Notes On Murder in the Mews

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1937

Motive for Murder: Wealth and Hatred

The book consists of four crimes:

-Murder In The Mews

-The Incredible Theft

-Dead Man’s Mirror

-Triangle at Rhodes

Plots:

In Murder In The Mews, Hercule Poirot and Inspector Japp must unravel the intelligent mind of Jane Plenderleith. She is Barbara Allen’s housemate, of whom was found in her room with a bullet lodged in the head. There was neither a suicide letter found nor any finger prints on the gun. Moreover, the door and the windows in Allen’s room were locked.

Conduit Mews, London. A row of the small houses in Central London used to be stables for horses.

During the interview, Plenderleith shows remarkable calmness and self-control; her answers to Poirot and Inspector Japp are accurate and succinct.  She rejects the possibility of Allen having committed suicide and suggests that the windows could have been fastened from the outside; not from the inside as the Inspector had thought.

Her measured words, however, arouses Poirot’s curiousity. For she knows more than she has been willing to admit. More importantly, she is quite sure that Allen would not have used her own gun to kill herself.

In Dead Man’s Mirror, Sir Gervase Chevenix-Grove is dead before the sleuth arrives at the house. Poiror’s train was late.

When it dawns to the butler that he knows nothing about the presence of a private investigator and Sir Gervase has not come out yet from his study, something is amiss.

Having broken into the study, Sir Gervase was sitting with his head slumped opposite the writing table. The mirror in front of him is cracked. The room key is in his pocket and “sorry” is scribbled on a piece of paper.

Given his eccentricity his family is inclined to believe of him having taken his own life – so are the police.

Furthermore, nobody but the murderer knows about Sir Gervase’s invitation for the Belgian to spend a weekend in the house.  In spite of police’s verdict on suicide, Poirot remains unconvinced. For he believes that it is not in the nature of the deceased, a proud man with a huge wealth and apparently in a good mood, to have shot himself in the head. To Major Riddle, the chief constable, he says,’ Strange alteration of moods in Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore! He is preoccupied – he is seriously upset- he is normal – he is in high spirits! There is something very curious here! And then that phrase he used, ‘Too late.’

Later Poirot becomes fascinated to what he has found in the dustbin: a brown paper bag with an orange in it. More importantly, a witness’ statement of having heard a loud bang; of which she thought was the first gong for dinner.

Who has the strongest motive to kill Sir Gervase? A penniless nephew who will benefit from his will? An adopted daughter who has married someone against Sir Gervase’s wish? Was it his agent – who has secretly tied the knot with Ruth Chevenix-Gore? Or his old friend, who still loves his wife and is devoted to her?

In The Incredible Theft an extremely confidential document has gone missing after a dinner party at Lord Mayfield’s. The host has invited a number of people to stay over the weekend; a family of three the Carringtons and two women; one an old acquaintance and the other is a Member of Parliament.

Nonetheless, he is not keen at the idea of his old friend, Sir George Carrington, to involve Poirot in the “case of burglary” in the library. According to Lord Mayfield’s secretary, who last saw the document, he went out of the library having heard a scream of a woman’s. It occured around the time when the burglar came in, Interestingly, Lord Mayfield states that he saw a shadow from the terrace where he stood going towards the library.

Who screams and why? Meanwhile, Sir George’s son has learnt the existence of  bomber plan that is worth a fortune.  Also, an double agent among the guests. What does the agent want from Lord Mayfield?

In the last crime, Triangle At Rhodes, Poirot sees an impending murder during his holiday in Rhodes, Italy (before the Second World War). For among the guests in the hotel is a famous model –a trophy wife- who stays with her latest husband. Then there are the Golds; an extremely good looking Douglas and his wife Marjorie.

‘ I don’t believe it,’ says Pamela Lyall, one of the guests, when Poirot tells her about the killing plot. To this he remarks: ‘It’s in someone’s mind, mademoiselle. I will tell you that.’ Did Poirot imagine things: a husband’s utter jealousy; a man besotted by the flattering beauty of another woman and the simmering anger of a wife who sees little of her husband during their stay?

When Valentine Chantrys eventually dies from a heart poison, it is up to Poirot to make the murderer confess.

Rhodes Island, Greece. In 1920s it was part of Italy.

 

Highlights:

Two suicide cases are laid for the readers in Murder In The Mews and Dead Man’s Mirror. Are they indeed a suicide case or murders in disguise? Alternatively, a suicide disguised as a murder?

Christie has created an incredible character in Jane Plenderleith (see The Most Fascinating Character). As the predecessor of Miss Gilchrist (After The Funeral –see the Notes), Plenderleith has the similar aptness to a situation and is outwardly composed like Katherine Grey (The Mystery of The Blue Train).   Nonetheless, she is still a unique character owing to the authoress’s  paying attention to the minute details of each personae in her books.

