The Pale Horse

Author: Agatha Christie

Type: Fiction, novel

Published: 1961

I read it: December 2014

pale horse

A mysterious death or three. This is all that’s needed to kick off an Agatha Christie novel. The A.V. Club recently put out a nice piece about the author’s ongoing popularity, naming the obvious strength of her stories: the plot mechanics. Everything is set up so exquisitely, and in my third experience with her work each chapter is its own enjoyable scene, even when it is just two people talking over lunch.

I’m also impressed by the variations of scene and players between the books. Murder on the Orient Express was infamously set aboard a train with Hercule Poirot on the case. The Moving Finger included the capable Miss Marple helping solve a crime in a small village, but she was not the protagonist. The Pale Horse, too, has its professional (D.I. Lejeune) but it’s the academic Mark Easterbrook who becomes obsessed with the events and keeps digging. Apart from the murder case, he finds intrigue in the basic existence of the historical pub known as The Pale Horse, and just has to know what goes on there.

The book is fun reading but also functional as a skeptical tool, touching on critical thinking topics along the way. The Pale Horse is occupied by three women with supposedly occult powers, the existence (or not) of which propels Easterbrook to the conclusion. There is a lot of discussion on the natural versus the supernatural, and the psychology of otherwise rational humans being tempted to believe the unbelievable when no sufficient answers are at hand. The story explores the popularity of spiritualism as set against an increasingly scientific world, and concludes with the clarity of a good Scooby Doo episode.

It all makes for a breezy case study, and reminds the reader that explanations out of reach may be only that: out of reach. For now.

Music corner: All I could think of while reading this book, and every time I’ve looked at it on the shelf afterward, is this lovely little ditty by Field Report.

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