Notes On The Listerdale Mystery

Rating: Four out of five

Year of Publication: 1934

Motive for Murder: Wealth

 

Highlights:

This delightful twelve short stories of Christie’s give her continuously growing readers (at that time) the flavour of her fond of plays and romance. Beginning with the mysterious disappearance of Lord Listerdale, her depiction of the recession in the aftermath of Great Depression is followed by a woman’s dream of killing her husband. The other ten crimes are a selection of affairs that are satirical, unprecedented and somehow ironical. And yet, some of them do not require bodies.

In this book Christie shows a variety of techniques in unravelling crimes, but nonetheless all of them are from the protagonists’ viewpoints. Furthermore, her having created of the twelve different characters are an intriguing choice. Suppose you could guess/remember them?

There they are briefly below:

1. A broke aristocrat woman who needs to find a home and marries off a daughter,

2. A series killer who looks as meek as a lamb,

3. A penniless aristocrat young man disowned by his rich uncle and tries to find his way about the world,

4. A woman’s plea to a retired well-known barrister about the murder of her elderly aunt,

5. An ordinary man jumps into a wrong car that is very similar like his and finds a diamond necklace in it

Bonny Parker; an inspiration for Lady Noreen and Jane Montresor, the Christie’s characters?

6. A retired Chief Inspector Detective who bumps into a murderess while staying over at his old friend’s house

7. A jobless woman in her twenties whose appearance and mannerism resembles a Duchess,

8. A parlourmaid discovers a ruby necklace in a basket of fruits she has bought,

9. A male writer who receives a mysterious phone call from a woman,

11. A man mixed up in a burglary,

12. A man is face-to-face with a ruby thief  having been deserted by the girl he fancies,

13. A famous opera star is adamant to perform Tosca in front of a private audience

(read the stories online here)

 

In Christie’s world, imagination is the key. In the plots disguises, gestures, countenance, the shadows of the past and good humour are interwoven into an unexpected ending.

More importantly, here is the thirties’ England. Not only do the stories discuss about the economy and more freedom for women but also the class attitude. While some have criticised that Christie cares more about the upper-class, they may consider the fact that perhaps her writing about them is to put the division of class, which is the culture, in perspective. In a nutshell, the upper-class people  are not trouble-free and although some might have been fed from a silver spoon they would have to work for their bread eventually. By the same token, being poor in itself might not be a bad thing; opportunities may arise from a bleak situation.

Take the example of The Manhood of Edward Robinson (see the plot). An ordinary low-class man -because ‘the middle class’ was not acknowledged yet-man caught up in the game of burglary of a socialite, her fiancé and her cousin.

At the beginning it seems to be a story of a whim of an ordinary man; to buy a dream car when all of a sudden he wins £500 in a naming competition. Then his finding a diamond necklace in the pocket of the car then introduces him to a daring act of the other class has done.

I am slightly disturbed with this ‘stealing for fun’ thing. Had it not for Edward Robinson, what would have occurred had the gang’s plot been ruined? Would their influential parents have bailed them out and silenced the police? Christie did remind readers of the risk; the fact that the fiance has racked his ankle after he injured himself while going down the windows in skirt (he was dressing as a girl maid). If this was the idea of excitement, as the socialite concerned tells Robinson: ‘It’s difficult for you to understand, I suppose. One gets so tired of the same thing – always the same thing…’, then it is hard for me to understand the whole thing either – upper-class or not.

I am fascinated about the inspiration for the duo thieves Lady Noreen and Captain James Folliot, V.C. Would they have been the English’s Bonny and Clide?

Overall, this compilation of stories is one not to be missed, particularly as they deliberate the nature of crimes and the factors behind them.

 

In the following I will describe the Plot in brief, the Twists and the Cast of Characters from each story (I omit Clues and The Most Fascinating Character):

 

  1. The Listerdale Mystery

Plot: Mrs. St. Vincent hates to see that the prospect of marriage of her daughter Barbara will be jeopardised owing to her dwindling wealth. Having worried about the next place to live, the elderly woman seizes the opportunity to acquire a cheap-rented house in an affluent neighbourhood without any questions asked to the agent. Nor does she seem to be bothered by the peculiar facts about the premises; that there is Quentin the butler and the servants’ wages still being paid by the owner.

