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Ordeal by Innocence

by Agatha Christie
279 pages, Mystery
Reviewed by Clodsley S.

One of the most engaging mystery novels of all time.

Plot

Two years after the murder of wife and mother Mrs. Rachel Argyle, Mr. Argyle and his family of adopted children are continuing their lives as they had before the murder, thinking that it was their delinquent brother and son, Jacko, who committed the crime until Arthur Calgary appears on their doorstep with new information - Jacko didn't commit the crime. He sends the Argyles on a psychological journey of suspicion and guilt as they try to discover who really killed Mrs. Argyle.

Morality

The Argyles all remain silent until the end. None of them admit that they killed Mrs. Argyle, if they did, and they constantly tell each other that they didn't. They make it clear, however, that most of them never liked her, although she was a kindly woman who only wanted children to love and care for. They aren't a very close-knit family, but in the end they learn to love each other and realize how foolish they were.

Spiritual Content

The religion of the Argyles is unclear, but Mr. Calgary, at one point, makes a reference to the Book of Job, which would mean they would be somewhat familiar with it. "H-ll" is used somewhat correctly.

Violence

Very little, but when there is, it's quite intense. There are a few murders throughout the course of the book, including Mrs. Argyle's demise (all of the Argyles say she was hit with a fireplace poker). A man is stabbed in the neck with a knife which is described in little detail, and another murder is attempted on a woman. Some characters think of suicide, but their thoughts never go far. Some of the Argyle children admit that they have thought of killing their mother.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Wine is offered to some for medicinal purposes. Other than that, characters only drink - or, on rare occasions, are drunk - behind-the-scenes.

Sexual Content

The Argyle children are all adopted, and most of them were illegitimate. Many say that Jacko was charming, and he often professed love to middle-aged women in order to get what he wanted, usually money. Mr. Durrant - whom one of the Argyles is married to - allows a young woman to fall onto his lap and he kisses her, telling his wife that he was merely comforting her.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

"D-mn" or "D-mn it" is used a few times, as is "H-ll". A few characters take the Lord's name in vain.

Conclusion

"Ordeal by Innocence" is, hands-down, the best mystery I have ever read. Agatha Christie is a masterful storyteller, and her narrator's voice is very unique and almost cinematic, making it all the more intense. The whole novel seems as if it's entirely dialogue, and the pattern makes the story fast-paced and heart-pounding, though there is little action. It keeps you guessing until the final pages. I attempted to make guesses as to who the murderer was, but every time I was wrong. "Ordeal by Innocence" tells you that some things are not what they seem, and as Hester Argyle said, "It's not the guilty who matter. It's the innocent."

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 3.5
Written for Age: adult

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