holy, frigging, moley! yes, that was my reaction, not long before typing this, when I got to around page 200. it is at that point that Inspector French dug up a clue that completely nuked everything that had gone before. at that moment--on that crucial page (around 200, I'm not going to look up the exact page)--with the new discovery, it's fair to say a cocksure Inspector French had his entire theory, a theory fully supported by every thing figured out up until then, thrown right in the crapper. but that's not the best part; that's not my personal "holy woolly moley!!' part...
y'see, someone recently said that lesser-known "Golden Age and thereabouts" Mysteries they were sampling were not turning out to be quite as good as, let's say, Agatha Christie, and anyone who has stayed in print forever. in other words, the cream did rise to the top. there's a reason Christie rules the roost...and if you read these "lesser" efforts, you can see why they faded away--although suddenly many of them are back in print. in the case of this particular book, I have watched as Inspector French has got onto a theory--and more, a suspect, the potential murderer--very early on. and the cleverness of the book has been mainly me watching the Inspector attach meanings to things that were presented earlier in the book--before, and right around, the killings--with me smacking my forehead and thinking "oh yes, that was actually a clue, pointing to a person's guilt--I totally missed that!". and that's been fun, but like a Columbo episode...the cleverness seems to be in knowing who the killer is, and in having the detective bring to light all the little things that prove who the killer is--the stuff we miss. it's cool, with Columbo, and also here. but HERE, we the reader do not actually know who the killer is--it's more like knowing who the killer must be...and everything unearthed proves it more and more.
so...without giving everything away, I have been slowly coming up with my own alternate theory that fits all these facts that make Inspector French pinpoint one person as the culprit, but suggest to me that if Inspector French is wrong, and I am right--and the book is even cleverer than it seems--then all those revealed clues can still work, still fit, and yet there is still room for an entirely other culprit. I'll just say that it has to do with this: we don't really know which three people actually burned up in that fire...do we!
unfortunately, at around page 200, the newest discovery shot down my theory at exactly the same time it was busy destroying Inspector French's entire case. whoah! oh my!! we are both starting over, French and me. and I suddenly LOVE this book. if you read it, make sure you get to, oh, about page 200. new ballgame!