Evil Under the Sun, by Agatha Christie, is another Poirot novel, published in 1941. Poirot attempts a pleasant summer holiday in Devon, and once again encounters love, lust and evil at a classic seaside resort hotel.
The premise is a similar but better version of Triangle at Rhodes. Its TV adaptation is my second favourite of the series, after Death on the Nile.
I think Christie’s humour is often underestimated. Her books are funnier than the adaptations, as well as being sharper and nastier. In Evil Under the Sun, Major Barry is a pervert and a bore who has to be cut off whenever he starts rambling about India. The Rev Long is a cheerful monomaniac – the church had to commit him to an asylum because he began seeing every woman as the devil. Madame Brewster is a (politically incorrect) sporty lesbian stereotype. Mr Gardner, (a largely superfluous character excised from the adaptation), is a shrewd chap – he is uncharmed by Arlena, and does not describe her as seductive or evil. He (accurately) thinks she is a fool.
I personally despised Kenneth Marshall in the book; a patronising cold fish. He is rather more savvy of his wife’s flaws than his TV counterpart; he pities his wife and her failings. He also refuses to divorce Arlena, giving both Rosamund (his old flame) and his daughter Linda a motive for murder.
“But you forget, Miss Brewster, there is evil everywhere under the sun.”
In the adaptation, Poirot is visiting the Sandycove hotel, a health resort, after collapsing at a restaurant. Like most of his holidays, he ends up investigating a murder. Japp, Hastings and Miss. Lemon are added, with Japp replacing Inspector Colgate in leading the enquiry and Miss Lemon’s sterling detective work providing the link between Redfern and his previous identity. Marshall’s awkward daughter, Linda, is transformed into an awkward son, Lionel, a ‘boy with hands the size of a man’, making him a real suspect.
(The hotel, the Jolly Roger in the book and Sandycove in the TV series, was inspired by Burgh Island Hotel in Devon. The island was used to film several scenes in the 2001 TV adaption).
In the End
“I saw her, first, last and all the time, as an external and predestined victim.” – p255
At the end, as well as explaining the murder, Poirot chastises the guests of the hotel for their assumption of Arlena’s evil. He points out that because she is beautiful and glamorous, people assumed she was a malicious seductress. Whereas in fact men typically seduced and used her – and tired of her quickly. It’s a nice subversion of the femme fatale stereotype.
While the adaptation downplays her involvement, in the book it is highlighted how clever and conniving Christine is. Her whole persona, from her job, to her claims of vertigo to her insipid and unflattering clothing, is designed to give the impression of weakness and fragility. After all, she says she’s a school teacher; she never says what kind.
Overall, the adaptation is snappier, updated for modern sensibilities and much warmer – largely due to Suchet’s acting and the inclusion of Poirot’s regular team. But i’d still recommend the book, an excellent, cosy Autumn read.