Towards zero

by Agatha Christie

Paperback, 2011

Status

Available

Publication

New York, NY : Harper, c2011.

Description

What is the connection among a failed suicide attempt, a wrongful accusation of theft against a schoolgirl, and the romantic life of a famous tennis player? To the casual observer, apparently nothing. But when a house party gathers at Gull's Point, the seaside home of an elderly widow, earlier events come to a dramatic head. As Superintendent Battle discovers, it is all part of a carefully laid plan--for murder.

User reviews

LibraryThing member smik
The last time Superintendent Battle made an appearance was in 1939 in MURDER IS EASY (aka EASY TO KILL).

TOWARDS ZERO opens with a Prologue which introduces the concept of characters converging towards Zero Hour.

The book is broken up into sections, a feature that the reader barely notices.
'OPEN THE DOOR AND HERE ARE THE PEOPLE' introduces the cast of characters: Angus MacWhirter in hospital after attempting to throw himself off a cliff and failing; an unknown person plotting a murder; Superintendent Battle called to his daughter's school because she has admitted to pilfering, Nevile Strange, his wife Kay and his ex-wife Audrey; Lady Tressilian and Mary Aldin at Gull's Point which all the Stranges will visit for two weeks in September; Thomas Royde returning home to Gull's Point from Malaya; Mr Treves (whom we met in the Prologue) looking for somewhere to spend his holidays; and Ted Latimer, a friend of the Kay Strange.

The novel progresses, bringing the characters together at Salt Creek, closer and closer to Zero Hour.
And then two murders take place and Superintendent Battle staying with his nephew Jim Leach is pulled into the investigation.

Superintendent Battle comes over as a pretty stodgy sort of policeman who does things by the book. In fact I think Agatha Christie fans may well have been disappointed that the author didn't choose one of her other sleuths for the role. (The Agatha Christie site reveals that it was adapted for TV in 2007 with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple.)
Battle's plodding methods and determination to get irrefutable evidence win the day and eventually the right person is apprehended.

For much of the book TOWARDS ZERO feels rather like a romance, with eternal triangles, jealousies, and thwarted desires. And then it gathers pace, with only twenty or so pages to go, and we hear a point made before, by Treves and then by Battle, who makes a statement worthy of Poirot himself:

When you read the account of a murder - or say, a fiction story based on murder, you usually begin with the murder itself. That's all wrong. The murder begins a long time beforehand. A murder is the culmination of a lot of different circumstances, all converging into it from different parts of the globe and unforeseen reasons..... The murder itself is the end of the story. It's Zero Hour.

And then Battle goes on to nail the murderer and prevent another murder. The plot of the book is quite a clever one, but there were a couple of things that hung: Angus MacWhirter's role for instance: it almost felt as if Christie wanted to include another element of romance. Mr Treves' story of a child who kills another with an bow and arrow is never fully explained which was frustrating. The murder that takes place at Gull's Point has a clumsy explanation depending on the difference in left and right hand swings and I had great difficulty in imagining the murder weapon.

This is the last novel in which Superintendent Battle makes an appearance. With Inspector Japp as a foil in many of the Poirot titles Superintendent Battle outlived his usefulness.
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LibraryThing member Figgles
More Aggie - one of her better ones with Supt. Battle. Good reading for relaxation...
LibraryThing member riverwillow
No Poirot or Miss Marple in this one, but a strong mystery especially as it shows the build up to a murder, with a couple of other murders on the way. Battle and his nephew solve the mystery neatly, with a reference to Poirot and his neatness which provides the final clue to who the murderer is
LibraryThing member michellnaki
nice one !!! the only flaw on this story is .. there are no poirot here , too bad , because the culprit are just genious , poirot and the culprit will make a great show
LibraryThing member rachellwin
One of my favorite Agatha Christie novels. Nevile Strange takes his new wife on vacation at his family home at the same time that his first wife, Audrey is also vacationing there. His elderly guardian, Lady Tressilian is murdered, and suspicion is immediately cast on the housemates.
LibraryThing member DirtPriest
I felt like reading this one as it was completely spoiled by 'Sherlock Holmes was Wrong' (Pierre Bayard). How could I turn down such an opportunity to study methods as I went along? Admittedly, it takes some of the fun out, but there was a different level of interest involved by knowing the solution in advance. This story has to rank right up there with the best of Christie that I have read, but it probably would not be very high in any poll of her fans. I could have done without the part at the very end with McWhirter (for anyone familiar,as I wouldn't dare spoil a mystery story by giving out details). Still, I really liked the clarity and depth of description without overdwelling on it. Maybe that has something to do with this particular book being dedicated to Robert Graves, who is a master of the English language.… (more)
LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn
This is a Miss Marple mystery, with the usual assemblage of characters who turn out to be connected in far more entangling webs that the reader realizes at first. I am always struck in reading Marple stories by what a heavy hand coincidence seems to play. Marple seldom seems shocked but that's all part of the fun.
LibraryThing member moonshineandrosefire
What is the connection between a failed suicide attempt, a wrongful accusation of theft against a schoolgirl and the romantic life of a famous tennis player? To the casual observer, perhaps nothing, but to Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, these are the only potential clues available to him when he's sent to investigate a murder that takes place during a house party being held at the seaside home of an elderly bedridden lady. I did really enjoy this book. It's actually the second Agatha Christie book that I've ever read and I give it an A!… (more)
LibraryThing member amelish
This one's about functions.
LibraryThing member Jiraiya
It's been some time since a murder mystery has imposed on my mind so heavily. Even when this mystery had all its clothes on, you could guess the promise it contained. I kept thinking, and the question and the curiosity, the suspense and the wonder, they kept occupying my mind. As the pages flew by, the time to say goodbye to Inspector Battle came too soon. At least Miss Marple starred in 13 of her books. Poor Battle was shunted aside in the public's stampede for Poirot.

