I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but I either blocked Crooked House from my mind – or I’d never read it.
A Christie I haven’t read? Scandalous! It’s hard to believe I could’ve forgotten this chiller. Crooked House was the Agatha Christie Book of the Month for November. There are no spoilers in this post, so if you haven’t read it, I vow to Keep the Secret.
Crooked House (1949) was one of Agatha’s personal favourites and I can see why. I always enjoy her standalone novels, like Endless Night – see review HERE. Free of Poirot and Marple, her work enters interesting shadows. I love both detectives, but it must have been refreshing for Agatha to write without them. She claimed Crooked House was pure pleasure to create. She mused over it for years and felt it one of her best. It is also pure pleasure to read.
The novel is set just after WW2 in 1947. Narrator Charles Hayward returns to England to marry his fiancée Sophia, whom he met in Egypt where she was working for the Foreign Office .
Sophia’s grandfather Aristides Leonides presides over The Three Gables (the Crooked House) where several generations of the family live. But he’s murdered when his insulin medication for diabetes is swapped with his eserine eye medicine. It’s a perfect set up for lots of simmering tensions and family secrets. Everyone, from Sophia herself to 12-year-old Josephine is a suspect, and everyone appears to have a motive. Classic Christie!
Here’s an extract from when Charles asks ‘The Old Man’ (his father) what murderers are like:
‘But some people, I suspect, remain morally immature. They continue to be aware that murder is wrong, but they do not feel it. I don’t think, in my experience, that any murderer has really felt remorse… And that, perhaps, is the mark of Cain. Murderers are set apart, they are ‘different’ – murder is wrong – but not for them – for them it is necessary – the victim has ‘asked for it,’ it was ‘the only way.’
Charles’s father is the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, so Charles is allowed to unofficially investigate under the eye of Chief Inspector Taverner.
I really enjoyed the characters in this novel. Their flaws are shown but there is depth to every person Christie has created. An example is Laurence Brown, the tutor looked down upon by the family for being a conscientious objector. He was, as he admits to Charles, afraid to go to war, afraid to have to pull the trigger on what might appear to be a Nazi but is actually just a decent German village boy swept up in the conflict. Laurence believes war is wrong but is despised for his beliefs. Now he is under suspicion of murder along with the rest of the household. Laurence tries hard to do the decent thing and is always failing. He rushes into a burning building to save a woman but became unconscious with the fumes, earning the scorn of the fire-department when they have to rescue him as well.
Christie doesn’t have a lot of time to let us get to know characters, but is skilled at giving us a full person in a few strokes. It is obvious that Christie, like Miss Marple is a keen observer and can pass a shrewd eye over people without judgement.
Also enjoyable is the goblin-like, horrible child Josephine. She enjoys playing detective, listening at doors and lives in ghoulish expectation for the ‘second murder to occur’. As we do – knowing it is coming. For as Josephine points out: ‘Someone who knows something is bumped off before they can tell what they know.’ And – ‘Sometimes it’s something that they don’t know that they know.’
This book is one of my own special favourites. I saved it up for years, thinking about it, working it out, saying to myself: “One day, when I’ve plenty of time, and want to really enjoy myself – I’ll begin it.
The tension really escalates at the end. I had a sense of dread of what was coming:
‘Because this is just what a nightmare is. Walking about among people you know, looking in their faces – and suddenly the faces change – and it’s not someone you know any longer – it’s a stranger – a cruel stranger.’ – Sophia, Crooked House.
The denouement (which I didn’t see coming but my husband did pick) was one that her publishers wanted her to change the ending. Thankfully, she refused and had enough clout that they conceded to her will.
Crooked House reminds me of some of Barbara Vine’s/Ruth Rendell’s work and is a wonderful forerunner for the twisty, psychological genre.
The title is taken from the nursery rhyme Crooked House, which is a trope that Agatha used in several of her novels. Yes, nearly everyone in the novel and that strange, rambling mansion is crooked in a psychological way. And it refers Aristides not permitting his family to grow independent and rise or fall on their own merits. By his over-control of their lives, the family members have grown crooked, under the crooked man, in his crooked, strangely proportioned mansion on the outskirts of London.
