After The Funeral (1953) by Agatha Christie

‘It’s been hushed up very nicely, hasn’t it…But he was murdered, wasn’t he?’

Cora Abernathy had a habit of saying inappropriate things are inappropriate times, so when she suggests that her older brother Richard was murdered at his funeral, no one thinks very much of it. Well, not until Cora is savagely murdered with a hatchet.

Gilbert Entwistle, the family solicitor and friend of Richard, is convinced that Cora’s fate was a direct result of what she said. But as the family disperse back to their homes, Entwistle turns to a friend of his to look into the mysterious deaths. Well, you would too, if you were friends with Hercule Poirot.

OK, let’s start with a question. Why has the UK title of After The Funeral been adopted when the first edition was published in the US as Funerals Are Fatal? Apart from the obvious reason that the US title is rubbish, that is. Just wondering…

Was this the last great Poirot novel? Arguably yes, I don’t think anything that followed comes close, with the possible exception of Hickory Dickory Dock, but I haven’t read that in over ten years. I’ve read the rest that follow this one – maybe a case could be made of Hallowe’en Party.

But also, is this a great Poirot? It is rather talky, and while for once the misdirection really isn’t obvious at all and is extremely clever, without it, it would be possibly rather dull. Most of the characters never really get enough time or generate enough interest to be viable suspects, or at least suspects who you would care about being the murderer – I wonder if Dame Agatha had pruned the family a tad, and spent a little more time with each of them, the mystery would be a little more satisfying.

As I said though, the plot here is damn clever and the murderer, once they are unmasked, is rather chilling as their motivations are revealed. One of Christie’s most effective villains, I think, as their quiet, focussed insanity in the finale is really well done.

I won’t say any more as you’ve either read it or haven’t and don’t want it spoiled, but it’s definitely worth your time. A second read pays off as there are some delightful pointers to what’s going on that the reader is guaranteed to miss the first time through. Not entirely sure a third reading is going to happen soon though…

9 comments

  1. I’m sure I read Hallowe’en Party last year and I definitely don’t think it is a late good Poirot! Need to re-read After the Funeral though. I know that title is one of Brad’s favourites.

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  2. Puzzle Doctor – great review as usual. This is one of my favourites of Christie’s novels. Is it perfect? Perhaps not … but it is brilliant in so many ways including the murderer, motive, clewing, depiction of post-war England, etc. Indeed re-reading it is a pleasure to take in the clues that Christie deftly weaves into her narrative.

    Finally, this is one of the better Suchet adaptations as it stays reasonably faithful to the book. I have seen that film version many times.

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    • Just that the US one was released first, so surely that’s the title that should be used? Sorry, been obsessed with a US Brian Flynn reprint recently and having to get it out of my system…

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      • “After The Funeral” was the original title chosen by Agatha Christie. It is the US publisher who changed the title.

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  3. I’ll be reaching this title fairly shortly in my own re-read, but I still remember the murderer in this one – as you say it’s a very memorable handling of the character in question.

    I remember less of “Hickory Dickory Dock”, so I’m inclined to put this as the last truly memorable Poirot. At least as long as we mean “good” when we say “memorable” – because “The Clocks” is also memorable, but for very silly reasons.

    But from what I remember there are bits and pieces of the later Poirots that are still worthwhile – though we’ll see if I still think so when I’ve re-read those stories as well…

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