“All life is dangerous. We forget that, we who have been reared in one of the small pockets of civilization. For that is all that civilization really is…small pockets of men here and there for who have gathered together for mutual protection…They have beaten the jungle – but that victory is only temporary. At any moment, the jungle will once more take command. Proud cities that were, are now mere mounds of earth, overgrown…Life is always dangerous – never forget that.”
Those lines from a tertiary character to the protagonist, Easterbrook, summarize well Christie’s standalone mystery, The Pale Horse.
Easterbrook is a respectable enough man about town in 1961 London. He’s a creative type, with one Chelsea boot in the artsy coffee bars of the day and another brogued wingtip in more genteel society. Through a bizarre series of events (aren’t they always), Easterbrook gets caught up in the death of a beloved local minister, murdered with a list of names in his pockets. The people on the list have nothing in common, except for one thing – one by one they are dying.
Over hundreds of deliciously enjoyable pages, Christie walks the reader through 1960s London – the theatre, the coffee bars, the hamlets a little outside of town with pleasant country houses and the occasional village witch (did I mention the spiritualists?).
I’ve read some Christie before, but this book was easily my favorite. Christie so adeptly sketches out the characters and places that I found myself caring about each one, hoping they survived to the last page of the book. Easterbrook doesn’t appear in any other books as far as I can tell, but he is so well done as a protagonist that while I was reading I assumed I missed his first few stories.
As the quote above alludes to – even though it’s a fun read, Christie really nails the threat of violence and the unknown that churns right below our veneer of society. Sometimes something crawls up, and we’re reminded of that.