begins by establishing the unhappy lives and relationships between the various Angkatells along with another relative Midge Hardcastle, and married couple John and Gerda Christow. It is clear that there are many layers to the lives of these characters, and many secrets and disappointments.
“And suddenly, with a terrific shock, with that feeling as of blurring on a cinematograph screen before the picture comes to focus, Hercule Poirot realized that this artificially set scene had a point of reality…” The Hollow (1946)
Lucy Angkatell invites Poirot to lunch and on his arrival he witnesses a mock murder which has been staged besides the swimming pool. Although furious at first, Poirot changes his manner once he realises that the scene is real and a dying John Christow lies in front of him, gasping the name of one of the party. But Poirot must work out the meaning behind Christow’s words in order to catch his killer, and whether they are a clue, a plea, or something else entirely.
This is a classic Christie in terms of setting and a cast of characters who are all suspects in a murder. There is no Hastings or Japp to assist Poirot here and he instead joins forces with a local detective named Grange to solve the mystery. It is a tricky case for Poirot as every clue seems to point away from the prime suspect and there is plenty of misdirection. Rather than ruin the novel, I rather felt that Poirot’s appearance actually saved it although it could have been restructured. The first third introduces a rather unpleasant bunch of characters, and then some bland ones. Poirot’s appearance kickstarts the action but I can’t help thinking to open the novel with him stumbling upon what he believes to be a mock murder might have worked better.
It’s a bit of a dull start to be honest but once the murder occurs and the race is on to find out whodunnit then the action and excitement picks up as Christie teases and occasionally frustrates her readers. What is clear is that all of the characters are in some way unhappy, and it’s quite a bleak novel in places as they’re all battling against their true feelings (sometimes for one another). The Hollow is a solid effort but is let down by the overlong introduction and the long wait for Poirot to appear. The ending is also something rather clever and delicious or a bit of a letdown. For me, I think it was the latter. The most interesting thing to me about the novel is the exploration of the unhappy and lonely lives of the characters who often seem to be existing rather than living in contrast to Christow who is frequently described as being more alive than anyone. The biggest problem is that he’s an unsympathetic and unlikeable cad and I echoed the feelings of Edward who wonders why everyone liked Christow so much. He seems to be the only one who can see Christow for the slimeball that he is.
3.5 stars for misdirection and a murder which threatens to fool Poirot.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
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For Bob (2007-2019), who would have loved this one too.