I first came to know Sophia Leonides in Egypt towards the end of the war.
Agatha Christie’s Crooked House was first published in 1949, but her own foreword to the book states that she had had the book in her mind for quite some time, and that it was “one of my own special favourites.” I enjoy little snippets into the author’s mind, so I liked that she felt as though the Leonides were quite a real family – “I feel that I myself was only their scribe.”
Our story is narrated by Charles, a young man who met and fell in love with Sophia Leonides, but, although he told her he loved her, sent her off back home to England without an official engagement, as he knew he would still be gone “on assignment” for another few years. In the second chapter, Charles returns home after two years. He has been exchanging letters with Sophia during the interim and is more convinced than ever that he wants to marry her. He wires her first thing and makes arrangements to meet up with her at a restaurant. While he paces the hours away, he comes across a death announcement in the newspaper for Sophia’s grandfather – “suddenly, in his residence.”
And when Sophia shows up to dinner, she tells Charles that she can’t marry him until – unless – her grandfather’s death is resolved: “I think, Charles, that he didn’t just – die. I think he may have been killed…”
Sophia’s fears are justified. Old Mr. Leonides has definitely been murdered. Conveniently, however, Charles’s father is an important man at Scotland Yard. Charles tells him that he intends to marry Sophia, and Charles’s father sends Charles off with the case’s Chief Inspector to sort of muddle about and see what people will tell him.
So Charles meets his possible future in-laws for the first time as they are being interviewed by the police (which makes anyone else’s story of awkward first impressions rather tame in comparison), and we get quite the picture of a tangled – and crooked – household.
This is Christie at her best, in my opinion. The classic closed murder, conversations and interviews with all the potential murderers, quirky characters, complicated connections, plenty of motives and a plethora of red herrings. While it takes a bit of a stretch to think that the family would just casually welcome Charles into the household, considering his connections with the police, the story still works quite well.
The ending is brilliant – the kind that made me want to sit and read the book again, now that I knew who the murderer was, just so I could admire all the clever clues Christie gave throughout the story – clues that I (and Charles!) completely missed.
All in all, an excellent stand-alone mystery of Christie’s and definitely recommended.