To my mind Plenderleith is on a league with Amy Campbell; a Lady’s companion in the case of the kidnapping of Pekinese dogs (The Labours of Hercules – see the Notes). For Campbell understands what she is capable of; just as Plenderleith sounds to know what sort of games she is in. Both of them play it very well. Inspector Japp cannot make Plenderleith out, despite his having ealised that she has had “tricks” up her sleeve. In the end, Poirot has to confront Plenderleith regarding the two options she is obliged to decide : a man’s fate or her loyalty to the late Allen.

Dead Man’s Mirror unfortunately is a bit of disappointment. The plot, except for the names and the motive for murder, is very much the same as The Second Gong (published in 1932; one of the short stories compiled in Problem at Pollensa Bay, which was published post-humously in 1991).

Nonetheless, Christie tries to distinguish the very similar plot above by changing the opening. She begins Dead Man’s Mirror with Poirot contemplating whether to respond to Sir Gervase’s letter whilst Joan Asby’s rushing in The Second Gong reflects Susan Cartwell’s movement. Furthermore, the killing of Sir Gervase is done on an impulse as soon as the murderer hears Sir Gervase’s mentioning about Poirot and what might have been the consequences of the Belgian’s presence. What made me shudder was the realisation that it was a cold-blooded murder driven by hatred.

Triangle At Rhodes I suppose is the early version of Evil Under The Sun (1941), in which Arlene Marshall resembles Valentine Chantrys in appearance and attitude. Marjorie Gold in the short story represents Christine Redfern, of whom everyone is sorry. Pamela Lyall, a spinster who is interested in ‘human nature’ bears resemblances to Mrs. Gardener, the American tourist who is talkative.  Captain Kenneth Marshall, however, is as cool as a cucumber about his wife’s shameful behaviour. His conduct is a contrast to the short-tempered Commander Anthony Chantrys, Valentine’s husband. Which one is the murderer then: an indifferent husband or a jealous one?

The setting at Rhodes island, Greece is the most interesting aspect of the story after the method of killing by a heart poison. For the island used to belong to Italy following Treaty of Lausanne and after the Second World War has become part of Greek. I wonder whether Christie deliberately chose the biggest island among the Dodecanes island due to its history, which marks the end of the Ottoman Empire. Likewise, Santorini where Aristide Leonides originally comes from (Crooked House – see the Notes) has some interesting facts for readers to ponder over.

In hindsight, it is most intriguing that the English summer in the above-mentioned forties’ novel is sunny and mild throughout.  Did Christie have Rhodes in mind when writing the scenes at the imaginary Jolly Rogers Hotel? Readers might recall how treacherous the English summer in And Then There Were None (1939); that owing to the stormy weather in August no boats can leave to reach Soldier’s Island.

The Incredible Theft also has traces of The Secret Of Chimneys (1925), but Lord Mayfield is not Clement Edward Alistair Brent. The reluctant aristocrat,  who is Bundle Brent’s father (also appears in The Seven Dials Mystery) thinks that politics and politicians are not his cup of tea. For Lord Mayfield, however, his stand in politics is firm and entertaining guests is part of his being a senior politician. If Clement Brent feels the burden of having to be in the limelight as Marquis de Caterham, the Lord would not let anything to stop him from being the next Prime Minister.

What I like most from those four short stories are their remarkable sub-plots, much as they mean to deviate readers from guessing the murderers. Christie’s dropping of red herring is fantastic and it seems to be an easy thing when she does it.  Take the example of the screaming of Leonie, the French maid and Lady Julia Carrington’s plea to Poirot in The Incredible Theft. Both scenes are not important but if they were not in the plot the story would have lost its “charm.” Also they give the a flavour of the roaring twenties; the voice of a clever and beautiful maid (whose English is fluent) as well as what a mother would have prepared to do in order to protect her only son.

By the same token, the dialogues are intriguing; each suspect reveals their private knowledge to the detective on a number of things. For instance, from Colonel Bury readers know about an illegitimate daughter of Sir Gervase’s late brother.

To sum up, Christie’s short stories are more gripping than her novels’.

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Jane Plenderleith (Murder In The Mews)

Barbara Allen and her were housemates; they used to live together for five years. They met on a Nile cruise, liked each other and Allen agreed to Plenderleith’s proposal of sharing a small house. Both got along well and were respectable, as other witnesses state to Poirot and Inspector Japp.

Juliette Mole stars as Jane Plenderleith in 1989’s novel adaptation into the Poirot series.

