Taken at the Flood is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in March 1948 under the title of There is a Tide... and in UK by the Collins Crime Club in the November of the same year under Christie's original title. The US edition retailed at $2.50 and the UK edition at eight shillings and sixpence (8/6). It features her famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, and is set in 1946.
After Gordon Cloade dies in a blitz without leaving a will his young wife Rosaleen inherits his entire fortune, infuriating his relatives, all of whom desperately need the money. So when a violent murder occurs, not many people are surprised. However, Rosaleen is not the victim...
Explanation of the novel's title
The title of the book in both the UK and US markets is a line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in a speech by Brutus in Act IV:
- "There is a tide in the affairs of men,
- Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune;
- Omitted, all the voyage of their life
- Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
- On such a full sea are we now afloat,
- And we must take the current when it serves,
- Or lose our ventures."
The quotation is given in full as the epigraph to the novel.
In a flashback from late Spring to early Spring, Lynn Marchmont, newly demobilised from the Women's Royal Naval Service, finds difficulty settling into the village life of Warmsley Vale. She is engaged to Rowley, one of several members of the Cloade family living nearby. Each of them grew dependent on money from Gordon Cloade, a bachelor who was expected to die and leave his fortune to them. Before his death he married Rosaleen, invalidating his previous will. As a result, Rosaleen inherited Gordon's fortune and the entire family now faces financial crises, augmented by the poor state of the economy in the aftermath of World War II. Rosaleen's fortune is jealously guarded by her brother, David Hunter, and although various family members manage to wheedle small sums out of Rosaleen, David refuses to help Frances Cloade, whose husband Jeremy is on the brink of ruin.
A man calling himself Enoch Arden arrives in the village, and attempts to blackmail David by saying he knows how to find Rosaleen's first husband, Robert. Their conversation in Arden's hotel room is overheard by the landlady, who immediately tells Rowley Cloade. Later, Arden's body is discovered in his room with his head smashed in. Rowley Cloade appeals to a detective, Hercule Poirot, to prove the dead man was Robert Underhay, and Poirot produces Major Porter, who knew Underhay in Africa. At the inquest, despite Rosaleen's protests that the dead man was not Robert, Porter confirms that Arden was indeed her first husband. The estate will revert to the Cloades.
Rosaleen has a strong alibi for the time of the murder since she was in the London flat that evening. David has only a weak alibi: down from London for the day, he met Lynn on his dash to catch the last train to London leaving at 9:20 pm, and evidently telephoned her from the London flat shortly after 11 pm. Since the murder is believed to have taken place shortly before 9 pm, he had enough opportunity and motive to be arrested.
David's alibi improves when it is discovered that a heavily made-up woman in an orange headscarf left Arden's room after 10 p.m. The investigation shifts back to the female Cloades, but Poirot discovers that the immediate cause of Arden's death may have been smashing his head against a heavy marble mantelpiece. The appearance of a murder may have been created after some form of accidental death.
Lynn, though engaged to Rowley, seems to love David. Rowley may be attracted to Rosaleen, who seems to be consumed with guilt and fear. Major Porter apparently commits suicide but leaves no note. It comes to light that Arden was actually Charles Trenton, second cousin to Frances Cloade. She came up with the plan to blackmail Rosaleen after hearing Major Porter's anecdote from Jeremy. Although this explains Arden's identity, it does not clarify who killed him or who bribed Porter to falsely identify the corpse.
Rosaleen dies in her sleep from an overdose. Superintendent Spence, the investigating officer, suggests that perhaps she was the murderer; the police have so focused on David's alibi that they subjected hers to little scrutiny.
Lynn tells Rowley that she wishes to marry David Hunter. Rowley is strangling Lynn when Poirot stops him. David arrives and Poirot explains everything. Rowley visited Arden, and seeing the physical resemblance to Frances, reacted angrily to the deception that was being played. Pushed by Rowley, Arden fell against the mantelpiece and died. Rowley saw the opportunity to incriminate David. He smashed in Arden's head with fire tongs and left David's lighter at the scene. It was Rowley who persuaded Porter to give the false identification, carefully employing Poirot, who would be sure to go to Porter on the basis of that first scene at the club, which Rowley also knew of from Jeremy. Porter's guilt got the better of him and he committed suicide, leaving a note that Rowley destroyed.
Discovering Arden's body, David ran for the 9:20 train but missed it; Lynn actually saw the smoke from the departing train on the evening, but he convinced her that it was earlier than it was and that he had time to meet her. He then backtracked to The Stag, disguised himself as a woman, and played out the scene that established the later time of death. Then he returned to the station and called Rosaleen, who placed a call to Lynn that was delivered by the operator but then cut off. Afterward, David spoke to Lynn from the station, giving the impression that a single call from London was interrupted. He returned to London on the milk train the next day.
Of the three deaths, one is accidental, one a genuine suicide. The only true murder was Rosaleen's. David had no apparent motive to kill his own sister, especially when it would mean depriving himself of the Cloade fortune. But the woman posing as Rosaleen was not his sister; his sister was killed during the bombing of Gordon Cloade's estate two years earlier. The woman posing as Rosaleen was one of Gordon's housemaids, who became David's lover and his accomplice in obtaining the Cloade fortune. Now he could kill this accomplice and marry Lynn, whom he really loved and who would gain a portion of the fortune through family connections. In the end, no one is tried other than David. Rowley is implicated in the deaths of Trenton ("Enoch Arden") and Porter, and he is guilty of misleading the police and assaulting Lynn. However, Poirot keeps silence about Rowley's crimes, allowing Rowley to marry Lynn, who has loved him without realising it.
