THE BOOK PAN 1964 pp218
This is one of the original second hand copies we bought as kids in Brighton in 1966. The cover depicts some of the items found on the beach where the murder took place.
The Tom Adams cover on the right refers to the childish attempt at witchcraft by the young girl Linda aimed at her hated stepmother.
Hercule Poirot is on holiday on Smugglers’ Island, off the coast of Devon. As he sits with fellow-guests on the terrace looking down on the people sunbathing on the beach below, he comments that all their bodies look the same, arranged on slabs like butcher’s meat. When one of the guests comments that at least nothing untoward was likely to occur on the island, Poirot retorts that a holiday location provides an excellent opportunity for a murderer, that there is evil everywhere under the sun …
He soon finds himself investigating the murder of Arlena Marshall as she sunbathed alone in one of the island’s coves.
CHARACTERS AND ATTITUDES
The island setting (based on Burgh Island, which Agatha Christie had visited) isolates all the characters from the outside world. There is no suggestion of Time about the narrative: the events could just as easily have taken place at any time in the 1930’s or 50’s, and World War II is not even mentioned.
There is quite a variety of people staying at the island hotel – almost too much, as some of the more interesting ones are not developed much: Arlena the vamp, her mild-mannered husband Kenneth and hate-filled sixteen-year-old step-daughter Linda, the husband’s childhood sweetheart Rosamund Darnley, the brash smuggler Horace Blatt, the Gardeners, a comic American couple, the mannish Miss Brewster, the India-bore Major Blore, and the Redferns: one a handsome, well-built extrovert, the other a mousey introvert who has to stay out of the sun and is frightened of heights.
This story is all about plot and interrogation, and the affairs of the wider world do not intrude.
There are some amusing passages in this book, many of them featuring the American couple. Poirot has just scandalised Mrs Gardener by comparing the sight of the people sunbathing on the beach to the Morgue in Paris:
“All the same,” Mrs Gardener knitted with energy, “I’m inclined to agree with you on one point. These girls that lie out like that in the sun will grow hair on their legs and arms. I’ve said so to Irene – that’s my daughter, M. Poirot. Irene, I said to her, if you lie out like that in the sun, you’ll have hair all over you, hair on your arms and hair on your legs and hair on your bosom, and what will you look like then? I said to her. Didn’t I, Odell?”
“Yes, darling,” said Mr Gardener.
Everyone was silent, perhaps making a mental picture of Irene when the worst had happened.
Poirot interrogates Rosamund Darnley:
“When you came in to change for tennis that morning, did you have a bath?”
Rosamund stared at him.
“A bath – what do you mean?”
“That is what I mean. A bath! The receptacle of porcelain, one turns the tap and fills it, one gets in, one gets out and ghoosh – ghoosh – ghoosh, the water goes down the waste pipe!”
“M. Poirot, are you quite mad?”
SWIGATHA RATING 7/10
This is a typical mid-era swigatha – an ingenious plot, written with such verve and confidence that there is no need for further murders to keep it running. It is a great read for an 11-year-old, but on re-reading it I found it all a bit soulless; it wasn’t obvious to me what the logic behind Arlena Marshall’s murder was, and the narcotics sub-plot fizzles out completely, with the perpetrator last encountered taking photos at a picnic.
WHERE IT LED
This was to be almost the last novel in which Poirot is present in the build-up to a crime. Henceforth he is usually brought in after the event – often many years after the event – as a consulting detective. Swigatha was trying to escape from her Poirot strait-jacket, and succeeded magnificently in her next Poirot story – Five Little Pigs.
In 1981, a film version of Evil Under the Sun, featuring Peter Ustinov once again as Poirot, was produced in the wake of the success of Death on the Nile. It had the usual star-studded cast – James Mason, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg – but was over-stylised in an Art Deco way, and the hamming of the main characters, especially Ustinov’s turn as Poirot, doesn’t work as well as it had done in the previous film.
The ITV adaptation for its Poirot series (2000) was far superior, even if it decided to add Hastings, Japp and Miss Lemon and gun-wielding drug traffickers to the plot to beef it up. It benefits from actually being filmed on Burgh Island, with David Suchet playing it straight as Poirot and the clues fairly placed. For no obvious reason, Linda Marshall in this version becomes Lionel Marshall (played by a young Russell Tovey).