The mid 1930s were some of the best years of the so-called "Golden Age of Detective Fiction" in Britain. Most practitioners belonged to the Detection Club, they reviewed and promoted one another's books publically and privately they shared and re-worked one another's ideas. An example of this literary cross-fertilization may be seen when Freeman Wills Crofts' "The 12.30 From Croydon", 1934, and "Agatha Christie's "Death In the Clouds", 1935, are compared. Both books begin with a passenger plane flight across the English Channel. In the former novel, a passenger is found to be dead at the end of Chapter One when the plane touches down in Paris. In the latter, a passenger is found to be dead at the end of Chapter One when a plane touches down in London. Thereafter, and indeed in the titling of the two books, each writer develops the idea differently.
Agatha Christie devises a whodunit puzzle. Characters are displayed in terms of how they appear physically, in their dialogue, by reputation or hearsay. Clues and significant red herrings are tossed about so that the murderer might mislead everybody else, and the writer might mislead the reader. Just how misleading appearances might be, is cleverly contrived at one point in this book when a jury at an inquest into the passenger's death return a unanimous verdict of murder at the hands of another passenger, namely Hercule Poirot.
Agatha Christie, who lived to become the world's best-selling author, presents her puzzle in immensely readable but unsophisticated prose. The two dimensional characters are somehow easy to keep in mind as you strive to guess the murderer's identity and, of course, there is Hercule Poirot to unerringly point the finger. He can also voice a note of compassion with his oft repeated, "Ah, yes, life can be terribly cruel".
"Death In the Clouds" is recommended for reading during prolonged international flights or sleepless nights as an escape from stressful reality. Don't begin it, however, if you need a full night's sleep. It is possible you will want to keep reading through to the last page.