Rating: 4.5 out of five
Year of Publication: 1956
Motive for Murder: Wealth and Identity
During a fete, Marlene Tucker strangled by a cord and the hostess, Lady Hattie Stubbs disappears amidst a Murder Hunt at the grounds of Nasse House. Surely, it is not how Ariadne Oliver wanted to be; a real body found by her and Hercule Poirot.
Earlier in the day, Lady Hattie looks upset after receiving a letter from a distant cousin. More importantly, she is frightened of him. ‘I don’t want to see Etienne (De Sousa). He’s bad. He’s always bad. I’m afraid of him,’ she says to Poirot.
Is there a reason to believe that De Sousa’s presence has something to do with the murder of a harmless teenage girl? Has Hattie been hiding or kidnapped, perhaps – killed?
The lack of motive and evidence leave police feeling baffled. As for the sleuth, it is not until some time does he realise that Mrs. Oliver’s murder game plot holds significant clues to the case. Yet, it dawns on Poirot that not only does he have to deal with a cunning criminal, but three; of whom have prepared the killings to their minute details.
The fifties’ England is arguably a difficult era with the shadows of the war still loom over many people and the hardship continues. For some old families, death duties hit them the hardest as their homes and lands must be sold, having resigned to lose everything after many generations living in the same place or as landlords. ; a number of them become.
To Amy Folliat, it is not the loss of wealth that is unacceptable but what has become some of the old houses after the change of ownership; hotels with a swarm of foreigners and tourists in summer. And she is determined that Nasse House, the house she used to live until the deaths of her two sons in the war, will not be turned into a busy youth hostel like others.
She is the last one standing; an elderly woman who now rents the lodge from the Stubbsess, the new owner.
Remember Mrs. Bantrys, Miss Marple’s old friend, who is in a similar situation? Gossington Hall (home of the Bantrys’s) is the crime scene in The Body In The Library (1932). It is then sold to a Hollywood star, Marina Gregg, whom then refurbishes it and agrees for a village fete to be held in its grounds (The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side – see the Notes).
If Folliat seems to be unhappy about the situation, Mrs. Bantry’s sounds quite unsentimental. She accepts change and moves on; two things Folliat have found very difficult to begin with. This is where things start to shape.
Next, her relationship with Lady Hattie Stubbs. The younger woman used to be under the other’s care and Folliat is fond of her. “Hattie is a dear good child,” she says, despite the fact that Hattie appears to be a little simple in mind. Nonetheless, Miss Brewis differs. Sir George’s secretary believes that her boss’s wife is not quite as slow as a snail when it comes to thinking (see Clues). As for Michael Weyman, her behaviour arouses curiousity on his part. He remarks to Poirot: ‘For some reason she likes playing the dim nitwit. I don’t know why…’
Miss Brewis might be biased in her views nevertheless. Being in love with Sir George, it is clear that she has been jealous to Hattie; “a woman who would never understand him (her husband) – his abilities.” Besides, Brewis does not like the other as well. Furthermore, what is intriguing is Weyman’s, who is neither interested in Hattie nor cares about giving criticism to the tennis pavilion project, of which he has been commissioned.
Then, there is still the host, Sir George Stubbs. He is a self-made man ‘the new rich’ who has bought title and status entailed being extremely wealthy. He reminds me of Gordon Ragg, a middle-aged man and a media magnate engaged to his much younger secretary Bridget Conway (Murder Is Easy – see the Notes). To the ‘old pussy’ Mrs. Folliat and Mrs. Masterton he is perceived as a complete vulgarian but liked in the community; happily playing the role of a county squire. To Weyman, Sir George is ‘a silly ass’ who has had a Folly done at a spot far from the house where nobody will come to admire it.
Opposing viewpoints and myriad impressions about a character are the strong points of the book. Christie the puppet master performs a wonderful performance, playing with the tricks of the brain to deceive readers – away from whodunit. Amidst the confusion concerning the motive, important clues are provided in mere words and gestures whose significance would be realised in the second reading.
