By The Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie was published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in 1968 and by Dodd, Mead and Company in the US later the same year.
The title of the book comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth,
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
These lines are among my favourite lines from the play.
A visit to Tommy’s aunt Ada’s nursing home can always be a challenge. This time is no different as Tuppence has to sit it out at the visitor’s lounge after another one of Aunt Ada’s outbursts. Her only companion, a seemingly mild elderly resident of the home, suddenly asks her if it is her child that is buried behind the fireplace. Before she can make any sense of it Tuppence has to go way. As the elderly lady suddenly vanishes without a trace, Tuppence decides to investigate the matter and solve this intriguing puzzle.
The part about an elderly lady startling a stranger with a tale about a child being buried behind a fireplace recurs in at least three of Agatha Christie’s books, Sleeping Murder, The Pale Horse and this one. And surprisingly the story never fails to send a chill down my spine.
Tommy and Tuppence are a bit different from the other Christie creations Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. They age in real time unlike Poirot and Marple who remained the same age throughout their long literary journey. Strangely I find it kind of comforting that Poirot and Miss Marple remain the same in all of their books. They are solid, comfortable, more forces of nature than vulnerable human beings. Tommy and Tuppence are more real, I guess. But I prefer the solidity of Miss Marple and Poirot’s agelessness.
Tuppence is full of energy and hardly seems like a lady in her 60’s. Her character’s attitude and actions feel younger. Tommy is hardly visible here. It is Tuppence’s show all the way.
I had no trouble finishing the book. It is mostly fast paced and quite enjoyable.
Like all the late Christies By The Pricking of My Thumbs too has some problems. It is a thriller and a pretty good one most of the time but Christie introduces threads that go nowhere. The whole criminal mastermind thing was quite unnecessary in my opinion.
The narrative thankfully is better than most late Christie mysteries. It is not overlong and doesn’t meander along without any rhyme or reason (I am looking at you The Clocks and Elephants Can Remember!). It is sharp and taut most of the time.
The ending was really surprising. It was unexpected and quite chilling. The identity of the original perpetrator and how he/she ties up with everyone and everything surprised me.
Overall, By The Pricking of My Thumbs is one of the better late Christie mysteries. I just wonder how great it would have been had she written this book in her prime.
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