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The Pale Horse (Ariadne Oliver, #5)
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Group reads > July 2018 - The Pale Horse - SPOILER Thread

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Susan | 10527 comments Mod
This is the spoiler thread for our July group read, The Pale Horse, written by Agatha Christie and published in 1961.

Please feel free to post spoilers in this thread.


message 2: by Jill (last edited Jul 06, 2018 08:21AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2180 comments It did seem familiar to me so I probably had read it before, but I had forgotten most of it. I did find myself getting a bit annoyed with all the coincidences. I do realise that coincidences do happen, but there were really too many here to be plausible. Having said that I did enjoy the book and the ending was great.
The characters were well done , even the Macbeth style three witches. The vicar's wife shone and ofcourse Ginger was an excellent main one. Easterbrook seemed a bit unintelligent to me, and I wanted to shout at him at times. The Mafia style set-up of the "baddies" was well thought out, each not knowing who or what the others did.


Susan | 10527 comments Mod
Easterbrook seemed very Hastings like to me - probably that was aided by Hugh Fraser reading the audio version I listened to!


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9422 comments Mod
I enjoyed this one a lot, although I thought a couple of clues stood out a mile off early on - the hair falling out and the mention of consumer research! Even so, I completely failed to spot the killer.

I was interested to see Macbeth cropping up here, after we have had several mysteries involving Hamlet - I wonder if any other Shakespeare plays crop up in GA books?!


Susan | 10527 comments Mod
As we have said before, people were expected to be better read then. Modern authors would probably be wary of quoting.


Roman Clodia | 905 comments I enjoyed this far more as a re-reading than I remembered: and Christie does a brilliant job of pulling off that last minute sleight of hand... even re-reading it I was fooled!

I love the cameos of Mrs Oliver - surely a comical self-portrait of the mystery writer?

Does Mrs Dane Calthrop, the vicar's wife, appear in other books or stories? I felt sure that I've seen her again somewhere.

I agree with Judy that the hair seemed a very obvious clue. I also didn't understand why the name 'Corrigan' was on the list as surely no-one wanted either Ginger or the police doctor dead? Was that another coincidence? And how did Osborne know so quickly that the woman had confessed to the priest so that he needed to be killed?


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9422 comments Mod
Roman Clodia wrote: "Does Mrs Dane Calthrop, the vicar's wife, appear in other books or stories? I felt sure that I've seen her again somewhere ..."

I was puzzling over this too, RC - I did a bit of googling and discovered that she is also in the Miss Marple book The Moving Finger.

Good point about the name 'Corrigan' and the confession!

Was it just me, or is Osborne rather similar to Poirot in his characteristics? I thought Christie probably enjoyed making a similar fussy character, but then confounding our expectations!


Susan | 10527 comments Mod
Yes, I recall her from The Moving Finger. There is also mention of St Mary Mead...


Roman Clodia | 905 comments I missed the mention of St Mary Mead but am reading The Blue Train at the moment and the 'heroine' of that has been working there as a companion to a grumpy old woman which is a lovely touch.

Love Judy's idea of Osborne being like Poirot! I hadn't seen that at the time...


message 10: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2180 comments I was misled by the similarity of Osborne to Poirot , and expected him to be the one to solve it all. I suppose he did really in a way.


message 11: by Mark Pghfan (new)

Mark Pghfan | 366 comments I also didn't think of Osborne as a Poirot-like fussy person. I should have been wary of him when he was so insistent on thinking Venables could walk after all. Positively sure of himself, and also of making this his one chance to help identify a murderer.


Roman Clodia | 905 comments Yes, with hindsight we can appreciate Osborne's ego and the way he insists on inserting himself into the case. I like, too, that Christie always gives us the opportunity to get to know her murderers: I find it frustrating when other authors pull out a left-field culprit who's little more than a name.


message 13: by Jill (last edited Jul 02, 2018 06:30AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2180 comments When Osborne told the inspector that his shop now seemed more about selling face creams and cosmetics, and then it was revealed that the Davis woman was asking questions about those things, I thought that must be the clue to how how the poisons were ingested. Therefore I thought that Osborne was included to give us a clue rather than him being anything significant.


message 14: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9422 comments Mod
Jill wrote: "I was misled by the similarity of Osborne to Poirot , and expected him to be the one to solve it all. I suppose he did really in a way."

That was exactly what I thought too, Jill - I was even slightly wondering why she hadn't made it a Poirot mystery! But still didn't twig ...


message 15: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9422 comments Mod
Mark Pghfan wrote: "I also didn't think of Osborne as a Poirot-like fussy person. I should have been wary of him when he was so insistent on thinking Venables could walk after all. Positively sure of himself, and also..."

