Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Clocks and Constance Kent

Reading The Suspicions of Mr Whicher provoked a half-buried recollection that the Constance Kent case was once mentioned in an Agatha Christie. Kate Summerscale has a good deal to say about Victorian detective novelists who were influenced by the case, but she doesn’t mention Christie at all. Intrigued by my vague memory, I did a little research and found that the book I had in mind was The Clocks.

The Clocks was published in 1963, in the later stages of Christie’s career, and it’s not too highly regarded by most critics, but I have always had a soft spot for it. The initial premise is striking, and although the solution is a bit of a let-down, it’s an entertaining story, told for the most part by Colin Lamb, a likeable narrator who just might be the son of that one-time Christie hero Superintendent Battle.

In the latter stages of the story, Colin consults Hercule Poirot, who has been researching crime, both true and fictional. He has this to say: ‘Then there was that unfortunate adolescent, Constance Kent. The true motive that lay behind her strangling of the small brother whom she undoubtedly loved has always been a puzzle. But not to me.’ Typical egotism!

I suspect that Poirot’s (or Christie’s) interpretation of the Kent case was similar to Kate Summerscale’s. But it’s tempting to wonder if those famous little grey cells had some other, more intricate, motive in mind.


Vegetableduck said...

Martin, John Street (John Rhode) wrote a history of this affair in 1928, called The Case of Constance Kent. The Kent affair is one of the great true crime stories.

Anonymous said...

have you read norah loft's book 'out of the dark' based partly upon this crime?

Martin Edwards said...

Hi, Anonymous. That's intriguing. I must admit I had no idea Norah Lofts has written about it. Can you tell me more, please?

Anonymous said...

The book is Norah Loft's "Out of the Dark" ( original English title was Charlotte) It's almost certainly out of print now, though we die-hard fans of NL can always get her books at Alibris inter alia.
The focus is on Charlotte,who is the child's nursemaid who has an affair/is seduced by the man of the house. The child's death is portrayed as an accident, an attempt to stop him calling out when he sees his father with Charlotte. Charlotte must then deal with his body, which is eventually put into a compost heap, wrapped in her night dress. The rest of the book features he life after this event.

Ördög said...


Dame Agatha also mentions the Constance Kent case in "Crooked House". There the narrator, Charles Hayward, discusses with his father, Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, about murderers, how they feel and how they think. The father tells about Constance Kent, who, according to everybody, was very fond of her infant brother whom she killed.

Martin Edwards said...

Hello Ordog. Thanks for reminding me!