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Jacko Argyle was accused and convicted of murdering his adopted mother, Rachel, two years before this story begins. Protesting his innocence to the last, he died in prison of pneumonia. Then suddenly, someone - Dr Arthur Calgary - who can prove that Jacko did indeed have an alibi for the night of the murder comes forward, having not been in the country at the time of the original trial. Wanting to put things right, he goes to visit the Argyle family in person, thinking that they will be delighted that Jacko's innocence has been proved. Unfortunately, they are not. Jacko was always the black sheep of the family, so it was almost a relief that he was convicted for the murder. Now, if he was innocent, it means one of the other members of the family - Rachel's husband, Leo; Rachel's four other adopted children; a long-standing servant or Leo's wife-to-be, Gwenda, must have been responsible for the murder. Can the Argyle family find out who is guilty? Or must more of the family die in order to cover up the real culprit?
This particular Agatha Christie story is one of the few that I am not familiar with. It was televised last week as part of the Miss Marple series, although Miss Marple is not actually present in the book, and having watched that, I was eager to find out what happened in the original. I'm glad that I did. Despite the lack of any key character, such as Miss Marple, Poirot, Tommy and Tuppence and Parker Pyne, this is a strong story that kept me on tenterhooks from start to finish - I listened to most of the seven and a quarter hours in one go.
As with so many Agatha Christie audio books these days, Ordeal by Innocence is read by the lovely Hugh Fraser, best known for playing Captain Hastings alongside David Suchet in the Poirot series. Although his voice does not change to suit different characters as much as that of some audio book readers, he has an ability to change the nuance of his voice just enough to make the different characters come alive. He is particularly good at doing women's voices, without actually sounding like a woman. I'm not sure how he does it, but it is really good and makes the process of listening to the story that little bit more of a pleasure.
Although Dr Calgary in some ways leads the investigation, the story does dip in and out of the viewpoint of everyone that is a potential suspect. We find out that Rachel Argyle, although deeply attached to the children that she fostered, was not a particularly likeable person, although everyone's reason for hating her is very different. For me, this is one of the reasons that Agatha Christie is such a famous writer. It is very easy for authors of crime fiction to keep the background to characters a bit of a mystery - this makes it more difficult to work out who is the guilty party. Agatha Christie manages to mould each character in such a way that the reader (or listener in this case) begins to really get under the skin of each and every one. By the time I was on the last side of the book, I was absolutely on the edge of my seat because I really cared about who was going to go down for the murder.
I have the cassette version of this audio book. As already mentioned, it lasts for seven and a quarter hours and takes up four cassettes. Audio books are more likely to be on CD these days, and when purchasing, the CD version is probably the best bet because of its durability compared to the cassette version. However, I do still prefer to listen to cassettes, just because it is easier to stop the story and then start again at the exact point it was stopped. The stories on CDs are organised into chapters, so it can often take a while to find the right point to start if you have stopped in the middle of a chapter. Petty, maybe, but it annoys me when I can't find the right spot.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. There are some major differences between this plot and the TV version featuring Miss Marple - most importantly that Miss Marple isn't in it! I much prefer the original, although I must admit I did enjoy watching it as well. In general, the less well-known Christie novels are less well-known for a reason - they aren't that good. Somehow, readers have overlooked Ordeal by Innocence - it is really worthwhile listening to. Highly recommended, whether you are usually a fan of Agatha Christie or not.
The cassette version of the audio book is available from listen2online.co.uk for the bargain price of £9.99 (this is a special offer - very reasonable for an unabridged audio book). Amazon have the CD version for £9.49. Go on. You know you want to!
Feeling a sense of duty to the Argyles, Calgary is surprised when his revelation has a disturbing effect on the family - it means one of the family is a murderer! Read by Hugh Fraser who plays Captain Hastings in the popular TV series. Dr. Arthur Calgary takes a ferry across the Rubicon River to Sunny Point, the home of the Argyle family. A year before, the matriarch of the family was murdered and a son, Jack, was convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. Throughout the trial Jack had maintained his innocence, claiming he was hitchhiking on the night of the murder and he had been picked up by a middle-aged man in a dark car. Unable to locate this mystery man the police viewed Jack's as a lie. Calgary was the stranger in question, but he arrives to late for Jack - who succumbs to pneumonia after serving just six months of his sentence. Feeling a sense of duty to the Argyles, Calgary is surprised when his revelation has a disturbing effect on the family - it means one of the family is a murderer!