Agatha Christie’s “Peril at End House” – unlike “Crooked House” or “Murder on the Orient Express” – does not start with a murder. Instead, this “whodunit” is focused on the prevention of murder, and halfway through after the murder of an unintended victim, Hercule Poirot explained: “Our original task was to ensure the safety of [protagonist Nick Buckley]. Our task now is a much simpler one – a task with which we are well-acquainted. It is neither more nor less than the hunting down of a murderer”. And from this point the approach is methodical, as befitting of Poirot and his little grey cells: laying out the suspicious circumstances, opportunity for murder, and the motive, making the necessary interviews and enquiries thereafter, before narrowing the possibilities of the crime.
This is also my first Poirot novel which features companion Arthur Hastings, who is to the Belgian detective who Dr. John Watson is to Sherlock Holmes (this titbit was referenced early in the book). Hastings is a functional narrator who documented the investigation with precision, and thus his incapacitation towards the end – as Poirot laid a trap and neared a solution – created uncertainty and tension. “Hazy in the memory” was how Hastings described the lead-up to the climax, leaving the reader no less flummoxed. At this point, still, little is actually known about the murderer and the circumstances which followed, therefore building up to the moment of revelations.
The twist at the end is similar to the approach in “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd“, and unexpected resolutions are more often than not a treat for the reader. It is no different with this novel, though one could argue that the coincidences were a little hard to believe – for the events to have lined up so nicely – and that a few red herrings were only addressed much later on. It is not Christie’s or Poirot’s best or most exciting adventure, but there are enough clues and discoveries throughout the book to keep the reader engaged.