Have you read it? If so, please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. And if you know any fan of mysteries, or psychological thrillers, please share this post. I think Crooked House has become one of my new favourite Christie’s.
I discovered Pearl Goldman while researching online for a photo shoot for Currawong Manor, which you can read about HERE . Pearl, Norman Lindsay’s muse who inspired my character Ginger Lawson (one of Rupert Partridge’s Flowers – life models – in my mystery novel Currawong Manor) died in June 2016.
I felt saddened by Pearl’s death, although I am sure her vibrant spirit is dazzling wherever she has journeyed. She was a big energy! But I was always grateful that I had the chance to hear her speak at the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum . A lot of her sassiness went into Ginger. I was wowed by her glamour, even in her nineties, and her sense of humour. I could have listened to her talk for days. When asked the secret of her youth and dynamic energy, she put it down to surrounding herself with young people; age was all in the mind. It felt so special to be in the room with the last of Norman Lindsay’s life models. But Pearl’s life was extraordinary even without the Norman Lindsay years.
Pearl was born in Sydney in 1919 to Gertrude and Joseph Schweig, a dressmaker and tailor who owned a store in George Street. Of course Pearl was always the best-dressed child.
She was also always extroverted and loved attention. She went to Sydney Girls High School and Agnes Kent Modelling School, where she learnt to balance books on her head amongst other tips.
She was employed as a mannequin for the department stores Mark Foy’s and David Jones as a young woman, and modelled for Jantzen swimwear because of her good figure. She first came to Norman Lindsay’s notice in 1937, when Norman, suffering from depression and living in the Blue Mountains, rented a place in The Rocks (Sydney) to paint. He noticed the newly crowned Miss Bondi Surf Queen in a newspaper and thought painting Pearl might be the antidote to his blues. Pearl had been entered into the competition secretly by a girlfriend who thought Pearl ‘the ant’s pants’.
A youthful Miss Bondi put off Norman’s son request to meet his father for around eight months. She was too busy with theatre pursuits and modelling and knew little about Australian art. But finally, curious, Pearl took up the son’s invitation (Norman hated the telephone so had his son make his calls). She was greeted by Norman’s classic opening line when he opened the door: ‘I love your devilish eyebrows.’
Pearl posed for Norman from 1938-1945; her parents didn’t know about it. She found Norman to be a gentleman and nothing like his depiction in the 1994 movie Sirens. By the time she came to disrobe for him, he had earned her trust and she always enjoyed her sessions. Norman spoke to her about history, politics, art and culture and introduced her to a life she hadn’t imagined.
She was the muse for some of Norman’s more famous works: Amazons, Imperia, and Gifts to Venus. Norman described Pearl in letters as, ‘having a great head and sitting perfectly.’
Pearl’s friendship with Norman lasted until his death in 1968.
Pearl also had a career in the theatre and was a showgirl with the JC Williamson Group. Acting followed with parts in Australian television and movies such as Bellbird and Homicide, including a small part in On The Beach (1959), in which she was impressed by Ava Gardner’s style and beauty, and enjoyed hanging out with Fred Astaire and Gregory Peck. She also had a career as a newspaper columnist in Australia, and was painted for the Archibald Prize for Portraiture four times.
After the death of her first husband, Maurice Copolov, Pearl, like Ginger in my book, travelled to America. She married Sydney Goldman, Vice President of New York City Radio.
Her life was now dramatically different; she mixed with and befriended luminaries such as Sophia Loren and Helmut Newton. She described this part of her life: ‘I had a white Jaguar, I had furs, I had diamonds. You name it. I lived like a queen.’
In her later years, Pearl lived in a Gold Coast penthouse, enjoying yoga and talking to schools and the media about Norman Lindsay.
When I saw Pearl talk, she mentioned writing her memoirs, which I hope she managed to complete. For my research when writing Currawong Manor, I used this terrific little book, Memories Of Norman Lindsay & The Theatre by Pearl Goldman, which can be purchased through EBay as it is out of print.
Although small, it’s filled with personal anecdotes and photographs and is worth tracking down if you’re interested. Of course, I treasure my personal signed copy.
Pearl is survived by two sons, David, a professor of neuroscience, and Mark, a computer analyst.