Yes, this just had me racking my brains for how Venables might have carried out the trick - rather than stopping to wonder if it was a lie!


message 16: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2180 comments Yes, I couldn't help wondering if the doctor who certified Venables with the crippling illness was at fault or even one of the other characters.


Roman Clodia | 905 comments Yes, Osborne's story of how Venables could fake his polio convinced me, for sure!


message 18: by Frances (new)

Frances (francesab) | 415 comments I was also quite surprised by the ending, but I always am with Christie. Agreed that the hair falling out was an obvious clue.

I think the fact that Easterbrook and possibly the police actually believed that there could be some occult explanation was far-fetched-once they knew there was some killing on demand scheme working they should have been able to start looking for an explanation of how it was done, so it was ridiculous that Ginger actually allowed all those people into her flat at a time when she knew she was supposed to be killed!

Still, I completely fell for Venables as the mastermind-was it suggested at the end that he had been a thief of some sort as the source of his income but, as he played along to catch Osborne, they were going to overlook his crimes?


Susan | 10527 comments Mod
I thought Christie was quite clever - the book read like a Dennis Wheatley and then they pulls the curtains aside and says, oh you don't need supernatural, sinister evil, there is plenty in the real world...


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "I enjoyed this far more as a re-reading than I remembered: and Christie does a brilliant job of pulling off that last minute sleight of hand... even re-reading it I was fooled!

I love the cameos ..."

Mrs Dane appears in Marple- the Moving Finger.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Susan wrote: "Yes, I recall her from The Moving Finger. There is also mention of St Mary Mead..."

Yes- she is in that one. The person who decides to 'call in' Miss Marple.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Apparently Christie is among those cited for making the properties of Thalium as a poison better known.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/sc...

I read about a real life case of Thalium poisoning - lab related - in an issue of Reader's Digest many years ago - and I know it was from Christie that I remembered the symptoms. The people involved took a while to work it out apparently and I was wishing they'd read Christie. In fact wikipedia cites a few instances where it did help people recognise symptoms in real life.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pal...


message 23: by Mark Pghfan (new)

Mark Pghfan | 366 comments Lady Clementina: I remember that issue as well, about the thallium. And how Christie was worried that someone would have got the idea from her.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Mark Pghfan wrote: "Lady Clementina: I remember that issue as well, about the thallium. And how Christie was worried that someone would have got the idea from her."

So they did too, it seems but I was glad to read that there were cases where her book helped identify the problem (something that I read in a different context happened with the TV show House as well)


Sandy | 3016 comments Mod
I thought the book was extremely well plotted; I was convinced that Venables could walk and was just too good to be true (and it turned out he was ... just guilty of a different crime). The actual murderer was a complete surprise and it took me a day or so to come to grips with my misplaced faith.

Frances, I got the impression the police did not have proof to prosecute Venables.


Susan | 10527 comments Mod
I thought it was a great ending. Mind you, I did get a little suspicious when the pharmacist was caught creeping around Venables garden.


message 27: by Mark Pghfan (new)

Mark Pghfan | 366 comments Yes, Susan, that was a bit odd. If Osbourne had NOT been the guilty party, it would have looked even odder, wouldn't it?


Roman Clodia | 905 comments I accepted Osborne's lurking here as a mix of eccentricity, boredom with his retirement, and determination to prove his theory right - that's one of the things I love about Christie, her sleight of hand and ability to put all the clues in plain sight without giving it all away.


message 29: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2180 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "I accepted Osborne's lurking here as a mix of eccentricity, boredom with his retirement, and determination to prove his theory right - that's one of the things I love about Christie, her sleight of..."

Yes, I felt the same. He had already told the inspector he missed his shop. Like Poirot retiring from the police force and not finding that enough for him


Sandy | 24 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "I accepted Osborne's lurking here as a mix of eccentricity, boredom with his retirement, and determination to prove his theory right - that's one of the things I love about Christie, her sleight of..."
I also accepted Osborne's lurking. I enjoyed this book even though I had a hard time getting into it in the beginning. I loved the ending and admit that I was totally stumped until the reveal.


message 31: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9422 comments Mod
Although I enjoyed this book, I was slightly surprised by how widespread knowledge about the 'Pale Horse' seemed to be - Poppy even knew that someone had been pushed under a train, which you would think might mean she could be in danger herself.

I was also wondering just how many people they had killed, and why it hadn't already sparked a major police investigation...