But her son, Rupert, cannot rest his mind about those. For he knows that it belongs to Lord Listerdale, who left the house one day and has not come back. Did he die? Did he go abroad, perhaps East Africa? Or was he killed? A chance to reveal the mystery presents itself when Rupert happens to spot Quentin in a village and follows him going into a small cottage. Quentin, it turns out, is not a butler after all.

 

Cast of Characters:

Like Mr. Mosely in Downtown Abbey Series, Mrs. St. Vincent endures great hardship but will not accept charity. If Mr. Bates comes to rescue the ex-valet of the late Matthew Crawley, who would that be for a widow who lost wealth in the wrong investment?

The St. Vincents: Barbara (daughter), the widow mother and Rupert (son)

Quentin (the butler)

Quentin (the impostor)

 

The Twists:

-Rupert brings the real Quentin back to London to face his impostor

 

2. Philomel Cottage

Plot: Alix Martin has been married for a month. This is her third marriage; her previous two husbands have died. Every time she has the same dream: she saw her husband lying dead and Dick Windyford standing over him, and she knew clearly and distinctly that his was the hand which had dealt a fatal blow.

Dick Windyford is her ex-fiance and he happens to stay in the local inn in the village where the Martins live. He rings up Alix as an old friend, but she is afraid of Gerard’s knowing her past relationship with Windyford. Meanwhile, she also suspects about other women in Gerard’s life.

Until Alix looks into her husband’s papers and finds newspaper clippings of an American notorious bigamist and swindler, Charles Lemaitre; she never thought that her life has been in danger.

Cast of Characters:

Alix Martin (nee King)

Dick Windyford (Alix’s ex-fiance)

Gerald Martin (Alix’s husband)

 

The Twists:

– Gerald Martin looks angry when his wife tells him that their gardener came in on Wednesday instead of his usual Mondays and Fridays.

-Gerald comments on the bitterness of the coffee Alix has served after dinner

 

3. The Girl In The Train

Plot: What’s the use of a title without money? George Rowland is disowned, following his dispute with his uncle and his guardian. Intending to find his way about the world he catches a train at Waterloo when a young pretty woman suddenly appears in his carriage and asks him to hide her from ‘her uncle.’

When the coast is clear she then hands him a small packet. ‘Guard it with your life. It’s the key to everything.’ Then she alights. Will George see her again?

Cast of Characters:

Lady Elizabeth Gaigh

George Rowland

Detective-Inspector Jarrod (of Scotland Yard)

 

The Twists:

-George Rowland is given the task to follow a man with a small dark beard and wearing light overcoat

-George Rowland unexpectedly retrieves a stolen top-secret document from the man he has been shadowed

 

4. Sing a Song of Sixpence

Plot: Lily Vaughan is already quite old when she was struck with a blunt object at the back of her head. A day before her death she had a row with her niece, Emma, who had lived in the same house with her husband and the two siblings, Magdalen and Matthew.

The nursery rhymes might have been Christie’s favourite; ‘A Pocket Full of Rye’ was published later in 1953 while ‘Four and Twenty Black Birds’ is one of the short stories in The Adventure of Christmas Pudding (1960).

With nobody is arrested after three weeks the uneasiness among the four of them grow. They begin to suspect one another. Then Magdalen comes for help to a former barrister, of whom she has known some time ago on a voyage.   Was it an outsider job? Or, as Magdalen is inclined to believe – one of them?

When asked by police whether on the day the deceased saw a stranger in the house, Martha, the long-standing servant, said that there had been no-one. Nonetheless, during the investigation, the ex-barrister has noticed that Vaughan had a dispute with Martha regarding six-pence coins. What can he deduce from it? On his way home, his meeting with Matthew gives him an idea as to who the murderer is.

 

Cast of Characters:

The Crabtrees (William the husband and Emma the wife)

Sir Edward Palliser, K.C. (a famous ex-barrister)

Magdalen Vaughan (who comes for help to Sir Edward)

Martha (who looks after Aunt Lily for thirty years)

Matthew Vaughan (Magdalen’s brother)

 

The Twists:

–          In the deceased’s velvet bag there is no new six pence coins but two old ones

–          Martha lies to the police that she saw no stranger received by her mistress on the day of the murder

 

5. The Manhood of Edward Robinson

Plot: Cashing in £500 from a competition is Edward Robinson’s wildest dream. With an eye from a red sport car within the budget, the ordinary Robinson does not blink an eye to have spent the money for such a beauty. Besides, for once he wants to indulge himself before Christmas.

