Rating: 4.5 out of five
Years of Publication: 1960
Motive for Murder: Wealth, Hatred, Obsession
‘Don’t Eat None of The Plum Pudding. One As Wishes You Well’
On the Christmas Eve, Hercule Poirot finds a note on his bed with the above words scribbled on it. He is a guest of the Laceys, of whom are neither friends nor acquaintance. For there is a mission: to reveal the identity of a Jewel thief and find the historic ruby of a nation. A heavenly Christmas Pudding of the family’s cook presented for the Christmas dinner and a parlourmaid, who ruined one of the puddings are all it takes to solve the ruby whereabouts.
Mrs. Margharita Clayton is introduced by Lady Chatterton, a friend of Poirot’s, for Clayton has been in ‘trouble.’ Her husband was found dead in a Spanish Chest at the home of the Claytons’ friend, Major Charles Rich. In the previous night the husband and wife were supposed to come to the Major’s party but Arnold Clayton declined in the last minute. Furthermore, Margharita had a motive to have wanted her husband die: she and Major Rich are in love. She intends to find the murderer nevertheless to clear up Major Rich’s name, driven by her firm belief that he could not have done it. As for Poirot, Mrs. Clayton is like Desdemona; attracting men and driving them mad at the same time. What is more, there is a third person he has not considered before as a suspect.
A Lady’s companion sees Poirot concerning the dead of her employer’s husband, Sir Reuben. She was sent in order to persuade him to take on the case. For Lady Astwell vaguely believes that her late husband was hit on the back of his head by his efficient secretary, Owen Trefusis. With no proof nor evidence backs up her idea, will Poirot proceed?
A phone call from Dr. Stillingfleet about the death of an eccentric millionaire refreshes Poirot’s mind to his having seen Benedict Farley a week beforehand. He told the sleuth about the recurring dream he’d had: that he would shoot himself at 3.28pm. Poirot’ asking to inspect the room at that time was refused. Before he left, Farley wanted the typed letter sent for the appointment to be returned. Poirot’s mistake in handing in the wrong letter is the beginning of his unmasking a near-perfect plot for murder. Had it not been for his laundress, Farley’s murder would have been easily perceived as a suicide: a dream fulfilled.
During a dinner in a Chelsea restaurant, Mr. Bonnington draws Poirot’s attention to a regular customer who is referred as the ‘Old Father Time.’ When a few weeks later Henry Gascoigne is reported died in his home, the cause of death sounds natural. Nobody benefits from his death, for his being a penniless pensioner and had no children. Not until the will of Arthur’s, his estranged twin brother’s emerge does it interest Poirot. Henry would have had inherited Arthur’s fortune, for hours prior to Henry’s death Arthur had died. Poirot’s meeting with the twins’ nephew, Dr. George Lorrimer, sheds further light upon the inheritance issue.
Lastly, a recluse woman is shot with an arrow at the back of her neck. Jane Marple’s nephew’s wife’s cousin is a witness; from the window she saw the other ask for help while felt hopeless, having been locked in her room. Meanwhile, on the other room, Mrs. Creswell, the housekeeper, was also being locked in. Miss Marple’s curiosity is aroused due to the appearance of a police constable whom helped the women get out of their respective rooms. And also because Marple remembers his nephew saying about the deceased’s remark about police.’ If you want to know the time, ask a policeman,’ she said. There is something nagging about ‘police’ that set out the female sleuth to solve the mystery.
Six plots, six bite-sized crimes for readers to enjoy. Christie is the cook.
A main course, the Adventure of the Christmas Pudding story, is put at the front to coincide with the festive mood. The good old traditional English Christmas; a home-made Christmas pudding by the Laceys’ cook that retains a custom of everyone in the house coming out to stir the pudding and make their wish. Everyone did, except Poirot, for it was done a day before he came.
Furthermore, two other stories, the Mystery of the Spanish Chest and Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds are related to food. The three others interestingly touch about subconscious mind. In The Dream, did a repeated nightmare seal someone’s fate? Can a woman’s instinct be trusted in The Under Dog?
More importantly, can a woman’s appearance be mistakened by another? As often the case in Christie’s books, the crimes are all intime – they were carried out by an insider.
In the Mystery of the Spanish Chest, “Othello” reappears (see also Notes On Cat Among The Pigeons); in the story Christie focuses on Desdemona. Othello’s wife is a fascinating character; she is devoted to her husband and perceives Cassio as a platonic friend. On the other hand, Cassio adores her and will pander to her wish. It is most interesting how Poirot tells Mrs. Clayton about herself by referring to Desdemona on the telephone,’….She (Desdemona) loved her husband with the romantic fervour of hero worship, she loved her friend Cassio, quite innocently, as a close companion…I think that because of her immunity to passion, she herself drove men mad….’ For he has achieved to tell Margharita what she was like without her feeling offended about it. At any rate she did not understand him in the least.
