The murder at Gull's Point looked as if it would be pretty easy to solve. You had an unfortunate collection of guests in the house party, including the two wives (one present, one former) of one of the visitors. You had a fine assortment of resentments and tensions building up among the guests. And when things erupted into murder, there were plenty of signs pointing at the most likely individual who had committed the crime. Only Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard wasn't convinced that he was seeing the whole picture. To understand what was happening, it would be necessary to dig deeper and look to the past - for murder sometimes has very deep roots...
You can read all about it in Agatha Christie's 1944 novel, Towards Zero, one of just a handful of Christie's "stand-alone" novels to feature Superintendent Battle - and also, I think, one of her most ingenious uses of all her skills at misdirecting the reader's attention. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
After a brief prologue in Towards Zero, we are introduced to the main characters in the story. There is Nevile Strange, a relatively wealthy young man. Nevil has (or has had) two wives – his first wife, Audrey, whom he divorced in order to marry his second wife, Kay – who is still, by the way, very jealous of Audrey. Also on hand is the owner of Gull's Point, Lady Camilla, who is the widow of Nevile’s former guardian, and Camilla's paid companion, Mary Alden. There are a few other principal characters living or visiting nearby – and, of course, Superintendent Battle.
Nevile and his two wives, are spending two weeks together at Lady Camilla’s home at Gull’s Point, near the fishing village of Saltcreek. Nobody is quite clear about why they were all invited to Gull's Point at the same time, given the antagonisms in their relationships. Christie carefully builds the tension among the main characters. And with all that tension, murder inevitably occurs – more than once.
I don't want to say much more about the plot; this really is one of Christie's most carefully constructed books, superb in its misdirection of the reader's attention and expectations. Superintendent Battle may not have Hercule Poirot’s showmanship or Miss Marple’s grasp of human behavior, but he does have enough wit, intelligence and experience to dig through many layers of red herrings to emerge with the truth in hand. Christie fans will certainly enjoy Towards Zero.
As I noted, this book was originally published in 1944. Over at the Past Offenses blog, Rich Westwood has been doing a series of posts (with other bloggers, myself occasionally included) called "Crimes of the Century." Each month, he asks for posts about books from one particular year. In July, he is featuring posts about books written in 1944. As that was also the year of my birth - hold the aging jokes, please, or I'll throw my walker at you - I am offering Towards Zero as my 1944 post. I believe a surprising number of other bloggers may also be reviewing this book this month - let's see how we stack up against each other!