Susan | 10527 comments Mod
It was well known, wasn't it? What did we think of the dodgy solicitor in Birmingham? Seemed a bit of a trek from London and the country, so I am not sure why Christie placed him there. Was it just to prove that, should you want someone bumped off, you had to make a bit of effort in terms of travelling around? I would have thought it would have made more sense to have things contained with less chance of gossip leaking.


message 33: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9422 comments Mod
Good point about the solicitor, Susan - I'd failed to spot this. The whole thing does seem to be rather too well-known!


message 34: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2180 comments I thought the fact the organisation was spread around the country, made it harder for the police to pick up on it. It seemed a good idea to me.


Roman Clodia | 905 comments Wasn't the person who was pushed under the train a customer who didn't pay up after the murder was done? I guess a criminal organisation would want it known that retribution would be enacted to keep other customers paying.

I thought the plan was well organised and that a trip to Birmingham would weed out the half-hearted and time-wasters.

It would be very difficult for the police to notice given that none of the deaths were suspicious, and that there was nothing to connect the victims to each other.

Poppy, I think, and perhaps others treat the Pale Horse like an urban myth - but if anyone investigates, all they find is three dotty women and a 'death ray'!


Susan | 10527 comments Mod
It was a great idea for a plot and a wink from Christie that, horror books aside, all you would 'really' find were, 'three dotty women,' etc. I liked her taking on supernatural books and then throwing back the curtain and saying, this is the reality - greed and murder, which are all too well-known.


message 37: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9422 comments Mod
I didn't find the novel's three witches very believable, but they certainly do fit the earlier description by one of the characters (Hermia?) about what the witches in Macbeth should be like.

Just realised, I also like the fact that Hermia has a Shakespearean name.


message 38: by Mark Pghfan (new)

Mark Pghfan | 366 comments I think Christie had a fascination with the three witches from MacBeth; I think her comments about them being just plain women, but sinister appears somewhere else, though I don't remember where.


Sandy | 3016 comments Mod
I pondered how well known 'Pale Horse' was and why the police didn't hear about it when 'everyone' else knew. But, how does one publicize such a service? Its customers have little in common so you can't just spread the word in a limited community. What was the business plan?!


Susan | 10527 comments Mod
I love the idea of a business plan - the shady lawyer probably could have drawn one up ;)


message 41: by Mark Pghfan (new)

Mark Pghfan | 366 comments Sandy: that's a good point, about publicizing. Poppy knew, and I wonder how that happened, when the police didn't?


message 42: by Jill (last edited Jul 09, 2018 01:24PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2180 comments Poppy obviously moved in a different circle to the others, hence them treating her like a complete airhead at their first meeting. But that doesn't explain why the police had no idea about the organisation. Maybe because the victims were also spread over the country, and there was no central place to hold the data base as there is now.


Susan | 10527 comments Mod
We do expect people to know things now and we forget life pre-internet. I have read a lot of true crime and, for example, you read about The Yorkshire Ripper case and think, how did the police miss this man? He was highlighted more than once? The reason they missed him was because they had boxes and boxed of index cards and no central person overseeing things. The Pale Horse could have been just another pub rumour - was it real? They were a little like a backstreet abortionist - some shadowy organisation that could, possibly, help you get rid of someone? If the police had investigated, the words seance and occult would have made them dismiss it.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1172 comments Susan wrote: "We do expect people to know things now and we forget life pre-internet. I have read a lot of true crime and, for example, you read about The Yorkshire Ripper case and think, how did the police miss..."

Newspapers? In this short detective story I read- set in 1930s to 1970s Calcutta, a paid murderer advertised his services in the paper--in code of sorts.


Susan | 10527 comments Mod
Yes, you could use the ads, couldn't you? That is often a device in GA novels, to leave messages. I think we saw it in the Wimsey novel, set in the advertising agency, if I am remembering correctly?


message 46: by Mark Pghfan (new)

Mark Pghfan | 366 comments The Wimsey book was Murder Must Advertise. Though criminals were using the newspaper as code, it wasn't for murder. (I hope that isn't a spoiler!)


Susan | 10527 comments Mod
Don't worry, if other readers are like me, then they will forget details...


Tracey | 254 comments I was taken in my Osbourne too.

Did I miss how the solictor and the three witches pass the information on to Osbourne (and the consumer researchers)? It would have been quite the undertaking to oversee such an organisation, plus put the thallium in place, and run a pharmacy shop... no wonder he retired!


Susan | 10527 comments Mod
Ha ha! Good point, Tracey. I think, because Christie had cleverly made me believe Venables was guilty, I never really thought of that.

Besides, I thought he was in the pharmacy at the time of the priest's death. It took nerve to slip off in the fog and then return, as though he had just been having a cigarette or something. What if the girl at the counter had needed him?


Tracey | 254 comments True. Though he does mention how a lot of his trade is non-medical, and that the counter girl can deal with it.


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