Middlebrow Syllabus #22–The Hollow by Agatha Christie (1946)

Invited to The Hollow for lunch, Hercule Poirot is extremely irritated to find that his host has arranged a melodrama to greet him with. A man lies at the edge of the pool, red paint drips gently into the water. A woman stands over him with a gun in her hand. Several others stand on the fringes, staring in disbelief. A cheap scene clearly staged for his benefit. And then suddenly the focus shifts, and Poirot realizes that this is no artificial set.

For what what he was looking down at was, if not dead, at least a dying man.”

A house party in the country, a small group of family and friends, unexpected visitors, and internal conflict. A standard murder mystery you say? But in Christie’s hands this humdrum plot is turned into something very unusual. Here the focus is not on the murder, the investigation, or the solution. It is the characters who are front and center. A significant amount of the story is taken up introducing a small cast of characters, then delving into their thoughts, emotions, and motivations. 

But he half-closed his eyes and conjured them up–all of them–seeing them clearly in his mind’s eye. Sir Henry, upright, responsible, trusted administrator of Empire. Lady Angkatell, shadowy, elusive, unexpectedly and bewilderingly charming, with that deadly power of inconsequent suggestion. Henrietta Savernake, who had loved John Christow better than she loved herself. The gentle and negative Edward Angkatell. The dark, positive girl called Midge Hardcastle. The dazed, bewildered face of Gerda Christow clasping a revolver in her hand. The offended adolescent personality of David Angkatell. There they all were, caught and held in the meshes of the law. Bound together for a little while in the relentless aftermath of sudden and violent death.”

With its tangle of relationships, undercurrents of emotions, and hidden agendas, The Hollow is very much a study of human behavior. If you are seeking the identity of the murderer, do not look for physical proofs as it is within those behaviors that the clue lies. 

A design of intermingled emotions and the clash of personalities. A strange involved design, with dark threads of hate and desire running through it.”

Interestingly, Poirot does not even appear until more than halfway through the book. And while he doesn’t play a major part in the investigation, he does play a significant role in solution. And while Christie may have regretted introducing Poirot into the story (and yes, I can see the murder one character in particular being placed in the role of detective), I don’t believe the ending could have had the same poignancy. Maybe I should read the play to see how it all plays out without him…

Rich characters and atmosphere, superbly plotted. Top-notch Christie. Actually, I think I have to rank this as one of my favorites.

SN—It wasn’t until I saw that The Hollow was on the Middlebrow Syllabus that I realized that it is one of a few of Christie”s works that I don’t possess! On one of my used bookstore forays I kept looking for it, but could not find a copy. What I did find was Murder After Hours, a title I didn’t recognize. Of course I was curious and pulled it off the shelf and discovered (The Hollow) in very small print. Seems in 1954 Dell Books published a paperback edition in which they changed the title. ???

5 thoughts on “Middlebrow Syllabus #22–The Hollow by Agatha Christie (1946)

  1. One of my top ten Christies. It was also the first Christie play I directed. It’s a good play but comes nowhere close to the brilliance of the novel. I wish Poirot had been in it because his conversation with Henrietta at the end is powerful.

    Liked by 2 people

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