At a spot he gets off the car after dark and wanders for a while before coming back. When he reaches for his muffler in his shiny car, he cannot find it but a diamond necklace. Having found a note, he realises that somebody else has the same car and has mistakened Robinson’s as his.

The next thing he knows is a brush of life with the upper-class; Lady Noreen, the IT girl about England engineers a fake burglary act with her fiancé Jimmy and her childhood friend Gerald. It was Jimmy who has driven the wrong car and it is Robinson, who was supposed to be Gerald’s brother, who delivers the loot.

What happens to Jimmy? What will Robinson do when the necklace is thrusted on him?

 

Cast of Characters:

Edward Robinson

Gerald Champneys (Lady Noreen’s friend and sidekick)

Marchesa Bianca (a.k.a. Maud, Edward’s fiancée)

Lady Noreen Elliott (an English socialite)

 

The Twists:

–          Gerald’s Champneys’ brother’s name is Edward

 

6. Accident

Plot: An ex-CID Evans stays over the weekend in his old friend’s house and spots a woman who was acquitted of the murder of her late husband. She is the friend’s neighbour and has been remarried to a retired professor of Chemistry.

Evan meets her again at the village fete and is then invited to tea afterwards. She prepares three cups of tea: one for him, one for her and the other for her husband. But which one contains the poison?

 

Cast of Characters:

Evans (an ex-Chief Inspector Detective)

George Merrowdene (Captain Haydock’s neighbour, Margaret’s second husband)

Captain Haydock (Evans’s old friend)

Margaret Merrowdene (the former Mr. Anthony who is acquitted of murder)

The Twist:

-Evans asks Mrs. Merrowdene to drink a cup of tea she has made for her husband

 

7. Jane In Search of a Job

Plot: Jane Cleveland is already near to the bones when she notices an intriguing advertisement on a paper. If a young lady of twenty-five to thirty years of age, eyes dark blue, very fair hair, black lashes and brows, straight nose, slim figure, height five feet seven inches, good mimic and able to speak French…

Unbeknown to her it is the door to two-thousand pounds she yearns and her being introduced to a princess from East Europe. From plain Jane to a princess lookalike, Cleveland is prepared as a substitute to the princess in a charity event due in two days’ time.

Things go smooth until Cleveland, now an American journalist Miss Montresor, is kidnapped after she finishes playing her part. The next day on the papers’ headline: ‘American Girl Bandit in England. The Girl in the Red Dress. Sensational hold-up at Orion House Bazaar.’

Jane’s life is finished.

 

Cast of Characters:

1930’s red velvet long dress – as worn by Jane Cleveland?

-Anna Michaelovna (the Duchess’s chaperone)

-Detective-Inspector Farrel

-Feodor Alexandrovitch (Count Streptich, the Duchess’s aid)

-Jane Cleveland (the princess’s impostor)

-Her Highness The Duchess Pauline of Ostrova (the princess)

-Prince Poporensky

 

The Twists:

-The Duchess wears a pair of low-heeled shoes

-Jane wears the flame-coloured marocain frock when she wakes up; the red dress of a woman perceived to be a robber in a charity event attended by the Duchess

-Jane Montresor the journalist becomes ‘an American bandit girl in England.’

8. A Fruitful Sunday

Plot: A parlourmaid on her day off is taken to a tour in a new Baby Austin and moans about her arrogant employer to her company and her dreaming about the great things a girl might have.

Two shillings of a basket of strawberries and at the bottom of it is a ruby necklace – right after she read about a ruby necklace worth fifty-thousand pounds missing.

Soon she is in a dilemma; whether to keep the treasure or return it to the rightful owner.

Cast of Characters:

-Dorothy Pratt (the parlourmaid)

– Edward Palgrove (Dorothy’s friend)

 

The Twist:

Palgrove shows Pratt an advertisement: ‘…Baskets of fruit were sold yesterday and will be on sale every Sunday. Out of every fifty baskets, one will contain an imitation necklace in different coloured stones…’

 

9. Mr. Eastwood’s Adventure

Plot: A writer, who answers the plea of help of a stranger woman, is arrested on the suspicion of murder of another woman. He has been perceived as a murderer on the run.

