October's Book of the Month - The Pale Horse

TuppenceTuppence City of London, United Kingdom

When an elderly priest is murdered, the killer searches the victim so roughly that his already ragged cassock is torn in the process. What was the killer looking for? And what had a dying woman confided to the priest on her death bed only hours earlier?

Mark Easterbrook and his sidekick Ginger Corrigan are determined to find out. Maybe the three women who run The Pale Horse public house, and who are rumoured to practice the ‘Dark Arts’, can provide some answers?

This month we delve into one of Agatha Christie’s darkest stories, The Pale Horse. The story, published in the UK in 1961, reflects a supernatural tone which is only really evident in a few of Christie’s novels. In The Pale Horse three “witches” claim to possess the power to curse people to death, but as the plot thickens it appears that all is not as it seems.

When Agatha Christie wrote this story she had in her mind a man that she had met almost fifty years earlier. The man in question was pharmacist Mr P who instructed Christie in the preparation and dispensing of drugs during the First World War. Leave your thoughts and questions about The Pale Horse here.


  • CrookedQuinCrookedQuin California, United States
    This is one of my favorite Agatha Christie solutions! It is clever, intelligent, impeccably clued and the way the crime was committed was near perfection, it was intriguing. This is definitely in my top twenty five of her stories. 
  • I remember on another forum every October, close to Halloween, I would host a book club and we would usually read Halloween Party but I never thought of reading The Pale horse which is a great read in October. Anyways, I noticed when Agatha Christie got older her books got darker and I don't know if one element had to do with the 60's atmosphere or not. One thing I can say about Christie, she wasn't afraid to move with the times regardless of the changes that ensued. One of the things about The Pale Horse I can remember is the opening scene, specifically with the opening line which reads, "The espresso machine behind my shoulder hissed like an angry snake." What a great way to compare the sound of an espresso machine! I can still remember the scene with the 2 young women going at it and each trying to pull on each other's hair, only to have one of their hair beginning to easily fall out. Very memorable scene and even after many, many years of reading the book it still stands out. Christie had a way of creating a scene and making it unforgettable. 
  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    Having worked at a coffee bar for ten summers, I can definitely say that espresso machines do sound like hissing snakes.  At least the hissing snakes I've seen in movies.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    Pale Horse Grew on me, It is a nice Crossover, I initially found 2 Chapters that deal with the Supernatural most the hardest but It is not a bad book, It isn't a Favourite, It isn't in my fop 20 and I wouldn't take it to a Desert Island but it is still on my Reading list
  • EtlevaEtleva Albania
    edited October 2016
    I've just finished the Pale Horse. It had a great start and a nice plot. The setting of the happenings was great.
  • What's so memorable about The Pale Horse is the reuse of characters that Agatha Christie brings from her other books. We have Ariadne Oliver (who appeared in a handful of Poirot books already), Colonel Despard and Rhoda Despard (Dawes) who are now married, and Rev. & Mrs. Dane Calthrop from The Moving Finger. I can't think of another non-series book from Christie that uses characters from other books. She must have had a lot of fun doing this. And Mrs. Lancaster who appears in the Tommy & Tuppence book By The Pricking Of My Thumbs is alluded to as well. 
  • Of her later works,I think this is an excellent book -creepy,but not too creepy -just deliciously creepy!
  • AnnikaAnnika United States of America
    The first time I read The Pale Horse I was a little thrown because it had much more of a supernatural element than I was used to in Christie. I have reread it multiple times and it has really grown on me. I usually end up rereading it in the fall.
  • I love this book, and I also really liked the 1997 movie. Jean Marsh as Thyrza Grey was incredible! While I didn't like all of the changes from the book, some of them were really good (e.g. the bigger part for Hermione).
  • About the 1997 film that Taliavishay-Arbel pointed out, one thing I liked about the film was the 1960's setting and you rarely see her books adapted into the 60's, usually they are set in the 30's so it was very refreshing.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    I do like the 1997 version but, POILER ALERT! I do wish we could have a Proper version with Ariadne, Rev and Dane Calthorpe and Rhoda and her Husband
  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    I agree with you, @Tommy_A_Jones, although it wouldn't have quite the same impact if we didn't see those characters appear in adaptations of Moving FingerCards on the Table, and some of Mrs. Oliver's adventures before Pale Horse was filmed.
  • Did anyone think that The Pale Horse (the book) would have been suited better if Christie wrote it in the 30's and 40's when she was very prolific and at her peak or at the time she wrote it during the 60's? 
  • CrookedQuinCrookedQuin California, United States
    @ChristieFanForLife If the Pale Horse was written at Agatha Christie's peak, it would have been much different. I believe the supernatural element would have been stripped away, and the clues in the story would be more abundant. The solution would have been just as ingenious, but I believe more suspects would be added, and the twist involving the murderer would be changed, possibly to match the profound ones of And Then There Were None and Murder On the Orient Express. I still love the novel for what it is, but like you I wonder what her lesser novels would'be been like if they were written at a different point in her career, and even for her better novels I contemplate the changes made if they were made in the 20s when she was beginning, the 40s when she was at her strongest, or in the 60s where her stories were volatile in tone. It is a subject matter that is very intriguing. 
  • edited October 2016
    @CrookedQuin, a lot of the later Christie's had a much darker tone, touching on subject matters and tones that relate to the times. If Christie was still alive today, I don't think she would have a problem touching on today's themes and subjects and I believe her stories would be just as dark as they were in the 60's and 70's but I don't think she would have a problem returning to the pure whodunit form. I read an article in which it said, "And that’s what Agatha Christie was. Fun. She was a superb entertainer. Many writers since have taken the conventions of the mystery genre and done more with them – Ross Macdonald immediately comes to mind – by working in social commentary and psychological insights." Many say that Ruth Rendell and P.D. James' books are psychological and get into the heart of the criminal mind but before they came onto the scene Agatha Christie did this as well. She was a hell of a lot more than one who wrote "whodunits". Agatha Christie covered a variety of subgenres within the mystery genre: whodunits, thrillers, and psychological. She was able to describe human nature so thoroughly in her books and was able to get into the criminal mind and dig out the darkness that resides. She wrote about criminals who killed not based on planning and scheming but those who took the opportunity to kill out of fear such as 

