Rating: 4.5 out of five
Year of Publication: 1933
Motive for Murder: Intention and Knowledge
‘If I don’t, Madame?’ said Hercule Poirot. Lady Edgware laughed. ‘I’ll have to call a taxi to go round and bump him off myself.’
A few days later Lord Edgware is found dead in his house. Two witnesses say his estranged wife came to see him on the night of the murder. At the same time fourteen people at Sir Montagu Corner’s party are quite sure that the same woman has been with them.
Prior to her husband’s demise Lady Egware enquires the sleuth to persuade the Lord to divorce her. She has tried many times through lawyers and letters but failed. When Poirot speaks about the issue to the husband, it surprises the detective that the other has had a change of mind. What makes him being murdered apart from it?
Lady Edgware’s alibi puzzles Inspector Japp. In the meantime, the motive for money is revealed. Coupled with strange occurences and opportunity the evidences point at the Lord’s nephew later. For he will benefit from his uncle’s death. Further discussions of the case bring about five questions, of which the answers are required before bringing somebody to justice. More importantly, one murder won’t be enough because it is a habit.
Christie was at her prime as an authoress, having presented her study of the mind of a murderer with clarity and sensitivity. Captain Hastings as a narrator is quintessentially English; stiff upper lip, occasionally funny and sometimes doubts himself.
As he follows Hercule Poirot and gives details of the other’s focused mind – I object “peculiar”- as well as his unusual behaviour, readers may feel the mutual respect and understanding both develop to one another nevertheless. Oftentimes it appears to be hard for Hastings to comprehend the other’s method. Yet Poirot seems to “soften” over the years. Compared to their first case (The Mysterious Affair At Styles) the Belgian is no longer a refugee but an esteemed member of British society and rich. Moreover, he sounds to take things easier and even can tolerate Japp’s bad jokes about his foreign thinking. Personally, the trio is wonderful as the authoress is able to make each of them a unique voice. As a matter of fact, they actually complement each other and work for a number of cases later. I have found that in this book Japp’s remarks to Poirot’s sudden leap of thoughts are quite amusing, especially as I imagine how the other responds.
Concerning the characters, readers might recall that Ronald Marsh, Lord Edgware’s nephew is similar to Emily Trefusis’s fiancée in The Sittaford Mystery. Both are young men, good looking but penniless. More importantly, they are in dire need of money. When they make a plea to their respective uncles to have lent them money those are are refused. Both men happen to make the request a few hours before the uncles are killed. They have a strong motive and opportunity.
As for the female one, there are echoes of Gerda Christow (The Hollow) in the major character. In her letter to Poirot she expressed the fact “everyone always say I haven’t got brains – but I think it needed real brains to think of that.” John Christow’s wife also says similar words to Poirot that she was not as stupid as everyone had thought. Further on, I recall the same thing to Miss Amy Carnaby (The Labours of Hercules) who appears twice in the novel.
In terms of the theme, the plot seems to resemble Murder Is Easy. There is an extreme hatred concealed, after which the revenge is planned and carried out in such a way that the evidence will pinpoint to the target. Nonetheless, the difference in Lord Edgware Dies is that one of the victims has anticipated the danger beforehand. Although in the end the murderer still attacks, perhaps it might have been comforting for some readers that the death was instant.
As regard to the locations, it delights me that Christie chose London entirely as the setting. The Savoy. Euston. Regent Palace Hotel . Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. Chiswick. Kensington. And Edgware: why – of all London towns?
I suppose the Underground station in Edgware has not exist yet and the town was still considered outside London as well (no Greater London yet!).
I wonder what impression Christie had about Edgware that made her decide to use it as the book title. Once I read a blog in which the write was not impressed with its High Street. He disliked the Tudor-mock The Railway Hotel and the town’s uncharacteristic shops. Well, if I may say, in Station Road the restaurants cater different taste buds; Afghan, Chinese, Persian, Jewish, Pakistani, Turkish and Thai to name a few. It may be at the edge of London bordering with Hertfordshire but it is multi cultural and lively.
Anyhow, I have this irritating habit of jumping towards the last chapter while reading. I did scan the lines to understand the murderer’s motives. My first reaction was a disappointment, for the methods and plans are revealed through a letter to the sleuth. Admittedly the letter is intriguing, just as what the authoress does in And Then There Were None. I just felt at that time that readers like me either would have had lost their interest to the rest of the novel or regretted reading the end. With this kind of mood I dragged myself towards the ending. In the second reading, however, I reflected the authoress’s rationale on the necessary of the letter and started to see the beauty in it. The letter is simply necessary as it speaks volumes of Christie’s way of giving a murderer the voice. In other way the chance to tell things in the murderer’s own words, bearing in mind that most things are told from Hastings’s point of views.
Lastly, can I say that in this book love is particularly a nasty business? It tears people apart, melts someone’s heart, drives people to the wall and triggers deaths.
On the whole, Lord Edgware Dies is a stupendous crime novel.
