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Literature / Evil Under the Sun

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A novel by Agatha Christie published in 1941, featuring Hercule Poirot.

A quiet holiday at a secluded hotel in Devon is all that Hercule Poirot wants, but amongst his fellow guests is a beautiful and vain woman who, seemingly oblivious to her own husband, revels in the attention of another woman's husband. When she is found strangled by powerful hands, were those hands male?

The story has been adapted twice for the screen, firstly as a 1982 film directed by Guy Hamilton and starring Peter Ustinov with an all star cast (that included James Mason, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg and Jane Birkin) and the music of Cole Porter, and secondly as a 2001 episode in the eighth series of Poirot starring David Suchet. It was also adapted into a 2007 PC video game.

The 1982 film adaptation has its own work page, while tropes for the 2001 ITV adaptation are listed on the page for the TV series.

The 1941 novel provides examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: Subverted. While Arlena is disruptive in the community and has personality issues, the worst of her actions are staged by the killer and his accomplice to create a narrative that Arlena was a homewrecker tempting the weak-willed Patrick away from poor helpless Christine, while in reality Patrick and Christine are working together to bait Arlena into their scheme to murder her. On her own, she's just annoying, and Poirot has already realized that her addiction to sex/romance/drama makes her vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation, not liable to perform it on others - she's not intelligent enough.
  • As the Good Book Says...: This title is taken from Ecclesiastes 6:1.
  • The Bluebeard: Patrick Redfern.
  • Busman's Holiday: Yet another one for Poirot.
  • Correlation/Causation Gag: Linda does some voodoo magic to kill her stepmother. Later the same day, the stepmother is murdered, and Linda believes it's her fault.
  • Clock Discrepancy: A watch worn by a witness is deliberately altered to give the murderer an alibi and allow him to stage a fake murder so that the victim appears to have been killed before she really was.
  • Detect Evil: The Reverend is certain Arlena is the focus of great evil. Poirot agrees with him, even if the good reverend is shown to be a trifle obesessed with the whore of Babylon, but Arlena isn't the cause of said evil, she's the victim of it.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Christine hates being seen as the weak wife of a philandering man, helpless to prevent her husband from falling into the clutches of a man-eating siren. She's anything but weak, and coldly helps her husband commit murder several times.
  • Driven to Suicide: The killer's accomplice tries to do this to Linda.
  • Exact Words: Christine Redfern says she was a teacher at a girl's school, which is true. But as Poirot points out, the idea of a fussy, weak Proper Lady is cultivated by that term. In fact she's a sports teacher, and therefore very physically active.
  • Fake Alibi: Two people in the boat see a body on a hidden beach. One of these people goes over to the body and says the body is dead, while the other goes for the authorities. Turns out the body was quite alive, and goes away just for the person who stayed with the body to do the actual murder.
  • Gambit Roulette: The murderer/s not only rely on synchronizing their movements according to a very precise schedule, but also arrange for the body to be "discovered" before the actual murder takes place, while the unsuspecting intended victim is hiding nearby. There are a number of ways that could have gone wrong... On the other hand Patrick and Christine have already pulled off a similar scheme once before without a hitch... at least until Poirot comes along
  • Happily Failed Suicide: Linda attempts to kill herself because she believes that she murdered Arlena, on account of having attempted voodoo on a wax figure of her on the very morning of the murder.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: Inversion. Christine and Patrick are happily married, but pretend for criminal purposes that their marriage is on the rocks.
  • Henpecked Husband: Odell Gardner's sole contribution to any conversation supplied by his wife is "yes, darling".
  • Hidden Depths: Odell Gardner barely says a word beyond "yes, dear" throughout the novel. The one time he does, he reveals himself to be a surprisingly perceptive and intelligent man.
  • Honorable Marriage Proposal: The "incurably chivalrous" Kenneth Marshall made two before the story began: firstly to Linda's future mother who had been falsely accused as a criminal; and after her death to the scandal-ridden Arlena. A variation of the trope in that the infamy suffered by both women was because of something other than loss of virginity. He also quickly fell out of love with Arlena, who was simply a Drama Queen rather than an intelligent woman like his first wife.
  • I Wished You Were Dead: Linda fits this trope very well; however, she not only wishes for Arlena's death, but goes as far as attempting Voodoo to kill her. At the end of the story, Poirot lampshades this trope, assuring her that her attempt at witchcraft had nothing to do with Arlena's demise.
  • Informed Flaw: Christine Redfern and Emily Brewster both claim to have a bad head for heights. Poirot tests them both with a group outing to a picnic, involving crossing a narrow plank bridge over running water. Only Emily has trouble getting over while Christine crosses easily, showing that she is lying.
  • Jerkass: Both Redferns turn out to be murdering, cold-hearted douchebags who will strangle people and encourage others to commit suicide to cover their tracks.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Poirot comments that he always reserves his explanations "for the last chapter."
  • Life of the Party: Mr. Blatt is an intolerably cheerful man always striving to be the life and soul of a party, and is always put out that people flee him at the first opportunity.
  • Motor Mouth: Mrs. Gardner.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Linda believes she has killed Arlena with the use of magic, leaving her vulnerable to Christine's manipulation.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: By murdering Arlena, the killer indirectly improves the situation for her widower Kenneth and his daughter Linda, freeing the former from a marriage that he has long regretted but refused to end.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Christine pretends to have vertigo so nobody will suspect she climbed down the ladder. Emily also claims to have it and is telling the truth. Poirot uses a picnic to test both of them.
  • Outlaw Couple: The Redferns.
  • Recycled Premise:
    • The plot of this story is often compared to Death on the Nile: a situation apparently involving an unscrupulous seductress tempting a susceptible man away from his significant other turns out to be the latter two working together to murder the seductress for her money. The 1982 film doubles down on this by taking Jane Birkin and Maggie Smith, two of the stars of the 1978 Death on the Nile film, and casting them in this story in different parts.
    • There's even more similarity with another Christie short story, "Triangle at Rhodes": the supposed seductress is actually too stupid to be anything more than a victim ("the type of woman whom men care for easily and of whom they easily tire"), the "poor little wife" character was manipulating the entire thing and plotting with her lover to set up the situation, then kill the seductress.
    • The story also uses a critical plot element from the Miss Marple short story "A Christmas Tragedy": The killer fakes an alibi by arranging for the "body" to be discovered before the murder has even been committed.
    • There's also a plot element from the Miss Marple story "The Bloodstained Pavement": a man marries an 'insignificant-type' of young woman without many friends or relatives, takes out a large life insurance policy on her, then murders her with his real wife as his accomplice, focusing on making the wife's death look like it took place at a different time, location, and method than it actually did; this is exactly what Patrick does to Alice Corrigan before the book opens, only the man in this story has done it so many times with the exact same method that the insurance companies catch on and inform the police This isn't a coincidence, either; when Christie thought up a particularly clever or outrageous idea or plot twist, she would often try it out in a short story to make sure it worked before committing a full-length novel to it.
  • Sore Loser: The killer concedes defeat by trying to strangle Poirot.
  • Summation Gathering: How else is Hercule Poirot going to reveal who did it?
  • Til Murder Do Us Part: The killer did this prior to the beginning of the story.
  • Title Drop: "But you forget, Miss Brewster, there is evil everywhere under the sun."
  • Voodoo Doll: Linda uses one on Arlena. When Arlena is killed, she blames herself and tries to commit suicide.