“ Author: Agatha Christie / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 04 June 2001 / Genre: Crime & Thriller / Subcategory: Classic Crime / Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers / Title: Death in the Clouds / ISBN 13: 9780007119332 / ISBN 10: 0007119332 / Alternative EAN: 9780007234424 „
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As the air liner Prometheus embarks on its flight from France to Croydon the majority of the passengers and crew presume that the journey will pass without incident. Yet, in one of the compartments someone out of thirteen people is aware that matters will be rather different. A short while after the flight commences a woman by the name of Marie Morisot is found dead in her seat. Suggestions are first given to the possibility of an allergic reaction to a wasp sting, since that creature was flying round the plane at the time. Yet the discovery of first a dart and then, later, a blowpipe, points to a different interpretation of events and it soon becomes evident that the woman was murdered. When it is discovered that she was more commonly known as Mademoiselle Giselle, a French money lender who was not averse to gaining private information about her clients and then threatening to release it if they failed to pay her the money back they owed, then a motive suddenly seems apparent. At least one of the people in that compartment is surely lying about having known Giselle, yet their coolness and quick thinking in committing the murder in such an open environment reveals they can act and think quickly when they need to. That they are apportioned with some extraordinary good luck can be noted by the fact that, though that normally acutely observant Hercule Poirot is one of the 11 passengers, he is afflicted by a bad case of air sickness and is incapable of noticing anything around him. Yet they have not considered the sheer ruthless determination of that detective once the murder becomes apparent. With his unerring ability to uncover each and every fact about the 11 suspects before him all we can do is sit back and watch as Poirot employs his little grey cells more than 36 times in pursuit of the murderer.
One of the most noticeable aspects about this novel is its striking similarities to that of "Cards on the Table". Both stories were published very close to one another and, though the numbers have increased in "Death in the Clouds", the comparisons can not be missed. The victim is a person who, we presume, has been killed due to the knowledge that they held against the murderer, though in Giselle's case debt must also play a dominant role. Moreover, in both situations the murder was committed under conditions so fantastical that it may be wondered how it could possibly have been achieved. There is no real moment of privacy, no chance of luring the victim away to a more secluded spot. Instead the killing must be committed amidst several other people, in a set time frame and hoping that no one will look up and realise what is going on at the precise moment of death. Furthermore, due to the conditions of the environment it is evident that there can only be a fixed number of suspects and we may therefore start the procedure of elimination and illumination amidst this small group of people.
Another aspect of "Death in the Clouds" which is particularly noticeable is the way in which we are presented with a chance of solving the murder based on Poirot's mentods. Events, items and conversations are all laid before us and it is possible, within only a few chapters, to surmise who the murderer might be based upon the clues we are given. Within the suitcases, for example, is a very strong piece of evidence. Yet for many people this will not be a simple task, since Christie uses an old trick (seen in "The Murder of Roger Acroyd) of manipulating our impressions of time. Since we leap to erroneous conclusions this then focuses attention away, creates a psychological diversion, just as a diversion was created for the passengers on the Prometheus and yet once the murderer is revealed we read back and realise that the solution was so patently obvious that we wonder why we could not pick up on it immediately. True, the motives for the case are a little more obscure, yet that does not detract from the logical way in which Christie presents us with all the information we need. In a way the reader can be said to be working alongside Poirot, to use the information and methods that he has and to attempt to find the identity of the killer with him.
The characters within this novel are sufficiently mixed to ensure an ample difference in personalities which adds to our enjoyment of the novel. The contrast, for example between Cicely Horbury and Jane Grey, for example, is patently stated, the gap between their lifestyles and behaviours being made very plain quite soon into the story. Some similarities do exist, both enjoy gambling for example, yet whereas one is not aware of the point of cessation, the other sticks to a set amount. Several of the other characters take rather a back role within the novel, though we must place them amongst the suspects descriptions of their accounts seem to be less than of others. The Duponts, for example, do not seem to feature heavily in much of the novel and Dr Bryant also takes much of a backseat. The impression may be given, therefore, that Christie is deliberately steering us towards an even smaller number of suspects, though whether that is to help or hinder us remains to be seen.
The psychological profile of the murderer within "Death in the Clouds" is one which is on a par with several of Christie's other works. The ability to commit the act in a set time frame and in a situation where the chances of them being spotted are quite high can be seen, of course, in "Cards on the Table", as well as "Death on the Nile" and "A Murder is Announced". Once more, therefore, we have a representation of the killer as someone who shows no qualms about the act they are about to commit. The question remains, however, whether that character will be apparent immediately, or whether the murderer is a very good actor as well.
Although this is quite an interesting case, once the fantastical conditions of the murder are removed a large part of the story becomes fairly pedestrian and, in terms of Christie's works, rather unoriginal. We have, for example, the daring young heroine who assists in assisting with the case. There is the amiable young man who decides to lend a hand as well, much like "The Secret of Chimneys" and "Why Didn't they ask Evans" and in Fournier, we have another detective working on the same case, like "Murder on the Links", though in "Death in the Clouds" the French detective is working with - and not against - Poirot. It is pleasing that this story sees another appearance of Japp, who provides the ideal counterfoil to Poirot's exorbitant egotism, but even that reminds us forcibly of how familiar much of this story is.
To summarise, this is a novel which allows us to attempt to discover who the murderer is and to pit our wits against the great detective. Poirot has proven he is more than capable of using his methods to discover who the killer is, the task now falls upon us to find if we can do the same. Perhaps it is for that very reason that much of the plot can be found in other narratives by Christie. By pointing us to similarities, by guiding us towards similar personalities and events she is assisting us with solving this case if the evidence in just the novel prove too difficult.
A facsmile first edition hardback of the Poirot book, in which a murder is committed on a flight to Paris. From seat No.9, Hercule Poirot was ideally placed to observe his fellow air passengers. Over to his right sat a pretty young woman, clearly infatuated with the man opposite; ahead, in seat No.13, sat a Countess with a poorly-concealed cocaine habit; across the gangway in seat No.8, a detective writer was being troubled by an aggressive wasp. What Poirot did not yet realize was that behind him, in seat No.2, sat the slumped, lifeless body of a woman. To mark the 80th anniversary of Hercule Poirot's first appearance, and to celebrate his renewed fortunes as a primetime television star, this title in a collection of facsimile first editions is the perfect way to experience Agatha Christie. Reproducing the original typesetting and format of the first edition from the Christie family's own archive, this book sports the original cover which has been painstakingly restored to its original glory.