The Under Dog takes longer to solve. Unlike the others, it is not premeditated and the murderer is someone that is as normal as others. Yet anger might be a lethal weapon and obedience has its limit. Discussing matters, the crime undertaken is a chilling one. To begin with, Lily Margrave, Lady Astwell’s companion, is reluctant to describe the circumstances of Sir Reuben’s killing –knocked out by a green baize tuber. Next, she is somehow uneasy and Poirot comes to realise her clever ways in persuading him not to investigate the case. As Poirot eventually finds out the reason, Margrave has a motive and opportunity for murder. Nonetheless, does she have the criminal temperament?
Personally, the most fascinating thing in the book is a suspect’s name: Owen Trefusis. Readers, do you remember the mysterious Mr. Owen who bought Soldier Island (And Then There Were None, 1939)? Further on, Emily Trefusis, the driving force behind the unmasking of an unassuming killer? (see Notes on Why Didn’t They Ask Evans). If you recall about the details, you will find the solution faster.
As I finished reading, I could not decide which story I liked best. Each of them is unique and seems to jog readers’ mind towards previous cases seen from a different angle. The downside of this book is there is only a Miss Marple’s case.
When I start this ‘Christie In A Year’challenge I did not know Jane Marple very much. Her image mostly came from the ITV series of Marple’s. Nonetheless, the more I read about her, the more I understand her ways of the world. In Greenshaw’s Folly, she knows that Joan West’s niece, Louisa Oxley, has never met Miss Greenshaw. How? Just by looking at Miss Greenshaw’s rockery garden. For a gardener’s eyes understands better: that there is a difference between someone who does weeding and someone who cannot differentiate between alpine plants and weeds. Likewise, in Sleeping Murder he likens the murderer to binweed – a weed that overtakes a plant and extremely hard to rid of.
Christie’s succinct style and the red herrings she drops sometimes make a story more difficult to read. She has no problem in pacing the story but a post-reading feeling that a few words –important clues they are- are overlooked easily. Take the example of a simple object that holds a clue as to how the killing is done. In The Dream Poirot explained, ‘After all, if this object (a black stuffed cat) were found what would anyone think– that some child had wandered round here had dropped it.’ In an another book, published much earlier, a villain describes a suicide to appear like a murder. ‘My hand, protected with a handkerchief, will press the trigger. My hand will fall to my side, the revolver, pulled by the elastic, will recoil to the door, jarred by the door-handle it will detach itself from the elastic and fall. The elastic, released, will hang down innocently from the eyeglasses on which my body is lying. A handkerchief lying on the floor will cause no comment whatever.’ Can you see what I mean?
Well, I suppose the best thing is just to ‘enjoy’ the crimes as they are. It is worthwhile to read them after all.
-The ruby is found in the Christmas pudding for the New Year’s one
-Poirot receives a warning letter in his bedroom on the Christmas Eve
-Arnold Clayton hides himself in the Spanish Chest and creates a hole at one of the corners for air
-Arnold Clayton receives a telegram of high importance that he must leave for Scotland
-Lily Margrave comes out after midnight to see her brother, Humphrey Naylor
-Victor Astwell sits in his room with the door open and does not see Charles Levenson pass after ten minutes to midnight
-Old Father Time comes to dine in the restaurant on a Monday night, instead of his usual Tuesdays and Thursdays
-On a Monday night he orders food that is out of his habit (he dislikes blackberry tart and thick soup)
-Poirot finds a black stuffed cat below the window of Bernard Farley’s room
-Bernard Farley was short-sighted and hated cats
-Miss Greenshaw’s will does not state Mrs. Cresswell as the beneficiary but Alfred – the gardener
-Alfred Pollock leaves for lunch at 12.25
Cast of Characters:
- The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding:
Annie (the housemaid)
Bridget (Emmeline’s great niece)
Colin (the Laceys’s grandson)
David Welwyn (the Laceys’s old friend)
Desmond Lee-Wortley (Sarah’s boyfriend)
Diana Middleton (Emmeline’s cousin)
Emmeline Lacey (Sarah’s grandmother)
Horace Lacey (Emmeline’s husband)
Mr. Jesmond (a mediator for a future ruler of a country in the Far East)
Michael (Collin’s friend, who stays with the Laceys for Christmas)
Sarah Lacey (the Laceys’s granddaughter)
2. The Mystery of The Spanish Chest:
Arnold Clayton (the deceased, Margharita’s husband)
Major Charles Rich (the host of the party)
Lady Chatterton (Margharita’s and Poirot’s friend)
Jeremy Spence (Linda’s husband)
Jock McLaren (the Claytons’ oldfriend)
Linda Spence (Jeremy’s wife, Margharita’s friend)
Margharita Clayton (Arnold’s wife)
Inspector Miller (taking charge in the case)
William Burgess (Major Rich’s manservant)
