A pair of newlyweds, from vastly different class backgrounds, take up residence at their new estate – only to find that the past is coming back to haunt them…
Endless Night is Agatha Christie’s most haunting novel, and one that has remained in my mind since I first read it many, many years ago. A young man of limited means meets a young heiress, and the two marry and attempt to settle down. But rumblings from the past, mysterious and potentially supernatural occurrences and, ultimately, murder, contrive to ruin their love. All of this is set amidst an atmosphere of fear and foreboding on their estate.
Outside of the early Hastings stories (which were a self-conscious nod to the Sherlock Holmes books), Christie rarely used first-person narration. Here, though, there’s a powerful melancholy to our narrator’s tale from day one which reminds me of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca. This ominous tinge in narrative voice is echoed tenfold by the creepy atmosphere that pervades every scene and moment, setting Endless Night apart from the rest of Christie’s canon (except, perhaps from And Then There Were None, although I can’t really explain why the two novels’ vibes feel similar to me.)
To my mind, Endless Night is the best Christie work of the 1960s. Perhaps, freed from the agile plotting required for a Poirot or Marple novel (a task at which she was slightly struggling in her later years), Christie could use the character-building skills that had matured over five decades of writing. Dame Agatha plays around considerably with mystery tropes in this work, and her red herrings here are exquisitely positioned. Even the ‘nursery rhyme’ technique (here a William Blake poem) plays both subtly and powerfully. Christie had used variations on this novel’s twist in the past but – as with all her better works – you still won’t see it coming. (I review the 1972 film in this post.)
At the end of the day, this stands at #6 primarily because this really isn’t Christie usual style. Truthfully, the Dame is playing at being someone else and, while it works, Christie’s intricate plotting was her biggest strength, as we’ll see in the novels to come.
[Incidentally, if you count Endless Night, there are four stories in the Top 10 which take their title from – and centre on – a rhyme, as well as one which heavily utilises the alphabet!]
Next time: Miss Marple makes her sole appearance in the Top Ten, with one of my favourite Christie conceits.