A Nun, A Painting and A Deadly Wedding Cake
After the Funeral was published in 1953, and was also the 53rd Agatha Christie book to be published. Although it was written at a time when Christie's work was as popular as ever, it is a less complex story than afficionados might be used to.
The story starts after the funeral of Richard Abernethie, owner of Enderby Hall and a vast fortune. His family have gathered for the reading of his will: his estranged sister Cora; sisters in law Helen and Maude Abernethie; nephew George; niece Susan and husband Gregory; and niece Rosamund and her husband Michael. As the solicitor finishes reading, Cora absentmindedly says:
"Its been hushed up very nicely.... But he was murdered, wasn?t he?"
The following day, she is brutally murdered with a hatchet...
Remembering her comment, the solicitor calls Hercule Poirot in to solve the mystery. Was Richard Abernethie murdered, and what is Cora's connection? Is someone killing off the inheritors of his will? Poirot must put a stop to the murders before the killer strikes again...
After the Funeral is a weak Christie novel and hence one of the weaker of the Poirot novels too. For me, it falls during a period when much of her work was lacklustre compared to what had gone before. Books such as Funeral, Destination Unknown (1954), Hickory Dickory Dock (1955) and Ordeal by Innocence (1958) just don't compare with her earlier work.
The book opens with a diagram showing the Abernethie family tree, including those who have died and those still alive. Most of the family members are written without depth, and what makes it worse is that they are the main suspects.
If you've read quite a few Christie books, you'll find that with this one it's fairly obvious who the murderer is when they come on the scene, and it's a formality reading the book to find out how and why it was done.
Baffling clues like wax flowers, a painting and poisoned wedding cake make it a bit more interesting. There are also mysterious appearances of a nun throughout that make you wonder. The book improves towards the end with plenty of red herrings; for example, when Poirot is approached by separate members of the family while alone, it's as if the climax is just around the corner and he is about to unmask them as the murderer. The explanations when they come are satisfying but you can't help wishing that all the suspects had been developed more.
The main setting for the book, Enderby Hall, is an old country Victorian house. By this time in Christie's career, the country house was becoming somewhat overused as a setting for murder. Another negative of this book. In fact, the books published just before and after this one also use them! A cliche too far.
Hercule Poirot doesn't put an appearance in the story until well after page 100. In some of her later Poirot books this became a trend for Christie, most notably Cat Amongst the Pigeons (1959) and also the brilliant The Clocks (1963) where Poirot is absent for most of the book - indeed, he only features on 35 pages! In some cases, this idea is a nuisance, as I always look forward to a Poirot, his name is displayed on the back cover blurb, so there's a certain expectation, and with each turn of the page and no appearance, it's disappointing. In the case of After the Funeral, Poirot is introduced when visited by the family solicitor, Mr Entwistle, for a consultation, but after a short chapter disappears again. If it is interesting enough, the book can get away with doing that but After the Funeral doesn't grip and you become impatient waiting for the man himself to investigate.
This book also features the return of Mr Goby, the head of a firm which Poirot employs occasionally to furnish him with information about the people in the case. His last appearance was way back in The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928).
It's also overlong; it clocks in at 378 pages, longer than the average Christie mystery.
Not one of Poirot's best cases or vintage reading by any means.
Advantages: Amiable enough read, Some good red herrings
Disadvantages: Characters written with little depth, Disappointing 'reveal'