The court. Faces. Rows and rows of faces! One particular face with a big black moustache and shrewd eyes. Hercule Poirot, his head a little on one side, his eyes thoughtful, was watching her.
She thought: He’s trying to see just exactly why I did it… He’s trying to get inside my head to see what I thought – what I felt…
Felt…? A little blur – a slight sense of shock… Roddy’s face – his dear, dear face with its long nose, its sensitive mouth… Roddy! Always Roddy – always, ever since she could remember… since those days at Hunterbury amongst the raspberries and up in the warren and down by the brook. Roddy – Roddy – Roddy…
Other faces! Nurse O’Brien, her mouth slightly open, her freckled fresh face thrust forward. Nurse Hopkins looking smug – smug and implacable. Peter Lord’s face – Peter Lord – so kind, so sensible, so – so comforting! But looking now – what was it – lost? Yes – lost! Minding – minding all this frightfully! While she herself, the star performer, didn’t mind at all!
Here she was, quite calm and cold, standing in the dock, accused of murder.
In my reading of Christie’s novels, this is one of the best opening scenes.
And what is more, I thought this was one of the best Poirot novels of the canon, together with Five Little Pigs, which is quite similar in structure.
There is a little more to Sad Cypress than meets the eye at first, and it doesn’t read like the usual formulaic Christie novel.
For a start, the character of Elinor, the MC, is not your happy-go-lucky bright young thing. We meet her as the accused, who hesitates when asked whether she pleads guilty or not guilty.
From there on, we step back in time to see the story unfold from the start but even then, Elinor, is riddled with doubts and cares. Christie does a marvellous job describing a woman being close to a breakdown throughout the story leading up to the arrest.
By that time, of course we still don’t know what happens and whether her state of mind is caused by her guilt over plotting a murder. We won’t know this until the end.
This is another aspect I liked. This book keeps up its suspense until the end – and even then there are elements which remain … a mystery.
Yes, the murder is resolved, but much of the book is based on the character of the individuals involved in the plot – and one person’s reading of a character may put forth a completely different interpretation of the ending than another reader’s.
I, for one, tended to find the ending unsettling – in both the ways of what happened to the villain and what happened to the victim. I don’t know if Dame Agatha had intended this to be a happy ending, but I can’t quite see it that way.