Title: Sad Cypress
Rating: 4 of 5 Magnifying Glasses
Warning: Contains Mild Spoilers in Summary of Book
“Elinor Katharine Carlisle. You stand charged upon this indictment with the murder of Mary Gerrard upon the 27th of July last. Are you guilty or not guilty?”
Sad Cypress is a mystery novel that was published in 1940 by the renowned British author, Agatha Christie. The story begins with the quote above, revealing that the main character, Elinor Carlisle, is in court and charged with murder. Elinor is proud, beautiful, and cunning…but she declares herself not guilty.
The first chapter leads back in time to the story that took place before the court case, before Mary Gerrard’s death. Introduced is Elinor and Roddy, a couple of sorts. They are cousins by a second marriage, but not by blood, and their beloved Aunt Laura is dying from a stroke. While Elinor is positively infatuated with Roddy, and has been since her childhood, Roddy views their engagement as a business matter. When their wealthy Aunt finally dies, she will no doubt have a will that releases her fortune to Roddy, Elinor, or to the both of them. They would be set up in wealth for years and could no doubt be very happy. The only problem with this mindset is that Elinor has to keep a facade in place. Roddy does not like women who are overemotional or show a lot of affection; instead, Elinor has to bury her true feelings and nature and wear the mask of a cold, indifferent woman.
Elinor has received a mysterious letter, claiming that Mary Gerrard, a village girl that their Aunt has taken to, is trying to suck up to their dying Aunt in hopes of getting some of her fortune. Both Elinor and Roddy wonder if it is true since their Aunt has already poured so much money into paying for Mary’s education as a lady instead of letting her remain a poor village girl. They decide to go to Hunterbury estate to check up on their dear Aunt and to keep an eye on Mary Gerrard.
At the estate, they cannot seem to find any evidence that Mary is sucking up to their Aunt. Instead, it’s apparent that Mary is a sweet, gentle girl that wouldn’t even think of doing such a thing. She is as taken with Laura as Aunt Laura is taken with her. In fact, Aunt Laura wants to make sure Mary gets some of her money so Mary can further her education as a nurse or a masseuse. However, upon catching sight of Mary, Roddy becomes extremely taken with her as well, causing Elinor to become jealous.
A little while passes, and Elinor and Roddy receive a telegram that says that their Aunt has had her second stroke. Now, she can barely be understood when she speaks. Roddy and Elinor go at once to see their Aunt, and Elinor is able to make out that she wants her lawyer to come at once so she can give Mary some money. It is too late in the evening to get the lawyer there, but Elinor promises her that she’ll have the lawyer come in the morning. Roddy and Elinor decide to stay the night at Hunterbury to help their Aunt with whatever she needs.
But the next morning comes a shock – their Aunt had suddenly passed away through the night.
Then comes the even bigger shock – Aunt Laura hadn’t had a chance to make a will. Since Elinor was blood family to Aunt Laura, she inherits her Aunt’s entire fortune. But Roddy has changed. He doesn’t want the money now that it’s Elinor’s; he imagines that the people in the village will only think he’s marrying her for the money. He also doesn’t like the thought of Elinor’s money providing for them. Yet Elinor knows that isn’t all there is to it. Roddy has fallen in a mad love with Mary, who doesn’t reciprocate the feelings, and he won’t be satisfied until he can have her. Elinor bestows upon him her ring, thus breaking off the engagement, so now he’ll be free to try to win Mary. Roddy is ever so grateful, but a dark jealousy is growing in Elinor’s heart. If Mary wasn’t around, then Roddy would want her back, wouldn’t he?
As the new manager of the estate, Elinor pays off the debts she owes to all of the servants at Hunterbury, as well as paying Nurse O’Brien and Nurse Hopkins for their service of watching over her Aunt. Due to her Aunt’s dying wish, Elinor gifts Mary with two thousand pounds, a rather generous gift despite the darkness in her heart. Mary is ecstatic to begin her work as a masseuse and thanks Elinor for her generosity and kindness profusely. During Laura’s illness, Mary had gotten rather close to Nurse Hopkins, and after Elinor promised Mary her part of the fortune, she goes to visit the middle aged lady to get some advice and share the news. Nurse Hopkins kindly suggests that Mary make a will just so her money is safe. Mary agrees and decides to leave the money to her late mother’s sister in New Zealand; she would never want to leave it to her callous, rude father. He’d hate for her to leave him money anyway. Nurse Hopkins assures her that that won’t be necessary, especially since her father’s health is already in question.
