Rating: four out of five
Year of Publication: 1923
Motive for Murder: Wealth
On a train Hastings meets “Cinderella” and falls for her. She does not leave an odd shoe behind, yet he wonders whether fate would make him see her again.
An appeal for help comes for Hercule Poirot from across the continent. Having sensed the urgency, the sleuth heads for Merlinville-le-sur with Hastings right away. Nonetheless, they are too late; before they reach Calais, Paul Renauld was stabbed in the back in the grounds of his villa. Face down, his body was pushed into a bunkair; an irregular hole filled with sand at one side in an unfinished golf course. He is survived by his wife Eloise and a son, Jack.
Next to the Renaulds lives Madame Daubreil with her beautiful daughter, Marthe. Jack is madly in love with her, but M. Renauld flatly refused the prospect of their marriage. Two weeks before his death he had a row over Marthe.
Meanwhile, there is little to know about the Daubreils’ past life. On meeting her Poirot recalls her face nevertheless and remarks to Hastings: ‘I may be mistaken, but I rather fancy that it was a murder case!’ Was she connected with the murder?
When the second body is found in the same bunkair three days later, everyone is baffled because the man has apparently died before M. Renauld. Yet it does not concern Poirot, for he must depart to Paris to obtain a vital clue to the case: a photograph of Madame Beroldy.
, there are two ways to look into the plot: either Hastings madly in love or Poirot vs Giraud, the Surete detective with his “modern approach”.
In the first book, Hastings’ unrequited love to Lucy Cavendish becomes the ending. Christie did not forget and therefore it is only natural that for the opening chapter for the third novel of Christie’s she intends to settle the war hero’s love life – or rather that the narrator prefers to begin with his meeting an unusual young woman that calls herself a fairy tale name and tells him stories that he hardly believes. All the same he is riveted by her presence and later on in great surprise, having bumped into her in the crime scene at Paul Renauld’s residence. Besotted, he takes her on a tour round Villa Genevieve and is then deceived by a simple trick of hers. For the dagger is missing after she has left.
Giraud enters the scene and becomes Poirot’s first rival. The French’s continual sneering at the Belgian’s old-fashioned way is rebuked by the elderly sleuth. Personally it is not so much about the disputes which are intriguing but what lie underneath: a metaphor to the relationship between two neighbouring countries in the aftermath of the First World War. Christie captures the underlying issues brilliantly. More importantly, readers can realise the different facet of Poirot; his determination despite Giraud’s aggressiveness and his challenging the other through a five hundred francs bet. Talking about Poirot getting worked up by a snob!
Be that as it may, it is fascinating to realise that what holds the story together is the presence of a minor character Eloise Renauld (see The Most Fascinating Character). She is a woman of an unusual character, which resembles Lucy Cavendish. She is completely devoted to her husband and keeps his secret intact, concealing his true identity even to the police. Her husband’s dark past matters less although by doing it it actually makes her an accomplice to a murder. As she says to the police “….our life (Paul’s and hers) was lived entirely in the present and the future.’ Above all, she has to admit about her husband’s “affair” to Madame Daubreil. Certainly she id downhearted but she sticks to the plan. Why?
Concerning Madame Daubreil, her link to the crime is established once the police finds out about her blackmailing Paul Renauld. The motive is unclear nonetheless until Poirot associates her daughter’s recalling having witnessed a row between Renauld with a tramp. More significantly,no sooner has the Renaulds stayed in their villa than a Pandora box is let opened; that old sins have long shadows.
Bearing in mind that at the time of publication Christie was still married to Archibald Christie, I suppose her reference about Paul Renauld as a man with a temper and a keen golfer might have referred to the authoress’s first husband. Nevertheless, she dedicated the book for him; a kind of devotion, which is similar to Eloise Renauld’s. I wonder what her then husband’s thoughts about such personification, in addition to her feeling slightly frustrated by his temper.
Be that as it may, this book belongs in the category of ‘before 1926’ period; the time when a ‘confident Christie’ was contented with her marriage and the world in general. Her strong sentences to English’s xenophobic attitude shows her siding with them between the lines. She is frank about it and wanted it changed.
As for Hastings, there are more surprises await about him (and the happy ending, too).
On the whole, this is the book in which Christie as an author spread her wings with her observation about the minds of the people and reminds the readers of the importance of the past.
