“It’s a very wicked world, M. Poirot. And there are very wicked people in the world. You probably know that as well as I do. I don’t say so before the younger people, it might discourage them, but it’s true…Yes, it’s a very wicked world…”
So says Mrs. Folliat to M. Poirot at the end of Chapter Four. The grande old lady has fallen on hard times and is now living in the cottage on the estate that once belonged to her and her family. The weathly Sir George Stubbs has swooped in and snatched up Nasse House and somehow he and his much younger wife, Hattie, have been convinced to hold a Fête, which will feature a Murder Hunt organized by famous author Ariadne Oliver.
Mrs. Oliver, however, is perturbed. Something is not quite right at Nasse House. She feels her murder hunt has been “engineered” for a particular outcome. She invites Hercule Poirot to come to Nassecombe to find out what. But how do you investigate a murder that hasn’t happened?
It all seems as if Mrs. Oliver’s intuition has failed her until Marlene Tucker, playing the victim in the Murder Hunt, is found very dead indeed. But why would anyone want to kill a fourteen year-old girl from the village? More expected is the disappearance of Hattie Stubbs. She vanishes from the Fête just as a man from her past, her cousin, Etienne De Sousa arrives. Only her hat is found in the nearby river, but the body pulled out of the water is that of an old man, who once worked for the Folliats.
Perhaps some crazy student or vagabond at the Hostel next door is responsible? But no, this is a Christie. There are plenty of suspects at Nasse House. The ever efficient Mrs. Brewster, secretary to Sir Stubbs; Mrs. Masterson, the Fête’s organizer; Alec and Peggy Legge, an unhappy young couple helping with the Fête; and Michael Weyman, a handsome architect who can’t stop critizing the Folly he’s been hired to repair.
As yes, the Folly of the title. Sir Stubbs had the Folly, a columned temple-like structure, erected shortly after taking ownership of Nasse House. There’s more than one rendezvous that occurs at this site.
Of the novel, Francis Iles for the Manchester Guardian wrote, “A minor Christie.” In fact reviews were mixed for Dead Man’s Folly, published in 1956. The story marks the third appearance of Ariadne Oliver alongside Poirot. Though certainly not as flashy as some of Christie’s more well-known works, I have a fondness for story and consider it one of my personal favorites.
Perhaps this view is skewed because I saw the moive adaptation before reading the novel. On January 8, 1986, Dead Man’s Folly aired as the second of three CBS Television productions starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot. Jean Stapleton protrayed Mrs. Oliver. Also in the cast was Jonathan Cecil as Poirot’s oft sidekick Captain Arthur Hastings; Hastings isn’t in the original novel. Although there is a character named Captain Jim Warburton, which perhaps may have been the basis for the change?
As a teen, I enjoyed this production and soon read the book after seeing it, making it easy to imagine the characters as played by Nicolette Sherridan, Tim Piggott-Smith, Susan Wooldridge, Jeff Yagher, Christopher Guard, and Caroline Langrishe. Constance Cummings as Mrs. Folliat is a particular standout as is the character in the book. Perhaps one of the most memorable and interesting of Christie’s characters.
Now, it’s true neither the book nor the movie are perfect. In fact, the movie has a visual clue near the beginning that virtually gives the whole thing away. Still there’s something about this story and its imperfectly drawn characters that I find fascinating. Maybe I like it because it’s not as famous as say, Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express.
That’s, in part, why I was disappointed last year when—for a time—it appeared there would be no more entries in the long running British series, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, starring David Suchet. In 2010, it seemes ITV had called it quits with at least five Poirot novels remaining to be filmed, including Dead Man’s Folly.
Then recently I stumbled upon news that Dead Man’s Folly is to be filmed this year with the remaining stories to follow. See article here. I’m very eager to see what this new production might bring. And I’m particularly interested to see Zoë Wanamaker reprising her role of Mrs. Oliver. Though Stapleton’s version was fun in a comedic, dithering sort of way, Wanamaker’s protrayal is more true to the books.
You see, Aridane Oliver is essentially a stand-in for Christie herself. The character would often discuss the difficulties of writing, reflecting Christie’s own views on the subject. Additionally, in Dead Man’s Folly, the central setting, Nasse House, is patterned after Christie’s own home, Greenway, in South Devon. Imagine Christie plotting out the story on the grounds and in the rooms of her own house!
In writing this piece, I must say that I found my copy of The Agatha Chrisite Companion: The Complete Guide to Agatha Christie’s Life and Work (by Dennis Sanders & Leon Lovallo) indispensable as always.