I guessed wrongly regarding the culprit. I fell for one of the many false trails painted by Mrs Christie. I react strongly to the narration of life and how it's being wasted, in more ways than one, by this great author. The main characters here are Nevile, Audrey, Kay, Ted, and Mary. The most mysterious of them was Audrey, whose secret feeling was not anger, love, or sadness, but fear. I never thought that she was the culprit, and I could have guessed rightly who was, but then I got waylaid.

I was amused by the inimitable Mr Treves. When an author like Christie has a limited number of brushstrokes at her disposal for painting a character, then one like Treves often walks a fine line between brilliance and parody. I was very entertained by this situation, and Mr Treves played like a retarded and oblivious person who thinks he's being very observative. Finally after being slightly disappointed by the real solution, I was cheered by the downright creepy lovey dovey ending. Agatha Christie must generate a happy ending, no matter what. But then she probably knew her audience too well. Nevertheless this book has secured its perfect score, and time has come for me to escape, even if some people in the book don't want to!
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Murder is the last act in a process that begins months or years earlier. Towards Zero begins with the contemplation of a murder and proceeds toward zero hour. Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard is familiar enough with Hercule Poirot to begin to think like him as he unmasks a murderer.

Christie has used both the setting – a seaside home/country house with suspects limited to members of the household – and the plot before, although she adds a twist to make it a little different. Christie's policemen usually need the help of Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple to identify the killer. Inspector Battle isn't as eccentric as Poirot or as genteel as Miss Marple, but he does get the job done without outside assistance. I listened to the audio version read by Hugh Fraser (who plays Hastings on TV), and his Inspector Battle sounds a lot like Philip Jackson's Inspector Japp from the Poirot TV series.… (more)
LibraryThing member AmphipodGirl
A brilliant construction of criss-crossing motives and red herrings , very suspenseful. I think the only reason it's not more well-known is that it hasn't got any of her best-loved detectives -- not dapper Poirot, not clever Miss Marple, just stolid old Inspector Battle.
LibraryThing member JalenV
My favorite Agatha Christie sleuth is Miss Marple. I'm really not familiar with Superintendent Battle, but I checked out Towards Zero anyway.
In this case 'zero' is the moment of the murder. True to the discussion at the beginning of the book, we don't get the murders right away. We're given some background.

Our setting is a fancy house, Gull's Point. A wealthy invalid widow, Lady Tressilian lives there. Her companion is the nice and competent Mary Aldin. The two women are having to cope with a very uncomfortable set of guests: Nevile Strange, a tennis star who was once the ward of Lady Tressilian's beloved husband, his current wife, the beautiful Kay, and his ex-wife, Audrey. Kay is not a proper lady. Audrey is the classy type who makes Kay look cheap by comparison. The idea is to be modern and have both women become friends. Ha!

Kay is absolutely convinced that the idea was Audrey's, not Nevile's, and Audrey is trying to get him back. If that's the case, it seems to be working. Is Kay going to have to console herself with her old friend, the handsome Ted Latimer, who happens to be in town?

Two other visitors are Thomas Royde, Audrey's cousin, who has loved her for years, and an elderly lawyer of the solicitor variety, Mr. Treves.
Mr. Treves tells an intriguing story before returning to his hotel. (Frankly, I think he should have spent the night at Gull's Point.)

