Elephants Can Remember

Agatha Christie is one of the most well-known authors ever to have graced us with their talents. Her catalogue is one which I could only ever envy and her contribution to the murder mystery genre is second to none. Red-herrings, intricate plots, wonderful characters; her stories have perplexed and entertained us over the years.

With the reboot of ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ coming to our movie screens this November – it got me to thinking about my favourite Agatha Christie novels.

My most favourite by far is, ‘And Then There Were None.’ It is filled with twists and turns and the most improbable of story-lines. I read it for the first time when I was 10 years old, and the memory of it has never left me. It is the ultimate locked room mystery – but instead of a room, the cast of 10 characters are trapped on a remote island – each accused of a murder where they escaped justice and at the mercy of unknown hosts.

‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ is the next on my list of Agatha Christie favourites – mainly because of the peculiarity of the murder and because of the most satisfying conclusion to the book. It is very seldom that I side with the perpetrator – however that is exactly what Agatha Christie achieved in this masterpiece. I am looking forward to the film and I can only hope that Kenneth Branagh does the story justice.

As I considered my other favourites, a pattern began to emerge. They were all her most popular novels and each had been made into a film. Given how prolific Agatha Christie was and how many novels, short stories and plays she produced throughout her almost 60-year career, I began to wonder about her lesser known works.

I am trying to make it as an author and my debut novel is one of the murder mystery genre. It would be lax of me not to explore the entire works of one of the greatest. I therefore decided to track down and read Agatha Christie novels which I had not already heard of, or seen, and write a brief review of each of them.


Elephants can remember

Source: Amazon.com sales page for Elephants Can Remember (Under terms of fair use). Click here to be taken to Amazon to purchase this book.

‘Elephants Can Remember’ was first published in 1972, 4 years prior to Agatha Christie’s death. It begins with the famed detective novelist – Mrs Ariadne Oliver – begrudgingly attending a literary luncheon. As I read these pages, I wondered whether Agatha Christie had based the character of Mrs Oliver on herself. If so, it is a real highlight to be treated to such an insight into her own character. I especially enjoyed the first two pages, which were dedicated solely to the selection of an appropriate hat and how it should be worn.

Towards the end of the luncheon, she is corralled by an ‘odious woman’, one Mrs Burton-Cox. Mrs Burton-Cox’s son is soon to marry Mrs Oliver’s Goddaughter and it is here where we are introduced to the premise of the entire story. Mrs Burton-Cox wants Mrs Oliver to find out information about her Goddaughter’s dead parents; namely whether her mother killed her father or was it the father who killed her mother?

Mrs Oliver is quite taken aback by all of this, dredging up a past that is better left buried, but soon enough she enlists the help of her good friend Hercule Poirot and together they investigate what the police ruled a suicide pact. As the title of the novel suggests – the investigation is undertaken through remembrances and recollections of a crime long ago committed – generally a most unreliable means of investigation.

Both Hercule Poirot and Ariadne Oliver conduct interviews of people who were present, or familiar with the family around the time of the tragedy in the hopes of separating out the facts from the gossip. Through the clues and snippets of information provided, Poirot is eventually able to cobble everything together and find the solution.

I found that, unlike other Agatha Christie novels, the solution was very clear before the big reveal at the end. Normally, there are so many possibilities and red-herrings mixed in to the story that the twist at the end is often unforeseen. In this story however, I believe that instead of being her usual whodunnit, she was aiming at writing a whydunnit. The interest of the story itself is in the motive behind the actions. Why did each of the characters act as they did?

Early on we hear about mental issues and children being killed and it leads us to only one conclusion in relation to the deaths. I understand that many people read Agatha Christie novels to see if they can pick the killer first – be the one to solve the mystery and not be outsmarted – but this is a captivating read in itself. The psychology behind why the characters acted as they did is the real reason for reading this book.

The only thing that I felt detracted from the story was that it was very dialogue heavy. Some people enjoy that style – they feel as though they get a better sense of the characters through their speech and the way they interact with others. I, on the other hand, prefer a balanced mix of dialogue and narrative. At times, I found that I had to re-read some of the dialogue to see who was speaking. Also, Ariadne Oliver speaks as though she is always flustered and uncertain and so at times I felt the same way about the book.

‘Elephants Can Remember,’ is a fascinating and short read. I can recommend it to those who have read Agatha Christie novels before and are already aware of her immense talents. I wouldn’t recommend it for a first timer as it is not a classic like many of her others and I’d hate to see someone give up on her because of a disappointing first read.

I could relate well to ‘Elephants Can Remeber’, because my own novel, ‘Underneath the Killing Tree,’ is also a whydunnit. The story is more concerned with the motives around why people kill as opposed to the conundrum of who did the killing.

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