As you know, I’ve been working my way through all of Agatha Christie’s novels in publication order. After reading her first thirty-seven books, I was getting a little tired of Hercule Poirot. I have a hunch Agatha (after thirty-eight books we are on a first name basis) was feeling the same way. I say that because here in Murder Is Easy, there is no Monsier Poirot at all!
Who we get instead is a very nice retired policeman named Luke Fitzwilliam. I liked him right away. In Luke’s case I don’t believe “retired” means he was in his sixties. He behaved more like he was in his forties. He has just returned from the “East” which I take to mean India, so it may be he’s retired from army service, which I think is after twenty years. Anyway . . .
Luke Fitzwilliam had just come off the boat and was on his way to London. As he was riding the train he met an older woman in the same compartment. Mrs. Pinkerton reminded Luke of his many aunts who had been so kind to him as a child. He listened politely as she prattled on about events in her village. She was on her way to London to visit Scotland Yard. She believed there was a murderer at work in her village. She knew the murderer by a look that came over the killer’s face.
Luke didn’t take the woman’s statements seriously. He thought it was just one of many peculiarities of “the old dears.” [Side note: Indeed! We “old dears” do get peculiar. Actually, most of us have been peculiar all our lives. It’s just more noticeable now.] Mrs. Pinkerton did tell Luke who the next victim would be – one of the local doctors. She thought the doctor a very nice man. so she wanted the killer stopped before he or she killed him.
Luke didn’t argue with Mrs. Pinkerton. In fact, he didn’t think about her again until her name appeared in an obituary notice. She’d been killed by a hit-and-run driver on he way to Scotland Yard. Luke didn’t do anything until a week later when he learned the doctor was dead.
Now Luke and his old detective skills go into gear. He knew from his experience that he would not be believed. He devised a plan whereby he could go to the village and, working undercover as a folklore writer, dig up some clues.
With the help of a friend who had a cousin in the village, Luke had a reason for being there and an introduction to some of the residents. He believed his easy manner would have people talking to him. That strategy had worked in the past.
The easy-going yet always alert Luke established himself in the village. He began talking to one person after another. He had help from a young woman named Bridget Conway. At first Luke thought of her as the blonde secretary, but soon he was in love. I liked Bridget too. Here’s how Agatha described her: “. . . she had force, brains, a cool clear intelligence . . .” She was also kind, but not a push-over.
The hardest part for me was to keep away from suspecting everyone. I kept thinking about the titles of the book, Murder Is Easy or Easy To Kill. I’ve never thought of murder as being easy. I also remembered something Mrs. Pinkerton said to Luke on the train:
“No, no, my dear boy, that’s where you’re wrong. It’s very easy to killl — so long as no one suspects you. And you see, the person in question is just the last person anyone would suspect!”
For me, everyone seemed to be the last person I would suspect. There were a few characters I didn’t like so I figured they couldn’t be guilty. Or could they? And then I thought that the characters I really like must be the guilty ones. I was guessing until nearly the end.
Yes, Agatha had me to the very end. Again! And, that’s how a well-written, classic mystery should be. That’s why I keep on reading the Queen of the genre.
Easy To Kill was first serialized (seven parts) in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938 and then published in book form by Dodd Meaf and Company in 1939. Murder Is Easy is the British title, also published in 1939. The book cover above is from the first edition. Thee image is from Wikepedia.