Title: By the Pricking of My Thumbs
Author: Agatha Christie
Year written: 1968
Publisher and year: Wm. Collins, 1975
ISBN Number: This edition predates ISBN numbers, there are plenty of more recent ones printed, though I won’t list them all.
Until last year I don’t think I’d ever heard of Tommy and Tuppence Beresford as characters by Agatha Christie, it was the TV adaptations of a few of the books with David Walliams and Jessica Raine, called Partners in Crime by the BBC, that introduced them to me. This edition of By the Pricking of My Thumbs is one that’s been in the bookcase as long as I can remember and, after enjoying Death on the Nile so much, I thought I’d give it a go and see if I liked one of the lesser known character stories as much.
As far as the number of books about these characters that there are I don’t know but as this book has a small paragraph at the beginning, on the page with publication dates and that information, by Agatha Christie saying it was written as people were wondering what happened to the pair I would assume there were quite a few books and that this was written quite a while after the previous one.
I don’t know how common this edition is, or how it compares to the others, but I do like the cover of it. All the time I’ve been reading it I’ve been wondering if you’d call the doll on there creepy cute or just plain creepy, I think the latter, but I just like the broken doll look and it does tie in with a part of the story even though it seems like a random image to decide on for the cover for the majority of the book, it does link to a major turning point in the story. It seems like, around the time of the publication of this book, they didn’t go for writing blurbs on the backs of books. Going by the reviews posted you do get an idea of what the book is about, I guess that’s why they were chosen, and they do cover the major points setting up the story. It just seems unusual when most books I grew up with have an ‘official’ summary on the back rather than relying on reviews.
As with any Agatha Christie book (or the majority I know about) it is about a couple of amateur detectives who get pulled into things bigger than they first thought and they manage to crack cases that have the police, and secret service sometimes, stuck. It seems to have been a very popular thing back when these were written as there are so many TV shows based on the same idea from books around this time. This time it’s a married couple who had previous adventures with the secret service, I assume that’s what most of the earlier books are about, and this is them near retirement in a quiet life when they miss the old days. If you know Agatha Christie works you will know that they don’t tend to be all that action packed, there are murders and deaths in most of them but it’s more about working out the crime in the same way as Sherlock Holmes.
Reading the reviews on the back, them mentioning how eerie and macabre, I was expecting something almost horror like inside but either I have become immune to eerie things or they had a very different idea of eerie and macabre to me. I would say it’s a slow paced Agatha Christie, I don’t think it’s as fast paced as the Poirot I read recently and her books in general don’t have the fast paced feel of some modern detective books. The storyline itself, as far as the mystery goes, doesn’t really get going until around page 100 out of its 189 pages, there’s a lot of building up background on the two main characters and there’s quite a bit of information thrown at Tuppence at one point but it doesn’t feel that much like a mystery beyond a missing old woman who was taken early by relatives. It all starts around that idea, it’s something that Tuppence finds unnerving and it turns into a much bigger mystery, or rather different mysteries or crimes mixed together, like so many Agatha Christie stories do.
The majority of the book is spent with Tuppence on her own, it seems like in a lot of the stories with these two characters they do their own thing and one of them ends up having to save the other before their two separate investigations come together to make sense. It’s all set in what seems like idyllic English villages and towns in the 1960s (I think, I can’t remember an actual date in there) and there’s tea and cakes and village gossips who don’t realise what they know is very important, all the staples of a rural mystery story. In that way it’s very stereotypical of a lot of these kinds of stories, in most ways it is really, and it does definitely feel ‘of its time’ you could say but without being too old fashioned, you can see why they made these characters into a TV show last year as they feel like they’d be modern for their time to me.
Some of the language in the book is slightly dated but it’s nothing complex or that you’d need to work out the meaning of, just that it’s not the kind of conversations you’d have today. There’s a lot of description within the characters’ thoughts that show it’s not written now as well as the obvious lack of technology but it’s not a story that is so far from our everyday lives now that you don’t enjoy it. Basically it seems to have aged fairly well.
The story itself is definitely slow, it takes quite a while to get going and it all seems to rush at the end when it’s the last thirty or so pages where everything gets solved and there isn’t that much of an explanation on the solving of part of it, one of the crimes not directly involved with the main characters’ investigation that they accidentally crack. It’s the last twenty pages where the main storyline starts to get pieced together and it’s all fairly quick but it does explain everything well. I think I’d have preferred the book to have been a bit longer and the ending less all at once if that makes sense.
Age wise I don’t see a problem with younger teenagers reading this, murders are mentioned and there is some action at the end but compared to a lot of YA books at the moment I don’t think it’s much. The end does get more towards the horror side so I’d suggest maybe reading it first if you planned on giving it to anyone younger to read just to check whether you think it’s ok as it would depend on the person. I think most Agatha Christie stories are pretty broad age wise when it comes to the audience, they’re simple enough for younger audiences to read but they also have elements that adults would enjoy and murder mysteries are good for any age really.
If you’re a fan of slow paced murder mysteries with lots of twists then this book might be worth looking at but it is definitely slow going and at times I did find myself wondering if some bits could have been done a bit quicker so if you get impatient to get to the action or the more detective feeling bits then this wouldn’t be for you. I do think that it’s worth looking at for fans of Agatha Christie in general if you haven’t read it, I’m not sure how well known it is within Christie fan groups especially compared to the more famous characters of Poirot and Miss Marple.
As this is one of those books that seems to have a fair amount of editions out and available for cheap on Amazon, eBay and online second hand book dealers I think it’d probably be available in second hand book stores in general. It’s also probably fairly easy to get ordered into your local library if you want a read. One to get at a discount or free rather than full price for me but as we have it I’m glad I read it, it makes me want to read earlier ones in the series and see how they compare as this seems to be a definite ending to the character storyline.