#558: Spoiler Warning – Coming in October: Postern of Fate (1973) by Agatha Christie

Postern of Fates

With the most recent Spoiler Warning post now out in the wild — it’s on The Moving Toyshop (1946) by Edmund Crispin if you’re interested — it’s time to prepare for the next.

And so, to the surprise of no-one, this October shall see me taking on Agatha Christie’s final novel Postern of Fate (1973) with the walking Christie encyclopedia that is Bradley Evelyn Friedman.  Brad, it must be said, has his misgivings about this one, reckoning that even if we sit down and write out the plot as cogently as possible it remains as befuddling as ever and as such impossible to spoil, but, well, I’m sure this is a book quite a few of you have either a) never gotten round to or b) given up on at some point, and so knowing you’re doing it in a collective cause might help motivate you.

The plot, such as it is, is summed up thus on the most recent UK paperback edition:

A poisoning many years ago may not have been accidental after all…

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford have just become the proud owners of an old house in an English village. Along with the property, they have inherited some worthless bric-a-brac, including a collection of antique books. While rustling through a copy of The Black Arrow, Tuppence comes upon a series of apparently random underlinings.

However, when she writes down the letters, they spell out a very disturbing message:

M a r y – J o r d a n – d i d – n o t – d i e – n a t u r a l l y…

And sixty years after their first murder, Mary Jordan’s enemies are still ready to kill…

So, saddle up with Thomas and Prudence Beresford one last time, and let’s see how bad this can be.  I’ve been enjoying Christie’s later work as I’ve been making my way through it, though I’m not claiming for a second that it’s of the same quality as her output at her peak, so I will admit a fascination for finding out how this one stands up.

See you in October for the autopsy!

~

And, if the prospect of Brad and me discussing Agatha Christie is of interest to you, he and I managed to pick through the impossible crime novels of Christie a few weeks ago for a podcast episode, and with any luck I’ll be able to post that in the next couple of weeks.  I’d say next Saturday, but I’ve had an idea that I might write about for next Saturday now, so probably in two weeks from now.  Watch this space…

39 thoughts on “#558: Spoiler Warning – Coming in October: Postern of Fate (1973) by Agatha Christie

    • Wing it, Brad. No one is going to notice anyway. “Hm, I don’t remember kangaroos in ‘Postern of Fate’… Ah well, I probably just suppressed the horrors.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Surely, Brad, you had to agree to the arrangement – and therefore knew what you were getting yourself into? 🤨

      I’m usually on JJ’s side when it comes to Paul Halter, but when it comes to Carr vs Christie, I’m aligned with you – and I fear I sniff some insidious plot to dethrone the Queen of Crime. 😨

      I have to trust you to guard the goalpost well! 💪

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just to assuage your fears, we’re not doing this just to put the boot into Christie. It’s a book that fascinates me in principle, and Brad and I have been threatening each other — almost a game of literary chicken — with collaborating over for a while now.

        No-one takes Christie off the throne. No-one.

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    • Well, probably not, no, not if it’s as much of a mess as people say. Just claim it’s an analogy for…something and see if we can get away with that. I’m game if you are.

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  1. Hmm, I doubt I’ll make it in time. I’m going to do the T&T novels in order and that leaves two I’d have to make it through in time. Which is unfortunate, since I’m dying to see what you guys will make of this one given it’s reputation. I’ll have to catch up later

    Reading the recent paperback plot summary, I have to admit this sounds really interesting. But, of course, you can make anything sound interesting. JJ has this thing where he’ll find some brilliant spark in the most despised novels, and I have to think that’s going to happen here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds interesting, but the I suppose that the synopsis writer has had four decades to combat the reputation this one has.

      As to finding a spark, well, firstly you’re far too kind, and secondly I don’t believe anyone sets out to write a deliberately bad novel — sometimes you have to see what they’re doing wrong in order to see what they’ve failed to do right. This is part of why bad books fascinate me so, because of the number of alpha and beta readers, plus editorial staff, plus presumably commissioning editors who must have read it and, one presumes, thought “Yeah, this is good enough…”. That level of grand scale self-delusion is almost an impossible crime plot in itself!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m interested to see how you make sense of this as the plot is barely comprehensible! Not only does it lack a mystery, it also lacks a story. It’s just words…..

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  3. Two things to be excited about and both Christie related and both involving two of my favourite bloggers! That’s the sort of news you need first thing in the morning (yes 11am is first thing for me!). I’ve only read Postern of Fate once and did find it hard going, though I would still put it up above Passenger to Frankfurt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had no idea that Brad was two of your favourite bloggers. We all hold him in a high regard, but, wow, that sets a new standard…

      I’m hoping my fondness for T&T gets me through, plus I’m fascinated by the fact that Christie, who published books for 57 years, would reach a point where she decides not to do that any more…what do you write when you know it’s going to be your final swing at the very thing that has brought you global fame, and at which you’re considered one of the most important practitioners ever to take up the craft? She couldn’t do a Michael Jordan and appear in a Loony Tunes movie; this was it, one more book and done. I’m fascinated to see how that comes out on the page.

