Death In The Clouds by Agatha Christie

Death In The CloudsIn the first class cabin of a flight from Paris to Croydon, a certain Belgian detective of our acquaintance is fast asleep. Which is somewhat unfortunate as he misses someone pulling out a blow-pipe, inserting a poison dart, shooting a French money-lender with it and then hiding the pipe by stuffing it behind Poirot’s seat. At least Poirot is smart enough to spot the discarded dart so that the death is not put down to the wasp spotted buzzing around the cabin. But just as Poirot failed to spot a murderous blow-pipe-wielding nutter, nor did anyone else. Surely someone would have seen something…

Soon Poirot has a method and a motive for the death – but it seems that there is no link between the two…

Before we start – isn’t it cool that from a flight to Paris to Croydon, they had time to serve lunch? Beats the bag of pretzels you get on a short flight these days.

The tenth novel featuring Poirot presents a very similar set-up to Murder On The Orient Express. A finite number of suspects, one of whom must have seen something – but nobody did. Rather than stretch the imagination to breaking point, as in the aforementioned book, Christie actually comes up with a method that is bordering on the impossible crime – how could the murder be committed under everyone’s noses – although at no point is that sold as part of the narrative. She also does a much better job that someone else did in a vastly over-rated short story by using the same idea – although if I say which one, it’ll give too much away.

A nice collection of characters – although as they separate after the flight lands, they don’t get that much page-time each to establish themselves – basically a chapter each, but they work well. And as a puzzle, this is first rate, much better than I remember it being from the first time through (thirty or so years ago!). There is a leap between spotting the murderer and linking them to the motive which has to be guessed at, but as the clues point so clearly to the murderer (if you spot them – which you won’t), this is playing fair.

I was very impressed with this one – in fact, when I get to re-evaluate my Poirot Top Five (where this didn’t even get an honourable mention) then there is every chance that this will make it into the list. By the way, as I’ve been reading a fair bit of Poirot recently, I’ve expanded the Agatha Christie page so that this can become a Poirot resource.


  1. This is one of my favourite Hercule Poirot novels. It can be regarded as a classic locked room mystery. Murder takes place in a closed space containing 13 persons, yet no one witnesses the murder.
    It is well clued and a fair play mystery.
    A brilliant novel.
    Perhaps the short story you are referring to is the one by SPOILER. I agree that story is rubbish.


    • Yes, that’s the story – although I’ve edited your post to avoid giving it away. And see the comment below as to why it is an excellent puzzle, perhaps there are problems with it as an overall novel.


  2. It is definitely one of Christie’s best paced books. But I don’t really buy the gimmick in any of its incarnations, although I agree that it’s better here than usual. (Although nowadays I think it’s bordering on unfair because of how much air travel has changed. The solution has more than a touch of “Oh really? How interesting!” about it. That’s not Christie’s fault though.)

    I also wish she’d made more of the Clancy character. The comparisons between lurid and sensible detective solutions are thematically relevant and potentially amusing, and it seems like it ought to just write itself. But Christie never seems sure of herself when she’s doing comedy. And in the end it just peters out.

    And ultimately… I find it quite hard to enjoy as anything other than a pure puzzle. Poirot is basically responsible for two people’s deaths in this one. I like that he knows the solution from the beginning, rather than the forced “Of course, ‘ow could I ‘ave been so blind?” head slap twenty pages from the end. But there’s really no good reason why he shouldn’t tell Inspector Japp what he thinks, other than to string out the mystery for the reader. I think the other characters should be a lot more annoyed with him than they are. Their “Oh Poirot, you silly goose” attitude always leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


      • It’s difficult, because the idea of a detective solving the crime immediately on being presented with the facts is incredibly appealing.

        I definitely see why Christie did it. It demonstrates a) that the puzzle is a fair one and the reader doesn’t need to wait for more info and b) that the detective really is more clever than the other characters. But how do you then keep the solution secret from the reader until the end? “Papa Poirot must have his little secrets” seems like it’s in character… as long as you don’t think about it too much.

        The best approach I’ve seen is in the Jonathan Creek episode The Scented Room. There Jonathan knows the answer but hates the victim, so gets great pleasure in not revealing it, despite the substantial reward. But that works because the crime is a theft, not a murder, and the victim is so unlikeable (and Jonathan isn’t there in a professional capacity, like Poirot). With murder, Poirot can’t really justify his behaviour, especially as he’s forever admonishing Hastings and other characters for not taking death seriously enough.

        A shame, because in other respects the Poirot/Hastings/Japp dynamic works better here than it ever does.


      • I mean Poirot/Japp dynamic. Hastings is long gone by Clouds. But in many ways Japp made a better foil than Hastings; he’s more competent and less cloying in awe.


      • As a partial defense for Poirot, he doesn’t solve it right away. The exact words he uses in the book are: “On the face of it, it seems to point very plainly to one person as having committed the crime. And yet, I cannot see why, or even how.” At that point, Poirot had not worked out how the criminal managed to commit this impossible crime, and I can see why at that point he was reluctant to point this person out to Japp.

        However, this is only a partial defense. Later on, Poirot basically says, “Because I strongly suspected this person to be the murderer, I took steps to protect this character from this person.” At that point, he should have told both Japp and Fournier who could have started the legwork necessary to get the evidence to arrest the criminal. I get the impression that Japp was only able to do this AFTER Poirot finally told him, which was AFTER the second death. Something similar happens to Ellery Queen in The American Gun Mystery but at least there Ellery feels guilt for not telling his father sooner. Poirot doesn’t seem to think he did anything wrong.

        As far as the first death goes, I can’t blame Poirot for being airsick. Indeed, even if he had not fallen asleep, I have a hard time imagining him not making the same mistake everyone on the plane did which allowed the killer to commit the crime undetected. I think the best that Poirot could have done would have been to catch the killer just AFTER they committed the crime—there was no way for him to foresee the killer’s intentions before.


      • For my defense of Poirot, please see my comments in the post on The Puzzly for December 2013.


  3. Looks like I’m due to reread this one, which I haven’t read for many years. Thanks for reminding me how good it is, P.D. Have a great New Year – happy and healthy!


    • I found that hard to believe, but then again planes probably didn’t fly high enough at that point for there to be an explosive loss in cabin pressure. Fortunately, that did not factor into the solution.


  4. I read this a couple of months ago. An entertaining read, though I wish the characters had been fleshed out more. And I didn’t guess who did it!


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