After The Funeral: Agatha Christie (1953)

It’s wonderful to be back in the world of Christie. My last read from the Queen of Crime was Death on the Nile for the Carr vs Christie fists out face off with JJ and Brad (spoiler heavy so watch out!) And I must say that after Death on the Nile I felt a little deflated. It is indeed a wonderfully clever book, but I found the plot to be pretty see-through and easy.

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I had gotten therefore into the (oh so false!) mindset that maybe Christie was an easy plotter, and that having now read more in the genre I would now find her books lacking. And then I read After The Funeral… What a fool I have been! This book knocked my block off and it was such a joy to be back in the hands of the Queen.

The story considers the complex inner workings of the Abernethie family as they gather in the country manor Enderby Hall, after the funeral of the infamous Richard Abernethie. That evening the family come together for a tension filled reading of the will and it is then that the well meaning but ridiculous Aunt Cora utters her earth shattering exclamation: ‘but he was murdered wasn’t he?’ 

The book from here explores each family feud and secret, every dark look and false word to their limits. Sucking in many characters on the way this builds into a rich and layered ocean of a plot to explore what Cora’s chilling sentence could have meant, and if it was true, who did it.

After the Funeral has some of the best observed characters in Christies’s books I have read so far. Published in 1953, towards the later end of Christie’s output (although she still wrote 23 books after this one!), Poirot is shown as an ageing figure, totally unknown to the crowd of suspects, and therefore just a ‘ridiculous foreigner’, a status which he uses to his advantage to draw out information from the suspects, and a tool that Christie uses as an acidic piece of satire on 1950’s British values, and the views of other nations.

There is a striking passage that in these unsettling times of Brexit here in the UK seems to be more relevant than ever. At this point in the novel, Poirot is posing as the buyer for a refugee charity looking to purchase the family home, now that Sir Richard has died, to develop it into a post war refugee centre. Here he is talking to the Butler Lanscombe, a man who has seen everything and reflects on the destructive results of war:

“If it has to be an institution of some kind, I’ll be glad to think it’s the kind your mentioning… We’ve always welcomed the unfortunate in this country, sir, it’s been our pride. We shall continue to do so.” 

If only welcoming the unfortunate were still our pride here in the UK.

But what impressed me more than anything with this book was the solution. Oh man the solution! The reason for the murder, the motivations, and the reasons for those motivations are exquisite and relate much to my last post in that as you read the solution – which is gorgeously paced – the depth of misdirection continuously reveals itself and blows you away.  It’s one of those books that you can bask in the memory of as you think back to it. Very excited for my next Christie when I get to it. Crooked House or Death Comes as The End are on the Horizon!

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23 thoughts on “After The Funeral: Agatha Christie (1953)”

  1. I’ll be reading this for my next Christie, probably in the next month, so I skipped the actual details of the plot in your review. I really can’t wait to read this one and I’m hoping that I’m as surprised by the ending as you were.

    You have some good Christie’s on your horizon – might as well read Crooked House before someone spoils it for you, although I personally liked Death Comes as the End better.

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  2. This is, in my opinion, Christie’s last truly great mystery. She would never again soar to these heights. She certainly tried, but this would be last time she succeeded. Your praise is very much deserved.

    You should check out the David Suchet adaptation. I never expected the plot would work on screen, but they pulled it off. This is all the more surprising when you consider it’s an episode from the later part of the series.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Hey, don’t get me wrong. The series has its fair share problems, especially in the later part of the series, but this made it all the more surprising that they got the essentials of the plot right. I never expected this plot, or its tricky misdirection, to work outside of the printed page, but they somehow managed to pull it off.

        Unfortunately, the scenarist took some liberties with other aspects of the story, like adding an incestuous sub-plot to show how modern these adaptations really are, but the murder with that ingenious piece of misdirection still radiated with Christie’s brilliance.

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      1. Glad to hear that Christie hasn’t disappointed you as was her previous book you’ve read. No matter how many times I read After The Funeral, the ending still shocks and amazes me and surely stimulates discussion concerning it. Definitely one of Christie’s best and demonstrates how she reigns as the Queen of Crime.

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  3. Thanks for the review. 😊 I liked this one, and found the mystery to be intriguing and clever. But the motivation was somewhat scary and puzzling to me! I liked both ‘Crooked House’ and ‘Death Comes at the End’ very much – so you have two treats in store for you. 🤩

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    1. I agree the motive is pretty frightening! I think that’s one of the reasons this book is so good, not only is the killer hidden so well, but also the motive, and when both are revealed its a gut punch.

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  4. This is one of the times where playing spot the least likely suspect doesn’t work for one of Agatha’s books. It all hinges on one crucial misunderstanding, the thing I think that separates Agatha from almost every other crime writer, but it’s such a clever deception here… One of her finest and I need to re read it soon.

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  5. I am so glad you liked this, my favorite Poirot and quite possibly my favorite Christie. In his recent review of A Murder Is Announced, Ben commented on how well that one is clued. I think she shows the same brilliance here, making AtF particularly fun to reread.

    I agree with Tomcat that this is the last “great” Christie, although a few more would be tremendous fun. And I really hope you like the two titles you picked, although I fear both suffer in the clueing department compared to this.

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    1. Thanks Brad, and amazing to here that this is top for you too. It was on an post of your a while back where you talked about the use of Poirot as a ‘foreigner’ to bring satire that really made me want to get to this one.

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