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      • haha your modesty does have the slight drawback of turning Brad into a two headed creature of some kind. We could of course go for any of the many ancient Greek examples, but unfortunately (for Brad), all I can think of is the character from Sesame Street. You may just have to accept being the second blogger in the statement to spare Brad this fate.
        Currently reading Speak No Evil by Eberhart, which is in fact a locked room mystery…

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        • Huh, how about that. The only Eberhart listed in Adey is The Mystery of Hunting’s End (1930). If Speak No Evil meets with your approval I shall make a note to try there next for ol’ Mignon. I really wanted to like The White Cockatoo more, I really did…

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            • I have a special fondness for TMoHE…it was the very first locked room mystery I ever read (for one reason–there are others mentioned in my REVIEW). It may not be quite so enthralling for more advanced readers of the genre. But I still love it.

              Liked by 1 person

      • Is that really how AC approached this novel? Do we know that she’d decided that this was going to be her last one? I mean, I’d have guessed that it was the opposite – she wrote this, and then when everyone said that she’d better hang it up now, she took the hint.

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  4. Oh no, I recall reading ‘Postern’ for the first time, and throwing the novel aside in shock… Was there even a mystery in it?? 😳

    And then I picked it up for the second time, thinking I must have been wrong, and that it couldn’t have been that bad. A third way through, I decided I was wrong. It was worse than I thought it was. 😱

    Perhaps I should read ‘Dark of Moon’ alongside ‘Postern of Fate’ to decide whose dethroning was worse – Carr’s or Christie’s. 😖 Either way, a lose-lose experience that I probably cannot survive.

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    • You meant The Hungry Goblin, not Dark of the Moon, right? That was Carr’s final novel. It isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation would have it. In some senses it’s a touching swan song in that it shows glimpses of various aspects of Carr’s roots. It does have some annoying aspects – a bit heavy on the melodrama, and Carr does that thing where he uses the character’s conversations to describe things in a manner that nobody would use in real life. “Let’s walk through this door right here. See that painting on the wall? The one above the oak desk of fine craftsmanship?”

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      • Hi Ben, I did mean Dark of the Moon – which I’ve heard was just about the last novel Carr wrote that could be read without consuming huge amounts of laxative after that. 😅 Good to hear it is still worth a read – but the thing I dislike most about Carr is the twee dramatics. 😕

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        • I still have a few later era Carr novels to go, but from what I’ve seen, I think you may be correct – Dark of the Moon is the final Carr novel to have a moment of true brilliance. That isn’t to say that everything that comes after is awful, but none of it delivers that punch you’re going to be looking for.

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      • I have been studiously avoiding Carr’s later works so I don’t have firsthand experience, but your example there sounds a little radio-drama esque. Interesting given Carr’s larger focus on writing for radio later on. Though I hear his radio stuff is actually, uh, good.

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  5. Schnnrt frargol jekrof slorp. Bihindi imnut rehindu sloj yetrup daszhgh terab voylut kaka? Glymnu, retluf gahjak qatrab strylf, daszh gratzky hort javzac schnnrt. Ah aha aha haha haha!

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  6. Could someone send me the decoder so that I can translate Nick’s Nazi ramblings? (No, wait, I matched up the first letter of each word and got “Bullwinkle is a d-“!)

    John, I think everyone gives too much shade to Dark of the Moon. Maybe I will never read it again, but I liked it the first time, especially what I consider a really great unmasking at the end. Still, I do fear I will think even worse of PoF the second time through, now that I have all my faculties. The first time, it was a “Christie for Christmas” gift, and I opened it with such good will, wanting to love it more than anything.

    Kate, you flatterer, what’s the second Christie news to be excited about??? And I think a comparison of PoF and PtF is in order. Or have I just discovered a new definition of “incomparable?”

    Oh, and JJ, I have TWO “y”s in Evelyyn . . . . . as in yy2b4got10!

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    • POF was a Christmas gift for me too. Really can’t remember much about it except it involved a green house and a rocking horse (I might be wrong about the latter item). The other Christie item was you talking to JJ about Christie’s impossible crimes.

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      • There’s a rocking horse on more than a few covers; so either it’s a part of the plot. or a bunch of artists simply think it is…!

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    • Dark of the Moon is an awful novel up until a shocking reveal may well be one of Carr’s top 10. In a way it makes up for the awful trudge through the book up until that point. I agree that I will never read it again, but I almost feel that’s too bad because there is are some nice aspects surrounding the puzzle.

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    • It’s the famous Sieg! Heil! chorus from Wagner’s Lohengrin – an opera Christie references in Postern of Fate. (The work’s moral, arguably, is trust and obey unquestioningly messianic, unappointed leaders / saviours of the people. In Mein Kampf, Hitler called the first performance of Lohengrin he saw at age 12 as a life-changing experience. His other favourite Wagner opera was Rienzi, about a demagogue who rises to totalitarian power. “At that hour it all began!” he said, tracing his political career back to the first time he saw the work. Hitler apparently forgot the end of the opera, where the tyrant dies hated by his people among the ruins of his city.)

      Why, though, Postern of Fate? Easily the best thing about it is the quote from Flecker. Why not do Passenger to Frankfurt? That would open up interesting discussions about Christie and Wagner, Christie and politics, Christie and utopianism, Christie and youth – which go back to her late 1930s work. Whereas the only question about Postern is whether Agatha had Alzheimer’s.

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