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Literature / The Hollow

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The Hollow is a 1946 mystery novel by Agatha Christie.

Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell host some guests at their mansion, The Hollow, for a weekend. Among their guests are Dr. John Christow, a friend of the family, and Christow's meek, submissive wife Gerda. Also coming for the weekend is Henrietta Savernake, a cousin to the Angkatells, and mistress to Dr. Christow.

Inviting a husband, wife, and husband's girlfriend on the same weekend might be uncomfortable, but everybody seems to have turned a blind eye to the situation. However, a complication arises in the person of Veronica Cray, yet another lover of John's. It seems that fifteen years ago, John Christow and Veronica Cray met in an exotic tropical location and had a passionate fling. Veronica, a famous Hollywood actress, still carries a torch for John and has rented a cottage next door to The Hollow so that she can see him again. John goes over to Veronica's place and they have sex, but the next morning he tells her that he won't leave his wife.

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Later that day John is shot and killed by the Angkatell swimming pool. The murder is investigated by the last guest to arrive at The Hollow that weekend—Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective.


Tropes:

  • Almost Dead Guy: Poirot comes strolling into the mansion no more than a minute or two after Christow gets shot. He bends over Christow by the pool, and John has time enough to gasp "Henrietta" before he expires. What Dr. Christow meant by this is one of the points of the mystery.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Dr. John Christow has dedicated his career to curing Ridgeway's Disease—which doesn't exist.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: There's an off-hand mention of a blind man who sells matches on the street near Henrietta's studio. That's how she got a random set of prints on the gun, by asking the blind man to hold it.
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  • Cloudcuckoolander: Lucy Angkatell is quite special. The cook remembers her putting a live lobster on the card tray, and she sees nothing wrong with Midge barging into her room at six in the morning to explain how she stopped Edward from committing suicide.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Gerda Christow, the "meek and submissive" wife who is often belittled by her arrogant husband, snaps when she sees him going off with still another woman. She concocts a plan, and shoots him to death.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: John Christow is out by the pool when he hears "a very faint businesslike click". He turns, and gets fatally shot.
  • Enter Stage Window: Veronica Cray makes a dramatic entrance into The Hollow through the French windows, supposedly to borrow matches, but really to find John.
  • Extreme Doormat: Gerda is described as "meek and submissive" by Dr. Christow's nurse, Beryl. She is also described as worshipping John, and in one scene John remembers asking Gerda to marry him with the explicit condition that he wanted her to let him have his way in all things.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Gerda serving as Henrietta's model for The Worshipper.
    • The News of the World is a tabloid telling exactly how many housewives kill themselves via gas oven.
  • For Science!: John Christow is trying to find a cure for Ridgeway's disease not because he wants to help the suffering but because he finds it an interesting medical problem. This exchange with Henrietta illustrates his attitude:
    John: If I’m right, a lot of our ideas will be revolutionized — we’ll have to reconsider the whole question of hormone secretion—
    Henrietta: You mean that there will be a cure for Ridgeway's Disease? That people won't die?
    John: That, incidentally.
  • Happily Failed Suicide: After Midge rejects Edward's marriage proposal, because she thinks he really loves Henrietta, he tries to kill himself via gas oven. Midge comes in to the kitchen and saved Edward, and they are united at last.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: John has finally gotten closure on the love affair he fled years before, and has an epiphany about how much of a jerk he's been to the women in his life. He resolves to atone for his past behavior—and is promptly shot to death.
  • Hollywood Midlife Crisis: John Christow is going through this. Bored with his practice, bored with the hypochondriac ladies who come to his office, bored by his mousy wife, frustrated by his mistress's refusal to focus all her attention on him. The appearance of an Old Flame nearly causes him to bail on his life completely.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall
    • Midge regards the scene with John Christow lying mortally wounded by the pool as "like the jacket of a detective story." In fact early paperback printings of The Hollow used just that scene on the cover.
    • David Angkatell, a bookworm with a rather superior attitude to everyone, describes their situation as having "all the cliches that one thought existed only in the pages of detective fiction."
  • Love Dodecahedron: There's John Christow, his wife Gerda, his mistress Henrietta, and his Old Flame Veronica. It so happens that Henrietta is also adored by her distant cousin Edward Angkatell, heir to the family estate. And Edward is in turn adored by Midge Hardcastle, Lucy's working-class cousin.
  • Murder by Inaction: Hercule Poirot himself skirts the edge of this. He is suspicious enough that he tells Henrietta not to drink the tea that Gerda just prepared for her. He then does nothing else, letting her put the tea back on the tray and letting Gerda drink it. Gerda dies of the poison she meant for Henrietta.
  • Never the Obvious Suspect: Played with. Gerda, John Christow's long-suffering wife, is suspected of having killed her serial adulterer husband. If that isn't enough, Gerda is seen standing over Christow's body with a gun! It turns out however that the gun Gerda was carrying wasn't the one that killed John, so she's apparently cleared. The ending reveals that Gerda did kill her husband after all. She intentionally carried two guns to kill her husband, shot him with one and threw the other in the bushes, so that when the gun she was found with was tested, she'd appear to be innocent.
  • Old Flame: Veronica Cray, with whom John Christow had a brief passionate fling with fifteen years prior, shows back up in his life, wanting to start things again.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Accidentally. Poirot thinks Henrietta's cup of tea may be poisoned, so he makes her put it down on the tray. Gerda returns, picks up the wrong cup of tea, drinks it, and dies.
  • Proof Dare: When Poirot all but accuses Henrietta of having killed John Christow, she spits at him "You will never prove it!"
  • A Spot Of Tea: A panicking Henrietta arrives at Gerda's house, and frantically asks the whereabouts of the holster, the only thing that can tie Gerda to the murder. Gerda responds by fixing them some tea. Subverted in that Gerda is trying to kill Henrietta by poisoning her tea.
  • Sexy Secretary: Christow deliberately avoided this, hiring "a plain secretary with no nonsense about her" instead.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The POV alters between all of the main characters, on a chapter-by-chapter basis.
  • Yandere: What Gerda actually is, foreshadowed by her posing for Henrietta's sculpture The Worshipper — described as terrifying in her mindless devotion. And when her devotion's object fell short of her expectations... she just snapped.
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