3. The Under Dog:
Lady Astwell (Sir Reuben’s wife)
Dr. Cazalet (the hypnotist)
Charles Leverson (Sir Reuben’s nephew)
Miss Cole (the manageress at the Mitre)
George (Poirot’s manservant)
Gladys (the maid)
Miss Langdon (the manageress at the Golf Hotel)
Lily Margrave (Lady Astwell’s companion)
Detective-Inspector Miller (of Abbots Cross police)
Owen Trefusis (Sir Reuben’s secretary)
Parsons (the butler)
Sir Reuben Astwell (Lady Astwell’s husband)
Victor Astwell (Sir Reuben’s brother)
4. The Dream
Inspector Barnett (of local police)
Benedict Farley (the eccentric London millionaire who had the same dream)
Mr. Conworthy (Benedict’s secretary)
Joanna Farley (Bernard’s only daughter)
Dr. Stillingfleet (Poirot’s friend, who contacts the sleuth about his appointment with the deceased)
5. Four-And-Twenty Blackbirds
Dr. George Lorrimer (Anthony and Henry’s nephew)
Henry Bonnington (Poirot’s friend, who dines with him at the Chelsea restaurant)
Henry Gascoigne (a.k.a. Old Father Time, Anthony’s twin brother)
Dr. MacAndrew (Henry’s doctor)
6. Greenshaw’s Folly
Alfred Pollock (Miss Greenshaw’s gardener)
Mrs. Cresswell (Katherine Greenshaw’s housekeeper, Nat Fletcher’s mother)
Horace Bindler (an Art collector, Raymond West’s acquaintance)
Jane Marple (Raymond’s aunt)
Joan West (Raymond’s wife)
Katherine Greenshaw (Mrs. Cresswell’s and Louisa’s employer)
Louisa Axley (Joan’s niece, employed by Miss Greenshaw to edit her grandfather’s diaries)
Inspector Welch (of a local police)
The Most Fascinating Character: N/A
1. The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding
‘..But you see she (Sarah Lacey) has taken up with this Desmond Lee-Wortley and he really has a very unsavoury reputation. He lives more or less on well-to-do girls. They seem to go quite mad about him. He very nearly married the Hope girl, but her people got her made a ward in court or something. And of course that’s what Horace wants to do. He says he must do it for her protection. But I don’t think it’s really a good idea, M. Poirot. I mean, they’ll just run away together and got to Scotland or Ireland or the Argentine or somewhere and either get married or else live together without getting married. And although it may contempt of court and all that – well, it isn’t really an answer, is it, in the end?…..’
2. The Mystery of the Spanish Chest
Linda Spence (to Hercule Poirot):
‘Arnold was an extraordinary person. He was bottled up, if you know what I mean. I think he did know. But he was the kind of man who would never have let on. Anyone would think he was a dry stick with no feelings at all. But I’m sure he wasn’t like that underneath. The queer thing is that I should have been much less surprised if Arnold had stabbed Charles than the other way about. I’ve an idea Arnold was really an insanely jealous person.’
‘Jock? Old faithful? He’s a pet. Born to be the friend of the family. He and Arnold were really close friends. I think Arnold unbent to him than to anyone else. And of course he was Margharita’s tame cat. He’d been devoted to her for years.’
3. The Under Dog
Lady Astwell (under hypnotist):
‘…Lily keeps looking out of the window, I don’t know why. Now Reuben comes into the room; he is in one of his worst moods to-night, and bursts out with a perfect flood of abuse to poor Mr. Trefusis. Mr. Trefusis has his hand round the paper knife, the big one with the sharp blade like a knife. How hard he is grasping it; his knuckles are quite white. Look, he has dug it so hard in the table that the point snaps. He holds it just as you would hold a dagger you were going to stick into someone. There, they have gone out together now. Lily has got her green evening dress on….’
4. The Dream
Hercule Poirot (to Dr. Stillingfleet):
‘My laundress was very important. That miserable woman who ruins my collars, was, for the first time, in her life, useful to somebody. Surely you see-it is so obvious. Mr. Farley glanced at that communication –one glance would have told him that it was the wrong letter – and yet he knew nothing. Why? Because he could not see it properly!’
5. Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds
Dr. MacAndrew (to Hercule Poirot):
‘If it’s the nephew, Lorrimer, you suspect, I don’t mind telling you here and now that you are barking up the wrong tree. Lorrimer was playing bridge in Wimbledon from eight-thirty until midnight. That came out at the inquest.’
6. Greenshaw’s Folly
Conversations between Louisa Axley (LA) and Mrs. Cresswell(C):
C: ‘Come and let me out, Mrs. Oxley. I’m locked in.’
LA: ‘So am I.’
C: ‘Oh dear, isn’t it awful? I’ve telephoned the police. There’s an extension in this room, but what I can’t understand, Mrs. Oxley, is our being locked in. I never heard a key turn, did you?’
LA: ‘No, I didn’t hear anything at all. Oh dear, what shall we do? Perhaps Alfred might hear us.’
C: ‘Gone to his dinner as likely as not. What time is it?’
LA: ‘Twenty-five past twelve.’
C: ’He’s not supposed to go until half past, but he sneaks off earlier whenever he can.’
LA:’Do you think-do you think-‘