    for one, Letitia Blacklock who killed her friend Dora Bunner, Amy Murgatroyd and attempted to kill Mitzi. 

    Agatha Christie wrote stories in her prime that involved the supernatural but the tone of it was different and not as dark as it was in The Pale Horse so it's possible that if this story was written at an earlier point in time the supernatural aspect would have been lighter, perhaps? 
  • TuppenceTuppence City of London, United Kingdom

    Do you like Mrs. Oliver being in a book without Poirot?

  • CrookedQuinCrookedQuin California, United States
    You mentioned the novels based on supernatural events earlier in her carrier. 

    I suppose I forgot about the Sittaford Mystery's supernatural element. I really like that novel, as well, and there are a plethora of suspects, from what I gather of reading it. I suppose it is different from the Pale Horse as the wonder and the mysticism of the supernatural in the former novel is not apparent in the Pale Horse, as Christie seems to view it in this novel negatively instead of fun you could have at a dinner party. Some of the characters in the Pale Horse believe it is fun and games, but eventually those characters are the most at danger later in the novel. And in the real world in that time, the 1960s, People didn't palm read as much, but it was popular in the 20s and 30s. By the 60s, people were more invested in horoscopes I believe.

    If the Pale Horse was written earlier in her career, even if it was her plan to make the Pale Horse itself (spoiler) with evil intentions (end spoiler), they may more have been seen as games, perhaps, and everyone underestimated them and thought it was unreal and played with fate, unlike how in the actual novel characters are taking it seriously. 