Interviewed in 2007 by the Courier Mail, Pearl reflected on her amazing, outrageous life and said she sometimes looks at the ocean and thinks, ‘Did that really happen? It’s strange. It’s my life, but it’s like a dream.’
Vale Pearl Goldman. Australian Golden Girl. Travel well.
Please share this posts with kindred spirits who may find it of interest.
photos of Five year old Pearl, Pearl with Sophia Loren, Pearl as Imperia, Miss Bondi Surf Queen, Helmut Newton portrait, Sam Hood photo of cast of The Women, Wedding Portraits with Maurice and Sydney are all taken from Memories of Norman Lindsay and the Theatre.
Walking through the gate in the dry stone wall, I sensed the enchantment that had lured me and countless other artistic people over the years. Whenever I sight Norman Lindsay’s romantic-looking sandstone house and the first standing nude statue flanked by lavender, I feel as if I’m entering a bohemian, magical world.
Today, I wasn’t here to look at Norman’s artworks, or wander around the gardens as I did many times planning scenes for my gothic mystery, Currawong Manor. Instead I’d come with photographer Nicole Wells, her daughter Jennifer and my own daughter, Daisy, to shoot scenes inspired by Currawong Manor.
Nicole, a confirmed bibliophile, has been involved in a project photographing Australian authors dressed as their characters. When she first approached me two years ago, I instantly thought I’d like to portray feisty, flamboyant Ginger Lawson, one of the book’s ‘Flowers’ (life-models for artist Rupert Partridge). Her personality is vastly different to my more introverted character. Ginger has remained with me throughout the years. I often find myself asking in difficult situations – what would Ginger do?
Rupert – the tempestuous, notorious artist of Currawong Manor – is a synthesis of Albert Tucker, Norman Lindsay, Sydney Nolan and Arthur Boyd. My life models Ginger, Kitty and Wanda, were all inspired by Norman’s life models, especially Pearl Goldman and Rose Lindsay, his wife.
An added bonus with this shoot is that Nicole and I have daughters the same age and the right appearance to play Dolly and Shalimar from the book.
Although it took two years for Nicole and I to finally collaborate on our shared vision due to work, family and my own tree-change to the mountains, I always knew we would meet and make the ‘magic happen.’
Except – disaster first struck when my 1940s outfit, ordered from Etsy, became lost in the mail. It is apparently still heading back and forth between America and Austria (!). But the show had to go on, as Nicole had booked a family break in the mountains, so I improvised with what I could throw together.
After many dry months in the mountains, the longed-for storm-clouds arrived on the week of our meeting. A soft misty rain fell throughout the day of the shoot. The numerous statutes on the grounds watched over us as we re-created the eerie world of Currawong Manor. It felt as if the story’s pages had sprung to life.
It was a unique experience to bring a character from a world you have created into three-dimensional being, to be a small part of the fantastical world of Magic Puddings, Sirens, art and bohemia.
I watched ‘Dolly’ and ‘Shalimar’ running over the grounds, their white dresses glimpsed through the trees. The world felt tilted, as if from any moment along the bush tracks, a centaur, a fairy woman, or Norman himself would go rushing past us, hurrying to his studio.
When posing on the verandah of the house in Ginger mode, a volunteer came to watch. ‘My god, it’s like watching Rose Lindsay come to life,’ she said.
I can still smell the fragrant odours of the bush after the rain, and the velvet air of gentle sensuality and bohemian inspiration that ripples throughout the grounds. My legs ached for days with the high heels I wore, stumbling over the uneven ground of the bush where we shot the swimming pool. Some of you may recall the swimming pool from the movie Sirens. The misty rain added its own radiant light. The eucalyptus trees that laced the sky were the only witnesses to the story being re-enacted. I felt the whispers of my own characters in my ears as Ginger rose within me, with a pout, a snarl, determined to tell her story and strut her vibrant being.
Some days, from trees, leaves, and bark, we weave the magic. Some days, the sky and earth echo the timeless truth how stories matter. Art ignites, a character can change the destiny of the reader – or, the writer.
You can read more about the house and grounds of the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum HERE. Thank you to all the staff who were so helpful and friendly throughout the day.
You can see more of Nicole Well’s work HERE.