Will Tom get his chance with the lovely Audrey? Personally, I was rooting for him to turn to Mary.

The murder is brutal. There are plenty of clues, some pointing to one guest, some to another. What a pity for the killer that a local copper, Inspector James Leach, is Superintendent Battle's nephew, and has his uncle visiting.

Ms. Christie got in some digs at unqualified persons who think they understand and can apply psychology in a scene involving the headmistress of the school attended by Battle's youngest daughter. She did even better with why suicide isn't the answer in the person of Angus MacWhirter.

Angus was angry when his attempt to kill himself didn't work out. He'd lost his job and his wife had left him. He thought he had no reason to live. The doctor who cares for him after the rescue gives him some words of wisdom, but Angus isn't listening.

Angus has a job offer that will take him out of England. He decides to revisit the place where he tried to end himself. Of course it turns out to be where the killer is busy killing. I'm sure the killer wishes Angus' suicide attempt had succeeded.

By the way, one of the characters complained about it being a hot September -- it was 70 degrees [F] in the shade! Even granted England's greater humidity, this southern Arizonan would consider that a bit chilly.

I hadn't suspected the motive for the main murder, but it was chilling. Mr. Fraser's narration was fine. I recommend this book to lovers of classic mysteries and tricky plots.
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LibraryThing member BrokenTune
‘I like a good detective story,’ he said. ‘But, you know, they begin in the wrong place! They begin with the murder. But the murder is the end. The story begins long before that– years before sometimes– with all the causes and events that bring certain people to a certain place at a certain time on a certain day.

What makes a good detective story? Suspense? Atmosphere? An outrageous plot? Memorable characters? Twists?

As with many others of Christie's stories, Towards Zero relies on a set of characters, the type of which is already familiar to Christie's readers. The setting (a version of country house) and plot (errm....murder), is also in line with the expectation of the "typical" Christie novel. What I had not expected was for Christie to actually question the whole setup of her "typical" story by proclaiming that the story cannot stop with the detection of the murderer but that it needs to reveal the background in order for the story of the murder to be understood.

It's almost like Christie used this story to prove that the police investigation needs to include an understanding of the psychology of the characters involved in order to successfully solve the crime.
But did she need to do this? Surely, the fact that her Marple and Poirot act as the psychologists to aid the inspectors in her other books is proof enough that there is a partnership between the two?

Towards Zero does not feature Marple or Poirot but instead has Inspector Battle, who takes on the role of the "enlightened" policeman. We learn early on that he has little time for amateur psychology, and later we learn that he is also capable of trickery - although, Christie stays away from implying that there is a member of the police who would use trickery to get a murderer to confess. No, she added a different character to do this.

Which brings me to one of the few complaints I have about the story - the multitude of characters. There are so many of them that it is hard to keep track of. Some are mentioned, but then disappear in almost the next scene - with no relevance to the story.
Were they included to merely bulk out the pages?

I mean, I really enjoyed the main plot and characters, but I wish she had spent more time fleshing them out, rather than just throwing new characters in the mix. Maybe getting to learn more about the characters would have also helped the ending, which reminded me of the somewhat creepy relationship in Du Maurier's Rebecca:

‘You needn’t,’ said Audrey softly, ‘look so stern.’
He said gently as he came towards her: ‘Last time I had my hands on you, you felt like a bird– struggling to escape. You’ll never escape now…’
She said: ‘I shall never want to escape.’
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LibraryThing member Auntie-Nanuuq
I read this book again, because I didn't remember reading it..... But once I got into the story I remembered I had read it, or something very very similar to it.

The book begins w/ a group of barristers at their club relating stories and Mr. Trewes the senior member speaking about a child that had shot & killed another child w/ a bow and arrow....... It was supposedly an accident, but the one who had killed had been seen practicing w/ a bow & arrow quite some time prior.

Neville is married to Kay & divorced from Audrey.... Audrey always goes to visit Neville's family in September and this particular year Neville persuades his Aunt to allow him & Kay to visit at the same time as Audrey... hoping the women might become "friends".

Mr. Trewes is a long-time friend of the family and he is invited to dinner.... He then tells the story of the two children, alerting someone to the fact they have been recognized. Later that night upon returning to his hotel, he is forced to climb 3 flights of stairs to his room as the lift is out of order. Mr. Trewes succumbs to exhaustion & dies.

Days later, the Aunt is found bludgeoned to death, and at first all the evidence points to Neville... then later to Neville's first wife Audrey.....

A very good story, w/ a few slurs towards Italians (because of course, Christie loved to add her personal prejudices into her stories) and a bit of romance......

