Friday, 19 November 1999

Agatha Christie: Elephants Can Remember (1972)

Edition: Collins
Review number: 393

One of Christie's very last novels, Elephants Can Remember sees Hercule Poirot solving a case from the past. The crime novelist Ariadne Oliver is approached by a stranger at a literary lunch and asked to tell her about a scandal years in the past concerning Ariadne's god-daughter Celia Ravenscroft, who is about to marry this woman's son. Celia's parents were discovered dead at the top of a cliff, apparently having shot one another as a suicide pact. The police could not work out what had motivated this, but no other explanation seemed possible so they accepted it. That didn't stop gossip, and the woman is concerned in case there could be some sort of hereditary madness involved that could affect Celia. Although disliking the approach, Ariadne is intrigued by the mystery. She consults her friend Hercule Poirot, and then goes "elephant hunting". Her feeling is that although human memories are not as permanent as proverbial elephant ones are, people remember bits and pieces; she and Poirot hope to be able to sort out the nuggets of truth from the elaborations, mistakes and conjectures.

The mystery is interesting, though easy by Christie standards. Elephants Can Remember has the same faults as most of her novels - poor characterisation and dreadful dialogue; it doesn't have the racism common in her books. (There is one offhand phrase which might well be considered offensive, but that is all.) The dialogue all reads as though it is an interrogation, all probing questions on one side, though it is clearly intended to be normal conversation with an interrogatory subtext.

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