#7 - Death in the Clouds7. Death in the Clouds (1935)

Hercule Poirot #11

On a flight from Paris, the close confines lead to murder, and a true challenge for Hercule Poirot.

In our latest entry in the Christie Top Ten, the old closed environment murder is nicely utilised on board an aeroplane from Paris to Croydon. It’s a powerful, intricately-constructed little mystery, and possibly the greatest test of Poirot’s little gray cells in the entire canon. Many elements make this little novel remarkable: Poirot and Japp remain an unbeatable pairing (the David Suchet/Philip Jackson film adaptation plays up this angle to a great degree). The wealth of suspects – as in the best closed-room mysteries – are all fascinating, viable candidates (as in Murder on the Orient Express), without coming across as contrived (as in Death on the Nile). The solution itself certainly borders on the unlikely, but every element is so skillfully handled that it comes across as, at the very least, possible. Every clue is introduced fairly into the story, but – with a feat of legerdemain she knew so well – Christie seemingly plays her hand several times, while really obfuscating the most important clues, and continuing to up the ante against Poirot, chapter after chapter. It’s a prime example of Christie as compiler of puzzles.

So, you may ask, why is Death in the Clouds beaten by six other Christie novels? At the end of the day, it’s two things. A) Believability: sure, there are going to be further plot contrivances that are ridiculous by our everyday standards, but at the same time, this novel calls for just a bit more risk in the murderer’s plan. And, most importantly, B) character: while every suspect here is viable – and some, such as the novelist Mrs. Clancy – are beautifully realised, Death in the Clouds doesn’t have the gorgeous depth of character that will be a trademark in my Christie Top Six.

At the end of the day, this is a read that should leave you satisfied, whether you figure out the killer or – far more likely! – not.

Rating: 9.5/10

Poirot ranking: 3rd of 38.

Next time: The Top Ten leaves Poirot behind, as we examine a bold narrative experiment from Christie’s late period.