-A telephone call for Jane Wilkinson during the party at Chiswick
-A box containing a deadly dose of drugs found among Carlotta Adam’s possessions
-Ellis’s pince-nez (glasses) in Carlotta Adam’s Bag
-The missing page of Carlotta Adam’s letter to her sister in America
Cast of Characters:
Bryan Martin (an actor; Jane Wilkinson’s friend)
Carlotta Adams (an actress who impersonated Jane Wilkinson on stage)
Miss Caroll (Lord Edgware’s secretary)
Donald Ross (a young actor who was among the guests at Sir Montagu Corner’s party)
Dorothy Adams (Carlotta’s little sister, to whom she wrote the letter)
Dowager Duchess of Merton
Duke of Merton (the man Jane Wilkinson wanted to marry)
Lord Edgware (who died – George Alfred Vincent Marsh, fourth Baron Edgware)
Ellis (Jane Wilkinson’s Assistant)
Geraldine Marsh (Lord Edgware’s daughter)
Inspector Japp (of Scotland Yard, Poirot’s contact)
Jane Wilkinson (an actress, a.k.a. Lady Edgware)
Jenny Driver (Carlotta’s best friend, owned “Genevieve” hat shop)
Sir Montagu Corner (the host of the party at his Chiswick home)
Ronald Marsh (Lord Edgware’s nephew)
The Most Fascinating Character: Ellis
She was Jane Wilkinson’s assistant. To Hasting’s mind she was a Lady’s maid. Ellis was someone who shadowed the actress’s life as she ran errands for her employer. Most of the time her presence was overlooked. When Poirot interviewed her it was known that she had been with Lady Edgware before her marriage to Lord Edgware ; five years Ellis had worked for her to be precise.
What jumped off my mind straightaway was the name. For there was Ellis the missing butler in Three-Act Tragedy. Conversely, Ellis was a woman here and worked for a successful actress seeking divorce from her husband. Do you think it was a coincidence that Lord Edgware’s butler was also missing after his death?
It was fascinating how Christie had shaped Ellis. For she heard and listened to everything said and done. She was a bit like Laura Newman’s housekeeper in Sad Cypress. She was sensible but did not have the intelligence and courage like Amy Carnaby’s.
Furthermore, in the story Hastings acknowledged that he did not regard her much at first. He then paid more attention when Ellis managed to persuade Wilkinson to come to Sir Montagu Corner’s party on the grounds of its importance in maintaining a good relationship with the influential Jews (see Clues). More significantly, Hastings also noted Poirot’s remark to Lady Edgware afterwards. ‘You owe Ellis a debt of gratitude, Madame,’ he said seriously. He might have hinted the degree of influence Ellis had had on the other.
Loyal and efficient, she did not beat around the bush. I supposed Hastings tried to say that neither Poirot nor him realised how valuable Ellis was. She sided with the actress regarding her intention to marry the Duke of Merton.
Hastings’s observation of Ellis said a lot about a minor character that mattered. I must give Christie a credit for her understanding the English class society and its division. For a class tend not to appreciate the other while such was acceptable and the lower class had to comply. It was worth noticing that Hastings being Hastings sometimes did forget that he was Poirot’s eyes and ears; he did not grasp the idea that Ellis’s knowledge on a suspect was extremely crucial. Luckily Poirot made the discovery towards the end; in a hilarious scene Hastings witnessed the other stood in the middle of the road as “an idea” came through his mind. He was oblivious to the traffic and some bus drivers who were swearing at him.
Until the end I wondered about Ellis. She was not Mrs. O’Brien (Downtown Abbey Series) and she did not fit into Celia Austin’s personality (Hickory Dickory Dock). Curiously she sounded like a robot as she attended to the whims and wishes of the actress without further interest or questions. Yet, unlike Lady Hoggins, Amy Carnaby’s employer, Ellis was treated well. Ellis and Jane Wilkinson may have had mutual respect to each other.
Readers, what did you make out of Ellis?
[to Hercule Poirot and Hastings]
‘I believe she’d kill somebody quite cheerfully – and feel injured if they caught her and wanted to hang her for it. The trouble is that she would be caught. She hasn’t any brains. Her idea of a murder would be to drive up in a taxi, sail in under her own name and shoot.’
[answering to Poirot’s query ‘You think she would do – murder?’]
‘Upon my soul, I do. Perhaps one of these days, you’ll remember my words…I know her, you see. She’d kill as easy as she’d drink her morning tea. I mean it, M. Poirot.’
‘Why, Poirot, I think a voice and the general gait are about the most characteristic things about a person.’
Jane Wilkinson/Lady Edgware
[to Hercule Poirot]
‘Ellis went on at me. Said I couldn’t afford to turn it down. Old Sir Montagu pulls a lot of strings, you know, and he’s a crotchety creature – takes offence easily. Well, I didn’t care. Once I marry Merton I’m through with all this. She said there’s many a slip, etc. and after all I guess she’s right. Anyway, off I went.’
[to Hercule Poirot and Hastings]
‘Well, then, Carlotta was excited. She isn’t often excited. She’s not that kind. She wouldn’t tell me anything definite, said she’d promised not to, but she’d got something on. Something I gathered, in the nature of a gigantic hoax.’
[to Hastings in a tipsy state]
‘I ask you? I mean if you take a girl – well, I mean- butting in. Going around upsetting things. Not as though I’d ever said a word to her I shouldn’t have done. She’s not the son. You know- Puritan Fathers- the Mayflower- all that. Dash it- the girl’s straight. What I mean is – what was I saying?’
A girl on the street [overheard by Poirot and Hastings]:
‘Idiotic story, If they’d just had the sense ask Ellis right away. Which anyone worth sense would have done…’