    I still ill love the novel the way it is though!
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    GKCfan, I know it might sound petty but when referring to me can you not put @ first, I think it looks pretentious, I am sure David Suchet doesn't wantt say (For instance) David Suchet is very well and I think it is just like that, I have never put @ before my username so I don't wish others to Thank you, if others want to be addressed like that Fine, but I don't., Thank you, No offence meant.
  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    edited October 2016
    Thanks for explaining your feelings, Tommy_A_Jones, I appreciate your candor.  I also meant no offense.  The only reason why I put @ before user names (and ask people to put a @ before using my name if they want a response) is not out of pretentiousness, but because it's a tag.  When you put the "@ sign immediately before a name, it's a signal to send a  message to your alerts (the icon at the top of the page).  When someone uses the @ before GKCfan," it immediately sends a note to my inbox telling me that someone has sent me a message.  When I have to sort through twenty or thirty new threads, I sometimes miss a question that somebody asks me, which is why I ask to be alerted with a "@" so I can go directly to the question being asked of me and respond as soon as possible.

    I'll make a point of remembering to avoid the "@" with you or anybody else who asks me not to use it.  Thanks again for writing– I want to make sure that everybody is treated respectfully on these boards.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

    I know no offence was meant and I appreciate the fact you apologise although I can't honestly say I understand your reason, I would myself respond to anyone who wrote something if I felt I could bring something to the party as it were and wouldn't need them to put @ before my post, Would you like me to put @ before all posts where I put your name? I will either try remember to or try not to address my posts to you.

  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    Tommy_A_Jones, you only need to put a "@" before my name if you want to make sure I answer a question fast, or if you want to draw my attention to something.  I will most likely see something anyway, but the tag makes sure I don't miss it.  Thanks!
  • I  think it is a good novel - very underrated.  My one criticism would be "the world" so to speak is too large. I wish the characters had been closer, if that makes sense.  More tight knit and not so geographically distant.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    Thank you for the Clarification, Are you The Moderator?
  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    I'm one of the moderators– Tuppence is another one.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    Just wondered.
  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    Thanks for asking– please let me know if there's anything we can do to make the forum a more interesting and enjoyable experience!
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    Thanks, I will
  • youngmrquinyoungmrquin Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Well, I'm a bit late to this discussion and I've been away from this site for a long time. Pale Horse is one of my favourites AC books, being definitely in my top 5. This is the only book I find she combines a thriller, a whodunnit and the feeling of the supernatural. As everyone else has mentioned, the fact that different characters from other books get together o are mentioned (that old lady with the milk...) makes me feel AC universe in a more coherent and cohesive way. I also like the main two characters, who remind me of those from Why didn't they ask Evans? or Tommy and Tuppence, but more serious and appropiate to the darker tone of this story.
  • Well, I'm a bit late to this discussion and I've been away from this site for a long time. Pale Horse is one of my favourites AC books, being definitely in my top 5. This is the only book I find she combines a thriller, a whodunnit and the feeling of the supernatural. As everyone else has mentioned, the fact that different characters from other books get together o are mentioned (that old lady with the milk...) makes me feel AC universe in a more coherent and cohesive way. I also like the main two characters, who remind me of those from Why didn't they ask Evans? or Tommy and Tuppence, but more serious and appropiate to the darker tone of this story.
    I hate how people find Agatha Christie merely a "cozy" writer which sometimes gives off the impression that Christie's books are soft, fuzzy, and cute like what you see in many modern mysteries today that is under the cozy label, and rightfully so too. But The Pale Horse and even Endless Night, two books in the latter half of her career are not cozy. What's so cozy about two girls in a fight and one girl pulling the other's hair from her scalp? That's right out of The Pale Horse. Christie didn't need to make her books graphic and have them soaked with blood in order to have a dark tone. She could be just as dark and create a psychological story just as many modern mystery writers today, including the late Ruth Rendell with her psychological mysteries under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. If Christie lived longer throughout the 70s and into the 80s, perhaps she might have written more books in the vein of The Pale Horse and Endless Night. I also love how in The Pale Horse, she takes characters from other stories and has them make their own appearance, without Poirot or Miss Marple. This makes the characters feel more real and creates as you said a more coherent and cohesive world of her own. It makes her books even more exciting to read as we come across a character from another book and we guess which one that character appeared in. 
  • The plot of The light Horse locations it squarely in that sub-category of Christie novel, the conspiracy thriller. generally, these rank among my least preferred of her books, in large part due to their incredibly dubious dabblings into political intrigue. UK Best Essay Writer

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