- Hercule Poirot, Belgian detective
- Superintendent Spence, investigating officer
- Sergeant Graves, Spence's assistant
- George, Poirot's valet
- Rosaleen Cloade, formerly Mrs. Robert Underhay, a wealthy young widow
- David Hunter, Rosaleen's brother
- Jeremy Cloade, a solicitor
- Frances Cloade, Jeremy's wife
- Lionel Cloade, a doctor
- Katherine Cloade, Lionel's wife
- Rowley Cloade, a farmer
- Lynn Marchmont, a demobbed Wren, fiancée to Rowley
- Adela Marchmont, Lynn's mother
- Beatrice Lippincott, pub landlady of The Stag
- Major Porter, the club bore
- “Enoch Arden”, a blackmailer
- Mrs Leadbetter, a resident of The Stag
- Mr Mellon, Poirot's friend at the club
- Madame Elvary, a medium
- Edna, the fifteen-year-old maid of Jeremy and Frances Cloade
Literary significance and reception
No review of this book appeared in the Times Literary Supplement.
For once, Maurice Richardson, in his review of the November 21, 1948 issue of The Observer was slightly unimpressed: "Agatha Christie has, if not a whole day off, at least part of the afternoon. The killing of the blackmailing Enoch Arden, who puts up at the local to harry the already embarrassed Cloade family, the murder that follows, and Poirot's doubly twisted solution are ingenious enough, but the characterisation is a little below par. The quintessential zest, the sense of well-being which goes to make up that Christie feeling, is missing."
An unnamed reviewer in the Toronto Daily Star of April 10, 1948 said, "Hercule Poirot, whose eggshaped cranium is crammed with lively gray cells, proves himself a bit of a mug before he sorts out all the details of [Enoch Arden's] death and other even more baffling mysteries. But he does it with all the acumen that has endeared him to Agatha Christie fans. Fantastic and topping."
Robert Barnard: "Elderly man married to a glamorous nitwit of dubious social background is a common plot-element in Christie. Here she is widowed (in an air-raid – this is one of the few Christies anchored to an actual time), and burdened by financially insatiable relatives, both of blood and in-law. But who exactly is dead, and who isn't? And who is what they seem, and who isn't? Compulsive reworking of Tennysonian and Christiean themes, and pretty high up in the range of classic titles."
Cultural refences and references to other works
- The epigraph of the novel, from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, is alluded to several times in the novel. Lynn Marchmont refers to her feelings of post-war restlessness as "floating", possibly as a reference to the verse "On such a full sea are we now afloat." Before the inquest, David Hunter thinks of the lines "And we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures." Lastly, the first two lines are pronounced by Poirot at the end of the novel. The Detective misquotes the poem slightly, saying "taken at its flood" and adding: "Yes, the tide sweeps in – but it also ebbs – and may carry you out to sea."
- A character going by the name of Enoch Arden appears in the novel as an allusion to the eponymous poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The name is first used as a metaphore by Robert Underhay, the first husband of Rosaleen Cloade.
- At the beginning of the novel, Lynn thinks about a line of R. L. Stevenson's Requiem, "Home is the sailor, home from the sea", as very fitting for her return from the overseas service as a Wren. When she meets David Hunter, he quotes the very same poem out loud, saying "Home is the sailor, home from the sea. That's you! And the Hunter home from the Hill."
- When Lynn ponders her engagement to Rowley, a line of poetry floates into her mind: "Life and the world and mine own self are changed". This is a quote from a poem called Mirage by Christina Rossetti.
- Katherine Cloade, a keen spiritist, has books by the famed Russian occultist Madame Blavatsky lying on a chair in the living room. She moves them so that Hercule Poirot may sit down.
References to other works
- The false alibi used by the murderer of a witness sighting the missed train smoke was a partial re-use of a plot device used by Christie in the 1925 short story "The Sign in the Sky", later published in the 1930 collection The Mysterious Mr. Quin.
- In Book II, Chapter Fourteen, Superintendent Spence suggests one of the victims could have been done in by an "anonymous A B C lunatic". This might be a nod to the alias of the killer in The A.B.C. Murders (1936).
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
- Rosaleen was made into a morphine addict.
- Kathy becomes Adela's sister, whereas in the novel, it is Lionel who is a Cloade. The credits mistakenly refer to Lionel as a Cloade - however, his surname is 'Woodward' (as revealed by Kathy when she visits Poirot at the beginning of the adaptation).
- In the film, the false Rosaleen is saved in time, and Poirot proves that David, knowing that she would attempt suicide out of feelings of guilt for her actions, has set it up so that she would use the morphine as a means to try to kill herself.
- The death of Gordon Cloade was not caused by a German air raid, but was thought to be due to a gas explosion. This was later shown by Poirot to be caused by a bomb planted by David Hunter.
- The film appears, like much of the TV series, to have been reset in the 1930s.
- In the end, after David is hanged, Lynn leaves England for Africa because she is still in love with David despite everything.
- She does not marry Rowley as implied in the novel.
- 1948, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), March 1948, Hardcover, 242 pp
- 1948, Collins Crime Club (London), November 1948, Hardcover, 192 pp
- 1949, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback
- 1955, Dell Books, Paperback, 224 pp
- 1961, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1965, Pan Books, Paperback, 204 pp
- 1971, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 386 pp ISBN 0-85456-084-X
- Czech: Čas přílivu (Time of the High Tide) / Na vrcholu vlny (At Top of the Wave)
- French: Le Flux et le reflux (The ebb and flow)
- German: Der Todeswirbel (Vortex of Death)
- Italian: Alla deriva (Adrift)
- Japanese: 満潮に乗って (Taken at the Flood)
- Swedish: Högt vatten (High water)
- Turkish: Şeytan Dönemeci (Devil's bend)