This is one of Dame Agatha's stand-alones - not associated with either of her two primary detectives, Marple and Poirot, or with any of her repeating characters in the vein of Colonel Race or Inspector Battle. I was ready to accuse Ms. Christie of channeling her inner Shirley Jackson with this one, but she wrote it a full decade and a half in advance of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, of which it reminded me.
This is supposed to have been one of her ten favorites, along with:
And Then There Were None
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
A Murder is Announced
Murder on the Orient Express
The Thirteen Problems
Ordeal by Innocence
The Moving Finger
I think she had a pretty good sense of her own work, actually, as I tend to agree with her with respect to And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and Endless Night. I am personally rather fond of Death on the Nile, which didn't make the list, and I didn't find A Murder is Announced to be among her best. I've not read The Thirteen Problems, Towards Zero, Ordeal by Innocence or The Moving Finger. Roger Ackroyd was a solid puzzle, but just doesn't make my top list.
I highly, highly recommend this one. It is gripping - I inhaled it in less than an afternoon. It is written in first person narration, dependent upon the perspective of a young man who is an outsider looking into the Leonides family - the fiance of Sophia, beloved granddaughter of Sophie. The patriarch of the family, the successful Aristides has been murdered, and every member of the clan, living under the roof of the crooked house, is a suspect:
There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
Everyone in the house is just a tiny bit off kilter. This is really a character study of a true sociopath, a person who lacks a sense of empathy, and who is able to look at his/her fellow human being as an insect, under the microscope, pulling off the wings to see what will happen next.
I associate Christie so strongly with Poirot and Marple that I forget she was an accomplished story-teller in other contexts. As in Endless Night and And Then There Were None, some of her best writing comes in her stand-alone tales.
Year of publication: 1949
Setting: primarily London
Narration: first person
Detective: Charles Hayward (non-recurring)
Motive: pure sociopathy
Murderer: [Yeah, right]