To clear his name he invites the two Scotland Yard officers to his flat. As they conduct a search throughout, little does he realise what awaits his fate: a tale of a Jewess jewel thief, two fake policemen and a collection of silver enamels lost in a blink of an eye.

 

Cast of Characters:

–          Anthony Eastwood (the writer)

–          Detective-Inspector Verral

–          Sergeant Carters

–          Inspector Driver (the real police constable)

 

The Twists:

–          Anna Rosenburg is indeed murdered by Conrad Fleckman

–          Carmen Ferrarez, the Spanish woman to whom Eastwood answers her begging of help, is part of a thief gang.

 

10. The Golden Ball

Plot: A young man in a crossroads of his life has to find £20,00 per year to prove his worth to his arrogant uncle. While he looks like at sea, suddenly a girl about the town, a mere stranger to him, asks him to get into her car. ‘How would you like to marry me?’ she pops up the question, in spite of her engagement to a Duke having been announced on papers.

During their drive around London the girl suggest gatecrash into someone’s house. Yet, a robbery has been taking place in the premises and the two of them must join the lady of the house to be kept together in a room. The man’s quick thinking renders the situation as he strikes down the burglar.

To his surprise, it is not a real situation but a test of chivalry. For the girl has the amount of money required but he has no longer wants to marry her. ‘To go to one’s knees on any woman is degrading. I will not do it,’ he says to her. But then, how will he get the money without losing his pride?

 

Cast of Characters:

Bella Wallace (Rube’s wife, who acts as Mrs. Pandonstrenger per Mary’s instruction)

Ephraim Leadbetter (a City financier, George’s uncle)

George Dundas (the man, Ephraim Leadbetter’s nephew)

Mary Montresor (the girl, a Duke’s fiancée)

Rube Wallace (an actor, who is paid by Mary to play a robber part)

 

The Twist:

–          George Dundas slips because of a banan skin and knelt in the mud before her.

 

11. The Rajah’s Emerald

Plot:  It is a holiday in hell for James Bond when a woman he fancies and takes her on a seaside holiday seems to desert him for another man.

While in his hopeless search of a beach hut on a busy day at the beach, Bond dares enter one to change. The next thing he knows there is a stone the size of a pigeon’s egg in the trousers’ pocket he has worn.   Later he understands that it is a stolen emerald belonged to the Rajah of Maraputna, the guest of Lord Edward Campion.

 

Cast of Characters:

-Claud Sopworth (the man Grace meets in a hotel during her holiday with James)

-Lord Edward Champion (the owner of the emerald)

-Grace (James’s girlfriend)

-James Bond (the man)

-Detective-Inspector of Merrilees (who investigates the missing emerald)

 

The Twists:

-James Bond wears the wrong pair of trousers when changed

-Detective –Inspector Merrilees is Jones, Lord Edward Champion’s valet who stole the precious stone

 

12. Swan Song

Plot:  Paula Nazorkoff, a French opera star with glowing reputation, is a perfectionist and short-tempered person. She comes to London for shows at Royal Theatre and is enquired for a private performance at Rustonbury’s Castle. She will accept under a condition: to sing nothing else but ‘Vissi D’Arte’ from her favourite Tosca.

Hours before the performance, the tenor singer is poisoned. Fortunately, near to the castle lives a famous ex-baritone singer, who agrees to replace the unlucky man. Who would have thouHoght but one that the whole thing has been arranged as a murder plot; a revenge for a life that could have been saved?

 

 

Cast of Characters:

–          Blanche Amery (Lady Rustobury’s daughter)

–          Mr. Cowan (Paula’s agent)

–          Eduard Breon (French, a famous ex-baritone singer who lives near Rustobury’s Castle)

–          Elise (Paula’s French maid)

–          Paula Nazorkoff ( an Italian famous opera singer who comes Lord Rustonbury’s dwelling)

–          Signor Roscari ( an Italian tenor singer who would have performed with Paula)

 

The Twists:

–          Eduard Breon does not recognise Bianca Capelli as Paula Nazorkoff

–          Mr. Cowan is surprised to have heard Nazorkoff’s saying that she was Russian

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