Rating: four out of five
Year of Publication: 1966
Motive for Murder: Wealth
Plot: “I want a murder,” said Poirot to Ariadne Oliver. The Belgian was on edge. He knew a murder was to be carried out imminently but he could not make it out how.
At breakfast, a young woman came to his flat unannounced. She told him that she might have committed a murder. She then walked out, having given no details.
She was what Mrs. Oliver called the “third girl”; the one who responded to the advertisement in the papers for a flat share with two other women. ‘ …better than in P.G.s or a hostel,’ Mrs. Oliver said to Poirot. Furthermore, the girl did not come back to the flat the day after he met Poirot. Moreover, Mrs. Oliver found out by chance that a forty-something woman who lived one floor up the third girl had died a few weeks before the girl disappeared.
Meanwhile, it was the girl’s remark that had played in Poirot’s mind. She said: I’m awfully sorry and I really don’t want to be rude but you’re too old..’ It was a wake-up call for the semi-retired detective. He was determined to find the girl and solved the riddle of her saying having committed a murder. Had she really done it or was it simply her imagination?
The sixties for Christie centred around artists, recreational drugs and the unisex fashion. Her take on the disparate mindset between her generation and the younger was refreshing. Take the example how anxious Poirot had been about “beautiful young men” and the terrible sense of girls’ fashion. On the contrary, Mrs. Oliver, his partner in crime, was quick to embrace the change by trying some hairstyles for a different look.
The effects of recreational drugs were observed and presented readers with an idea on how to get away with crimes by drugs.
On the outset, it was unusual that a murder was not announced but a mere possibility. In a nutshell, Poirot did not have a case with his mysterious guest vanished while there were plausible scenarios and hunches only. Mr. Goby the informant also could not find anything untoward about the girl’s background.
Christie took readers on the journey to guess whether there was really a murder. Was the girl right? Or insane? Meanwhile, rumours had it that the girl might have known something about her stepmother’s gastric problems. For the girl did not like his father’s second wife.
Things looked “brightened up” when Mrs. Oliver was hit on the head and unconscious after she was following the girl’s boyfriend to a studio at Chelsea Embankment.
More importantly, Poirot somehow admitted that he was stuck, as nothing did not seem to fit in its place – yet. On the one hand, he was quite sure that Miss Restarick’s life was at stake. On the other, there were no evidences but his surmises and loose links. In his frustration, he thought: ‘Enfin, it is too much! There is far too much. Now we have espionage, And counter espionage. All I am seeking is one perfectly simple murder. I begin to suspect that that murder only occurred in a drug addict’s brain!’
Alas, Mrs. Oliver’s hairstyle gave him an idea. Nevertheless, when he realised who “Louise” the girl had referred to, another life then was claimed.
All ended well fortunately. The perpetrator was caught in the eleventh hour along with an accomplice. If readers cared to peruse once more The Mysterious Affair At Styles (1920), they would see the similarities in the motive and the mastermind. On the contrary, if it was a matter of wigs which might be of interest, Elephants Can Remember (1972) would provide more as the topic was amplified further. And Mrs. Oliver was more annoying, too!
Cast of Characters:
Andrew Restarick (Norma’s father)
Ariadne Oliver (a crime novelist)
Miss Battersby (Norma’s former headteacher at Meadowfield school)
Claudia Reece-Holland (the first girl – Norma’s flatmate)
David Baker (Norma’s boyfriend)
Mr. McFarlane (the manager of Borodene Mansions)
Frances Cary (Norma’s flatmate -the second girl)
Mr. Goby (Poirot’s informant)
Miss Jacobs (a woman who lived next to Norma)
Dr. Stillingfleet (a psychiatrist who treated Norma)
Mary Restarick (Norma’s stepmother)
Norma Restarick (the third girl)
Chief Inspector Neele (Poirot’s good friend at Scotland Yard)
Sir Roderick Horsefield (Andrew’s uncle by marriage)
Sonia (Sir Roderick’s assistant)
The Most Fascinating Character: Ariadne Oliver
Forthright, impatient, curious but inspiring. A well-known crime writer, she was not in the least interested in people’s applauds regarding her prolific writing. She was into a real murder instead because it was exciting and got the thrills from doing a real detective job.
Through her eyes geriatric topics and the hassles of being a public figure flew freely. Her gossiping skill was invaluable, of which it enabled her to extract information from people with various backgrounds.
More importantly, she was a woman of action. Thus she could not have sat comfortably in a square-backed armchair and let the “grey cells” do their wonder.
There was a scene in which she asked her servant Edith to post her manuscript to her publisher. But she fret about it; that her writing was not as not as good as the public might have believed it. A classic writer complex? Or did Christie project her personal feelings on the matter?
She reappeared later on in Elephants Can Remember – funnier, wittier and more spontaneous. She might have been quite a trying one sometimes but to Poirot she was indispensable.
Finally, in the story she retrieved crucial evidence from a van that provided Poirot with “the last link”. Although at the time she did not realise its importance and then remembered it in the nick of time.
‘It seems she (Mary Restarick) had some kind of mysterious illness – gastric in nature and the doctors were puzzled. They sent her into hospital and she got quite all right, but there didn’t seem any real cause to account for it. And she went home, and it all began to start again – and again the doctors were puzzled. And then people began to talk…’
‘I give up. You just won’t believe that Norma tried to kill her stepmother’.
‘She (Norma) is an emotional but normal girl. Mental instability! As I said before – rubbish! She’s probably run away with some young man to get married, and there’s nothing more normal than that’.
‘I think it might have been me he (David Baker) really came to see’.
‘No- I don’t think the knife had been washed or wiped in any way. It was stained and coloured with some thick sticky substance’.
Dr. John Stillingfleet:
On Norma: ‘A father complex as a child. I’d say I didn’t care much for her mother who sounds a grim woman by all accounts- the self-righteous martyr type. I’d say Father was a gay one, and couldn’t quite stay the grimness of married life – Know of anyone called Louise?…The name seemed to frighten her – She was the girl’s first hate, I should say. She took Father away at the time the child was five. Children don’t understand very much at that age, but they’re very quick to feel resentment of the person they feel was responsible. She didn’t see Father again until apparently a few months ago. I’d say she’d had sentimental dreams of being her father’s companion and the apple of his eye. She got disillusioned apparently. Father came back with a wife, a new young attractive wife….’
‘..Norma is a very difficult girl. Sometimes I think she’s not right in the head. She’s so peculiar. She really looks sometimes as though she isn’t all there. These extraordinary dislikes she takes…’
‘You don’t understand. You don’t understand in the least what hate is. I hated her (Mary Restarick) from the first moment I saw her’.
‘I used to love him (Andrew Restarick) once. I loved him dearly. He was-he was- I thought he was wonderful’.
-The loose number plate on the door at Norma’s and Louise Charpentier’s flats
-Poirot’s encounter with David Baker at the Restaricks’ house
-Frances Cary’s overnight bag
-Andrew Restarick’s portrait in his City office