“Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to Endless Night…”
This was my choice for March’s #1967PastOffences, run by Rich (see how behind I am?!) And I’ve yet to begin April’s #1936PastOffences (James M Cain’s Double Indemnity, if you’re interested – I’m only hoping it’s not too long; as it’s in a collection of his work, I can’t see at a glance!) Plus this is the second month in a row I’ve picked the same book as Jose Ignacio at the wonderful The Game’s Afoot website, which I’m sure you all know, but if you don’t, drop by for some great (bilingual) reviews and some fabulous recommendations, especially if you’re a fan of translated fiction, particularly of the Scandinavian sort (warning: be prepared to increase your TBR pile hugely!)
As with Double Indemnity, I chose this book for one reason and one reason only – it was amongst the piles and boxes of books in the flat (I was actually surprised how many older books I have. Hell, I was surprised at how many I have, period..!) Endless Night is a book I bought for a bus trip, and ended up not reading, but, as is so often the case with me, I still have it. It’s not a Poirot or a Marple; instead, it’s a strange little novel about a young couple who, coincidentally, meet in an area of ground on the edge of an English village. This piece of land, which is up for sale, is supposedly cursed, due to gypsies being turned off this area which was their rightful land, but our young lovebirds, Michael and Ellie (Fenella) are cynical of such superstition. Michael, who tells the story in the first person, had been working as a chauffeur, driving rich people on their European holidays, but it’s immediately apparent he’s easily bored, changing jobs frequently, and not particularly well-educated, but quite streetwise. However, he’s fallen on his feet by meeting Ellie – by coincidence, she’s the heiress to a massive American fortune – a fact she initially conceals from Michael. With the help of her companion – and close friend – Greta, she is able to deceive her family – who, to be fair, mostly consist of hangers-on: an ex-wife of her late father, and uncles who aren’t really uncles – as to her whereabouts, in order to spend time with Michael until, eventually, they are married, unbeknownst to the “family.” Predictably, they aren’t happy, presumably as this means that the cash cow, Ellie, is now betrothed, and the money might not flow so freely to them now she has a husband…It’s clear that this is the first time Ellie has stood up to them and avoided the cloistered background they’ve kept her in, for their own benefit, and this has made the hangers-on she calls her family very unhappy and angry.
Somewhere on his travels on the Continent, Michael met and befriended genius architect, Rudolf Santonix, who had always promised him that, should Michael’s boat ever come in, he would build him a perfect house. Santonix is ill (probably cancer, going by the clues in the book) and says he thinks he only has two or three houses left in him, so it looks like Michael and Ellie have met just in the nick of time. Santonix is drafted in to create the house of their dreams, but Michael and Ellie – particularly Ellie – are continually accosted by a gypsy woman, Mrs Lee, who lives in the village and never tires of threatening Ellie, appearing when she’s out riding and suchlike, and telling them both of the bad luck which will afflict those who live on what is rightly gypsy land.
Unlike Ellie, Michael has a mother (but no father), who doesn’t seem very fond of him, as if she knows him better than other people – which, to be fair, she probably does – but not in the loving, proud way you would expect a mother to behave. And due, perhaps, to his humble background, he is reluctant to introduce her to Ellie. She is, on the rare occasions we come across her, warning Michael she knows his character and that he’s no good.
This strange little book, which apparently provoked mixed responses from Christie fans, is a fast, easy read. Michael’s narrative of the story comes across as sounding slightly dated and in what was presumably then meant to be working-class language, but obviously that quaint air is to be expected in a book written in 1967.
Of course, this being an Agatha Christie, there is a twist in the tale, which I can tell you I didn’t see coming at all – essentially, I thought we’d had our twist! After that, though, there is another twist which I found a touch too unbelievable. Apart from that very minor niggle at the end, I really enjoyed my reacquaintance with Agatha Christie. I think I’ve spent too long away from the Queen Of Crime – I must’ve been a teenager the last time I read one, and I think I assumed I’d grown out of them (I remember finding ancient copies of The Clocks, Hallowe’en Party, and A Murder Is Announced in my parents when I was 12 or 13, presumably abandoned by bed and breakfasters!) I hugely enjoyed the book as a whole, and it made a pleasant change from reading current crime fiction. After almost 30 years away from Agatha Christie, I think it’s time to renew my acquaintance with her – I’ll be digging out the few I have in the house, and keeping my eyes peeled in second-hand shops too. To be honest, I really don’t think crime fiction lovers ever really grow out of Agatha Christie!