As time passes, Elinor decides to sell Hunterbury estate to a gentleman who wants to move in immediately. Mary’s father has just died and Mary has just learned a shocking truth about him, but Elinor requests that she come to help her clear out Laura’s things so the gentleman can move in. When Mary arrives at the village, she runs a few errands to get some food and drink for lunch, then carries it to the estate. It’s a rather hot summer day, so while she makes the sandwiches in the kitchen, Elinor leaves the window open. She then leaves the sandwiches on the counter and heads down to the village to invite Mary, who is visiting with Nurse Hopkins, to lunch before they begin their work. The two agree, and all three go back to the estate to eat. The sandwiches are soon eaten, and Nurse Hopkins makes tea for herself and Mary. Elinor has been imagining what it would be like to do away with Mary, but when she helps an ill looking Nurse Hopkins clean the dishes, she suddenly realizes that that is not what she would want at all. The jealousy leaves her heart, and the sweetness of Elinor is back in tact. She and Nurse Hopkins go upstairs to look through Aunt Laura’s things, but soon realize that Mary hadn’t come up with them or offered to help anywhere else. They go back downstairs to find Mary slouched in a chair next to the window, drugged and dying.
Dr. Peter Lord cannot save her. Elinor is charged with her murder.
In reaction to this horrible accusation, Peter Lord calls upon the greatest detective of all time, Hercule Poirot, to solve the case. A shocking scandal and secret hovering above the case, threating to taint the very characters of Mary and Aunt Laura; an unrequited love triangle that will never be solved because of Mary’s death; the evidence pointing toward Elinor, even though so many people believe she could never have done the unthinkable; and one of the workers in Aunt Laura’s house hiding their true identity… Everything rests on the shoulders of Hercule Poirot, who must solve the case to prove once and for all whether Elinor is innocent or, in fact, the culprit.
I grew up reading mysteries. I was into Nancy Drew and The Boxcar Children for awhile before graduating to my forever personal favorites – The Hardy Boys – and then later onto Trixie Belden. However, despite everyone telling me to, I never picked up an Agatha Christie mystery. In fact, I didn’t start reading Agatha Christie until this April (which I’m rather ashamed to admit). Since reading Appointment with Death this past April, I have absolutely fallen in love with Agatha Christie’s mystery stories. I thought I had grown out of the mystery genre because any other books I tried to pick up were subpar.
But you guys – Agatha Christie is in a league all her own.
The hair raising suspense and plot twists leave it almost impossible for you to guess the person who committed the crime. Every time you think you know the ‘whodunnit’, you’re proved wrong, and you’re left in a bit of a frenzy trying to go back and reread and figure out what you missed. (Plot Twist: you pretty much never figure out what you missed because there are so many extra details that she’s added to keep throwing you off.)
I wanted to add that the age group for Agatha Christie that I would recommend would probably be twelve and up, depending on how mature the twelve year old is. The only reason I suggest that is due to the mild cursing that goes on throughout her stories. I just thought it would be good to give you guys a heads up on that, since some readers are more sensitive to language than others. 🙂
My rating for Sad Cypress ends up being four out of five magnifying glasses. Even though I’ve only recently turned into a rabid fan of Agatha Christie, there was a problem for me that kept this page-turner from earning the fifth magnifying glass from me. That problem was the ending. Don’t worry – I’m not going to spoil anything! The problem with the ending wasn’t the “whodunnit” – instead, it was the way the culprit was revealed. In the prologue of Sad Cypress, the story opens with Elinor Carlisle’s trial. Then, you’re transported back in time to follow the events of the story up until the court case. The murderer is then revealed at the court case, but in a very strict, matter-of-fact manner. There’s not really an “Aha!” gasping moment just because the revealing is so formal and precise. For me, that took away from the surprise because it was just a fact stated in court.
How many of you have read Agatha Christie novels? Which one is your favorite? I’m looking for more recommendations!