-Francoise Arrichet saw a young woman came to see Paul Renauld in the villa on the night of the murder
-The murder weapon, a little dagger, has three duplicates; one of them is kept by “Cinderella”’s sister
-Jack Renauld had a row with his father and mistakenly grabbed his father’s overcoat afterwards
– Paul Renauld wore too long an overcoat when he was found dead
– Madame Daubreil’s real name is Jeanne Beroldy
– Paul Renauld changed his will two weeks before his death in which he omits his son as the benficiary
– The break-in at the Renaulds’ is staged
– The travelling clock at the Renaulds’ bedroom is set two hours forward
-Cinderella and Bella Duveen are twins
Cast of Characters:
Bella Duveen (Cinderella’s sister)
Cinderella – Hastings’ ‘the apple of the eye’
Denise Oulard (a maid for the Renaulds, who works for the family with her sister Denise)
Dr. Durand (the doctor who examines Mr. Renauld’s body)
Eloise Renauld (the deceased’s wife)
Francoise Arrichet (the Renaulds’ housekeeper)
Gabriel Stonor (Paul Renauld’s secretary)
Monsieur Giraud (of Surete – French equal to Scotland Yard)
Monsieur Hautet (the examining Magistrate)
Jack Renauld (the son)
Leonie Oulard (Denise’s sister)
Commissary Lucien Bex (of French police)
Marthe Daubreil (Madame Daubreil’s daughter)
The Most Fascinating Character: Eloise Renauld
This unassuming woman plays a significant part to her husband’s plotting his death. Yes, the twist in the story is that Paul Renauld means to fake his death but the plan goes wrong.
To the police she tells a series of lies about the kidnapping of her husband; the timing and the two Spaniards who drags her husband away and then kills him in the golf course. In actual fact, it was Paul who bound her hands and legs until the cords cut into her skin and bled. For he hoped that the next day she would have been found in the room tied and gagged while her husband had been “taken away.”
The Renaulds thought their plan was perfect; a few days beforehand the driver was sent away for holiday and their only son Jack was ordered to go to Buenos Aires by a telegram. Unbeknown to them, Jack decided to come back to see Marthe the day before his father’s kidnapping.
Bella Duveen’s turning up to see Jack in the villa put the husband and wife’s plan in jeopardy. That is supported by Leonie Oulard’s statement having overheard her Master imploring the young woman to go in the earliest convenience.
What is most fascinating is Mrs. Renauld’s agreeing to help her husband disappear at any cost. She reminds me of another character, Olive Betterton (Destination Unknown, 1955). Likewise, she helps her husband Tom and reports his vanishing in Paris to the police in order to suppress their suspicion towards her.
Just as Betterton, there is not much background information about Eloise Renauld. She met Paul in France, went to live in South America with him for twenty years and eventually arrived back in Merlinville-le-sur and met the ghost of the past three weeks before Paul’s being killed.
In terms of a personae who is control of feelings and behaviour, she is on a par with Lucy Cavendish and Caroline Crale (Five Little Pigs). Leonie Oulard’s remark to Poirot sums it up: ‘Never have I heard madame utter a word of protest – of reproach, even! She had the temper and disposition of an angel – quite different to monsieur.’
Monsieur Bex to Hastings:
‘..It seems that three times in the last six weeks – that is to say since the arrival of Monsieur Reunald at Merlinville – Madame Daubreil has paid a large sum in notes into her banking account. Altogether the sum totals two hundred thousand francs!’
‘She has lived here for mIany years. Very quietly, very unobtrusively. She seems to have no friends or relations other than the acquaintances she has made in Merlinville. She neer refers to the past, nor to her husband. One does not even know if he is alive or dead. There is a mystery about her, you comprehend.’
Cinderella’s letter to Hastings:
‘I’ll begin from the day I met you in the boat train from Paris. I was uneasy then about Bella. She was just desperate about Jack Renauld, she’d have lain down on the ground for him to walk on, and to stop writing so often, she began getting in a state. She got it into her head that he was keen on another girl – and of course, as it turned out afterwards, she was quite right there. She’d made up her mind to go to their villa in Merlinville, and try and see Jack. She knew I was against it, and tried to give me the slip. I found she was not on the train to Calais, and determined I would not go on to England without her. I’d an uneasy feeling that something awful was going to happen if I couldn’t prevent it.’
‘I met the next train from Paris. She was on it, and set upon going out then and there to Merlinville. I argued with her for all I was worth, but it wasn’t any good. She was all strung up and set upon having her own way. Well, I washed my hands of it. I’d done all I could. It was getting late. I went to an hotel, and Bella started for Merlinville. I still couldn’t shake off my feeling of what the books call “impending disaster.”’