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Autumn Leaves and Death by the Pool: Murder After Hours | 1946

Image from here (also a fun post about a fellow Agatha book collector!)
"And suddenly, with a terrific shock, with that feeling as of blurring on a cinematograph screen before the picture comes into focus, Hercule Poirot realized that this artificially set scene had a point of reality. For what he was looking down at was, if not a dead, at least a dying man. It was not red paint dripping off the edge of the concrete, it was blood. This man had been shot, and shot a very short time ago." -Murder After Hours, p. 95

This book, also known as The Hollow (a title which makes way more sense than Murder After Hours, incidentally, considering said murder takes place at an estate called The Hollow and is committed during the day) was a compelling, fun read with a lush setting and a number of rich characters (rich like interesting, not like wealth, though actually most of them are wealthy as well #leisureclass, more on that later). The characters are all gathering for a weekend in the country, most of them staying at The Hollow, hosted by Lord Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell, with the exception of Veronica Cray, a super-glam actress who's leased a little cottage nearby, and our own Hercule Poirot, who has done the same. 

Converging on The Hollow is a motley crew of Angkatell cousins and family friends. First at the house is Midge, a cousin who has fallen on somewhat trickier financial times (she had to get a JOB. In a SHOP. Quel nightmare.) Midge is a goodnatured, practical girl for whom Agatha uses adjectives like "sturdy" and "steady," with warm brown skin, so I pictured her as gymnast Ali Raisman. Midge is followed by Henrietta, a sculptor who is creative and clever, as well as tall and beautiful, and described as having hair the color of autumn leaves so she sounds like U.S. soccer player Alex Morgan to me. Next comes Edward Angkatell, the cousin who has inherited the family seat, Ainswick, and is tall and bookish with nice eyes, so basically the fictional embodiment of Australian swimmer Mitch Larkin #doll #lovetheglasses. 

Next come the Christows, Dr. John and Mrs. Gerda. Dr. John is a powerful figure with golden hair and apparently attractive to every woman on the planet, so call me crazy, but I'm casting Italian swimmer Luca Dotto here. Poor Gerda is described mostly as dull and slow, so obvi there's no Olympic equivalent, but the actress who plays her in the tv version is perfect. Lady Angkatelle, who's described as a clever but vague fairy-like creature, and her husband, Henry, who seems to be your classic British country gentleman, are a bit older than Olympians, but still seem delightful. There's also cousin David who is a grumpy communist so I'm loathe to cast him as any athlete in the interest of being politically considerate but we'll just go with ANGRY Michael Phelps. Down the lane we find Poirot and his neighbor, Veronica Cray, whose blonde bombshell looks lead us promptly to Danish swimmer Pernille Blume (who also has the prettiest name in the Olympics as well as being a super-talented medalist). 

Dynamics with this bunch are a bit tense. Basically no one likes Gerda because she's not very bright and can't keep up with the Angkatell antics, but Henrietta feels protective of her (despite the fact that Henrietta is also Gerda's husband's mistress - unbeknownst to poor slow G.) Dr. John is still not over the woman he jilted 15 years earlier and is super surprised when she - Veronica Cray - turns up to try and persuade him to come back to her #ladiesman. Midge is pining for Edward who's pining for Henrietta, cousin David is sulking about spending the weekend with his intellectually inferior relatives, Lady Angkatell is basically messing with everybody all the time, and Henry is just trying to teach everyone to shoot guns. For fun, Lady Angkatell invites the funny little detective down the lane for lunch and quite coincidentally (OR NOT?) one of the party gets #MURDERED right before he arrives. Another of the party is standing over the body with a gun, but is it the true culprit? Poirot helps the local coppers with the investigation, knowing all along that lots of people know more than they're letting on. 

The YOA Treatment:
This is a cleverly conceived tale with a plot based even more than many others on purposeful misdirection from multiple characters. Murder After Hours seems to be much more focused on the perpetrator(s?) of the crime than the victim, and allows Poirot to really tease out all the possibilities of each potential murderer. 

Like many of Agatha's books, this one dwells quite a bit on storylines of adultery. I can't really tell if extra-marital affairs were really THAT common among the British upper class in the early part of the 20th century, or if Agatha's own personal experiences were still coloring the lives of her characters. It seems to be a theme she really likes exploring; why affairs take place, what the people involved are looking for from each other, what (if any) justifications exist for the behavior, and also how such behavior impacts the other people involved. 

Murder After Hours also provides an interesting glimpse into the lives of the British leisure class at a point in time (mid-1940's) when such a class of people was really shrinking. Edward, in thinking about Midge spending her days working in a shop, bemoans to himself the fact that she "could not drop into a picture gallery, that she could not go to an afternoon concert, drive out of town on a fine summer's day, lunch in a leisurely way at a distant restaurant." It's a thought he can hardly bear, he feels so bad that Midge doesn't get to spend her days reading books and strolling through fields like he does #dreamlife. 

Don't get me wrong, I hear ya, Edward! It would be amazing to have tons of free time in which to read books, take leisurely lunches, and jaunt out to a country estate, and have the resources to do it all without any professional responsibilities. Not to mention the fact that there are of course some folks #livingthatLYFE currently. But sometimes when I read about these characters -- or even when reading about Agatha's own life growing up (sometimes they only had two servants and were forced to travel Europe for months at a time, staying in fabulous hotels, to save on expenses at home!) -- I wonder how any of it could have been real, especially now when leisure is almost a dirty word #WORK. 

Finally, Agatha was feeling REAL nostalgic for autumn days in the country when she wrote this one, because we have some very lyrical language about the colors and smells of fall, including this lovely image: 

"Henrietta had always loved the view from that particular place. She paused now just at the point where the road began to descend. All around and below her were trees, trees whose leaves were turning from gold to brown. It was a world incredibly golden and splendid in the strong autumn sunlight. Henrietta thought, 'I love autumn. It's so much richer than spring.'"

Get thee to a country house!

- E.
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