When asked about Allen’s background, Plenderleith mentions about Allen’s past of having had an ex-husband. He had a bad reputation and Allen wanted to forget him. Before her death Allen was engaged to Charles Laverton-West, an M.P.  It was something Plenderleith not very much excited about nevertheless. To her mind the fiancé was pompous and self-important; yet she defends his innocence.

Furthermore, she tells Poirot about Allen’s revolver and the existence of Major Eustace, of whom a family living nearby at no.18 saw him enter the house and leave at 10.20 pm. Poirot is intrigued, however, by Plenderleith’s remark on the possibility of Allen having taken her life using the gun she kept. ‘..Even if Barbara did kill herself, I can’t imagine her killing herself that way.’

Who did she suggest having killed the housemate – Major Eustace? Why?

The following is Cast of Characters and The Twists in each stories.

  1. Murder In The Mews

Cast of Characters:

–          Barbara Allen (nee Armitage, the deceased, living at no.14 The Mews)

–          Charles Laverton-West (Barbara’s fiancé)

–          Major Eustace (Barbara’s former lover)

–          Hercule Poirot

–          Mr and Mrs James Hogg (Barbara and Jane’s neighbour – living at no.18)

–          Inspector Jameson

–          Jane Plenderleith (Barbara’s housemate)

–          Inspector Japp (of Scotland Yard)

–          Mrs. Pierce (the daily woman at no.14 The Mews)

The Twists:

–          Barbara Allen was overdrawn; two hundred pounds to self withdrawn three months before her death and another two hundred pounds hours on 5th November.

–          The blotting paper in Allen’s room is not being used yet

–          There are cigarette butts in the crime scene but not a smell of smoke

–          Major Eustace smokes Turkish cigarettes

–          Major Eustace’s chuff link is found in the crime scene

–          The Mystery of Missing Attache Case of Jane Plenderleith’s

2. Dead Man’s Mirror

Cast of Characters:

Colonel Bury (The Chevenix-Gores’s old friend)

Mr. Forbes (the family lawyer)

Hugo Trent (Sir Gervase’s nephew, the son of his late sister)

Captain John Lake (Sir Gervase’s estate agent and Ruth’s husband)

Miss Lingard (the researcher who stays at the house to help Sir Gervase write a book about the old family)

Major Riddle (the local chief constable)

Ruth Chevenix-Gore (Sir Gervase and Vanda‘s adopted daughter)

Susan Cardwell (Hugo’s friend who is invited for the dinner)

Vanda Chevenix-Gore (Sir Gervase’s wife)

The Twists:

-Ruth Chevenix-Gore is the illegitimate daughter of Anthony Chevenix-Gore, Sir Gervase’s brother who killed in the (first world) war.

– Poirot shows Susan Cardwell the trick of the French windows to give impression of their being fastened from the inside

-Susan Cardwell heard the gunshot, which she then perceived as the sound of the first gong dinner

– Miss Lingard picks up something when everyone rushes to break into the study

3. The Incredible Theft

Cast of Characters:

Mr. Carlile (Lord Mayfield’s secretary)

Sir George Carrington

Lady Julia Carrington (Sir George’s husband)

Mademoiselle Leonie (Mrs. Vanderlyn’s French maid)

Mrs. Macatta, M.P.

Lord Mayfield (the host of the dinner party, a.k.a. Sir Charles McLaughlin)

Reggie Carrington (Sir George and Lady Julia’s son)

Mrs. Vanderlyn (an American acquaintance)

The Twists:

-Lord Mayfield is short sighted but said to have seen a shadow coming from the library

-Reggie Carrington happens to kiss Leonie

-Lord Mayfield is reluctant at engaging Poirot in the investigation

-Leonie cannot find her mistress’s bag before they depart

-Mrs. Vanderlyn asks Lord Mayfield to post a letter as she leaves the house

4. Triangle At Rhodes

Cast of Characters:

Commander Anthony Chantry (Valentine’s husband)

G-Strophanthin, a poisonous cardiac glycoside is extracted from strophanthus plants. Valentine Chantrys dies from strophanthin poisoning.

General Barnes (a retired army officers, one of the hotel guests)

The Golds (Douglas, the husband and Marjorie, the wife)

Hercule Poirot

Pamela Lyall (Poirot’s acquaintance, English)

Sarah Blake (Pamela’s friend, English)

Valentine Chantry (a famous model and a trophy wife)

The Twists:

-Hercule Poirot warns Marjorie Gold to leave the island

– Commander Anthony Chantry’s jealousy to Douglas Cameron leads to his threat to Cameron

-Anthony Chantry passes a glass of Pink Gin to his wife before she dies from a heart poison (strophanthin)

– A packet of strophanthin is found in Douglas Cam

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