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Sheila Webb, a typist, is asked to present herself at 19 Wilbraham Crescent for a typing job. When she arrives, she lets herself into the house as requested, only to find a dead body in the room she is told to wait in. Shortly afterwards, the lady of the house arrives, and is equally surprised about the dead body, and about Sheila's presence, whom she claims she had not invited. Even stranger, although Sheila found the body much earlier, four clocks, only one of which belongs to the owner of the house, show the time as 4.13. A young man, Colin Lamb, who rescues Sheila from her plight, becomes involved in the case, but is so stumped that he involves his friend, Hercule Poirot. Can Poirot work out who the dead man is and why he is found in the house at Wilbraham Crescent?
This audio book is read by Hugh Fraser, who plays Captain Hastings alongside David Suchet's Poirot in the television show. Fraser has read a number of Agatha Christie audio books and does a really good job each time. There is no exception here. My only gripe is that his 'Poirot' accent tends to wander off from a Belgian/French one to what sounds like a German one at times - having said that, I am so familiar with Suchet's accent that anyone else's is bound to be less good in comparison. There is a certain skill to reading for an audio recording - if the reader cannot change his voice for different characters, the reading can become very monotonous - fortunately, Hugh Fraser can modify his accent according to the status and sex of the character in question, and he does it very well.
Unlike many audio books that are shortened from the original, this one is unabridged. This means that there are seven and a half hours of listening over 4 tapes or 7 CDs. If, like me, you tend to listen to audio books before going to sleep (I have difficulty sleeping and they help me to relax before bedtime), you will find that this is far too long. I found myself having to constantly rewind because I had missed critical bits after falling asleep - when listening to a mystery this is not ideal because you are constantly missing vital bits of evidence.
The length of the audio book, however, would have probably been a lot more acceptable if this had been one of Agatha Christie's better stories. The Clocks, one of her lesser known books, is not a particularly good example of her work. It becomes, with the inclusion of Colin Lamb, who is part of the Secret Service, as much a thriller as a murder story and Agatha Christie's thrillers have never been her strong point. As such, the audio book would have benefited from being much shorter - ideally about four hours.
My main issue with the story is that it includes Poirot only as a secondary character. The leg work is very much done by Colin Lamb, who then relays all the relevant information to Poirot. Poirot then sits in his arm chair and works out the answer to the mystery. Although Poirot is known for using his 'little grey cells' to solve mysteries, he is usually more involved than in this one and, for me, this made the story much less believable than usual. Colin Lamb, despite his love interest in Sheila Webb, is a very milk and water, boring type of hero, which doesn't help.
I have both the CD and cassette version of this audio book - I bought the CD for my mother and have the cassette version myself. As with most audio books I own, I prefer the cassette version because I can stop it at a certain point and then continue when I am ready. This is less easy with the CD version - there are generally about 15-20 chapters on each CD, so I can easily fast forward to a particular chapter, but then may still need to fast forward to the exact spot I want, which is a bit of a pain. Having said that, cassettes are obviously on their way out and it is more and more difficult to get hold of a non-CD version.
Although this isn't one of my favourite Agatha Christie stories and the full version is way too long for an audio book, I still liked it and recommend it to anyone who is a fan. If you aren't, this isn't the best place to start.
The audio book on cassette is available from listen2online.co.uk (an excellent source of audio books) for £11.99. The CD version is available from the same site for £12.99.
Continuing the new look unabridged Poirot titles, read by Hugh Fraser. As instructed, stenographer Sheila Webb let herself into the house at 19 Wilbraham Crescent. It was then that she made a grisly discovery: the body of a dead man sprawled across the living room floor. What intrigued Poirot about the case was the time factor. Although in a state of shock, Sheila clearly remembered having heard a cuckoo clock strike three o'clock. Yet, the four other clocks in the living room all showed the time as 4.13. Even more strangely, only one of these clocks belonged to the owner of the house!