It certainly held my interest......
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LibraryThing member Auntie-Nanuuq


I like Superintendent Battle, he's very refreshing and not "contrived" as are other of Christie's protagonists, but that is not to say that the ending of this was not contrived nor believable....

This story weaves in & out of several people's lives.... but how they all come together doesn't mesh:

The story begins w/ a group of barristers discussing cases, and the eldest of them, Mr. Trewes, speaking w/ wisdom that all listen & pay attention to......

A year earlier, Angus MacWhirter, attempted to commit suicide off of the cliff where Lady Tressilian lives... He had told the truth when asked to testify against his former boss in a car accident case.... Thus his former boss had Angus fired and ruined his reputation.

The story then moves on to an end of summer visit at the home of Lady Camilla Tressilian. Much to Lady Tressilian's dismay; Nevill Strange (Camilla's deceased husband's heir) has obstinately invited himself & his current wife Kay to stay, knowing that Nevill's first wife Audrey and her friend Thomas will be staying as is their custom.

Kay's childhood friend, Ted is staying at a nearby hotel, but spends most of his time with Kay. Also staying at the hotel is the barrister Mr. Trewes (who tells a story at dinner about a seriously disturbed child who murdered a playmate.... This child Mr. Trewes announces, he will never forget) and Angus MacWhirter (who has gone back to visit the scene of his attempted suicide).....

The next morning Mr. Trewes is found dead of heart failure at his hotel. A few days later Lady Tressilian is found by a housemaid with her head bashed in, her personal maid is found in her bed comatose.... All the evidence points to Nevill who had a loud fight with Lady Tressilian the night before, regarding his desire to divorce Kay and remarry Audrey.... but of course when closely examined the evidence shows that Nevill has been framed......

Then somehow, Angus MacWhirter gets involved when he saves Audrey from throwing herself off the cliff, and he saves the day......

WTH? The ending was pretty weak and very convoluted..... which lost the story 1 star.
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LibraryThing member therebelprince
In which Superintendent Battle comes across a familial murder.

Superintendent Battle makes his final appearance in Christie’s canon in this nifty little novel, published toward the end of WWII. I’ve always liked Battle, who – like Japp before him – is a thoughtful investigator whose books fit him like a glove. His previous books – "The Secret of Chimneys", "The Seven Dials Mystery" and "Murder is Easy" – are all rather light affairs, but Battle is nonetheless an admirable part of the canon, and a good way of her writing a standard detective story that could still utilise a recurring character. "Towards Zero" is Battle’s best solo outing (although he’s lucky enough to join Poirot, Colonel Race and Ariadne Oliver in "Cards on the Table"), and it’s a splendid novel. Backstabbing households were always a strong point in Dame Agatha’s repertoire and the inter-relationships here are particularly well-drawn. Just genuinely a good book.… (more)
LibraryThing member therebelprince
In which Superintendent Battle comes across a familial murder.

Superintendent Battle makes his final appearance in Christie’s canon in this nifty little novel, published toward the end of WWII. I’ve always liked Battle, who – like Japp before him – is a thoughtful investigator whose books fit him like a glove. His previous books – "The Secret of Chimneys", "The Seven Dials Mystery" and "Murder is Easy" – are all rather light affairs, but Battle is nonetheless an admirable part of the canon, and a good way of her writing a standard detective story that could still utilise a recurring character. "Towards Zero" is Battle’s best solo outing (although he’s lucky enough to join Poirot, Colonel Race and Ariadne Oliver in "Cards on the Table"), and it’s a splendid novel. Backstabbing households were always a strong point in Dame Agatha’s repertoire and the inter-relationships here are particularly well-drawn. Just genuinely a good book.… (more)
LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
After my last read, I needed a relaxing and delightfully escape into one of my favorite genres and what better choice could I have than an Agatha Christie mystery. Towards Zero is a “manor mystery”, where the crime is committed while there is a gathering of suspects at a country house, in this case Gull House which is perched high above the ocean upon seaside cliffs.

When the owner of the mansion, an eccentric old lady in her eighties, is found murdered in her bed, there are any number of suspects to be found among the guests and the servants and although this book does not benefit from the “little grey cells” of Poirot, or the sharp observations Miss Marple, it does have Superintendent Battle to put the clues together and to unravel the twists and turns that the story takes. Battle is perhaps not one of Christie’s more colorful sleuths, but his solid steady ways are reassuring as he oversees the investigation.

I found this to be a very entertaining “vintage” mystery. Over the course of the book, I found myself suspecting one person or another and yet was still surprised at the final outcome. Although the ending seemed a little rushed and I didn’t totally embrace the romance angle, Towards Zero was exactly the read I needed at this time.
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