The ‘distressed’ Mrs. Oliver and the ‘bloodhound’ Mrs. Masterton nearly steal the show with the authoress’s brilliant depiction of two contrasting personalities; one is the creator of the murder game and modern whilst the other is not about look but has influence over the influential men. And all the same, both smells something fishy but cannot point their fingers exactly towards what it is.
In the meantime, the police’s attention are drawn to Etienne De Sousa, the mysterious cousin. According to Lady Hattie, she knows his coming to the house when his letter arrived at breakfast. On the other hand, in his interview with Poirot he said that he had written to the Stubbsess three weeks prior to his presence. Who is one to believe? If Hattie lies, what are her reasons? Likewise, what makes De Sousa lie to the detective?
As The Most Fascinating Character, I have chosen Amanda Folliat. It is not an obvious choice because I had Alec Legge in mind (see Cast of Characters). Yet, the more I think about the role she plays, the more I realise that she is indeed a fascinating character. First and foremost, she holds the key to the case . Second of all, her opening up to Poirot at the beginning about her family and the Stubbsess are quite arresting. Which elderly women who are not keen at telling the past to anyone? And why to the Belgian, not the police? Is it because he is a foreigner or has she been aware of the sleuth’s reputation and as a friend of Mrs. Oliver? There is more about this woman that meets the eye as the same credits go to Esa, Imhotep’s mother (Death Comes As The End – see the Notes).
My criticism about the plot, however, lies at the huge amount of private knowledge the suspects shared with Poirot. Take the example of Marylin Tucker, the younger sister of Marlene, who tells him about the money her elder sister got from blackmailing a very dangerous person. The detective comes to see the family a month after the murder, after the inquest. I wonder why such information cannot be obtained by the local police from the family? Did they ask the wrong questions? Or, did they not listen well?
On the one hand, the success of Poirot is due to his nagging sense of ‘a gap’ in the case and apparently the great work of his grey cells. On the other, an outsider like the sleuth has the advantage of seeing matters clearer without judgment. To this virtue, I suppose, whereby the authoress stands. What do you think?
As mentioned previously, Alec Legge is an enigmatic character. For he happens to rent a cottage and stays there with his smart wife, Sally, on ‘doctor’s order.’ When Tucker is killed, they have been at the cottage for a month. What is fascinating is the curious case of Alec’s nervous breakdown; a young intelligent man who looks sane. Until the end, Christie keeps readers in the dark about them, but a hint of Sally being attracted to Weyman.
From whom does Christie derive Alec? His being in the shell makes Sally suffer and drive them apart. In the closing chapter readers know who he really is; an atom scientist who is fear of something or someone. His predicament might be similar to the brilliant Mathematician Alan Turing, who was committed suicide in 1952 – see the photograph on the right.
Lastly, in Spring 2013, I was at the boathouse in Greenway. It beggars belief that such a serene spot has inspired a crime fiction; a lateral idea that only reminds many that murders may happen in the unimaginable places.
On the whole, Dead Man’s Folly is a joy to read, ponder and re-read; a case of love, of despair and of justice that pinpoints the human nature in the face of adversity.
-Old Merdell’s remark to Poirot: ‘Always be Folliats at Nasse’
-Miss Brewis sees Lady Hattie slip out of the house at night before the fete
-Loose soil is found underneath the Folly, which triggers cracks on its foundation
-Amanda Folliat lies about her younger son whom was killed in Italy during the war
-Sir George Stubbs is seen to have shouted at an Italian girl who trespasses a day before the fete
-Sir George is a bigamist
– Marlene Tucker is Old Merdell’s granddaughter
-Michael Weyman expresses his surprise of knowing that Lady Stubbs asked Miss Brewis to have brought a tray of cake and tea for Marlene Tucker down at the boathouse
Cast of Characters:
‘You know those lines of Spenser’s? Sleep after toyle, port after stormie seas, ease afterwar, death after life, doth greatly please….
Alec Legge (Sally’s husband, the atom scientist)
Amanda Brewis (Sir George’s secretary and the housekeeper of Nasse House)
Amanda Folliat (the former owner of Nasse House who now lives at the lodge)
Ariadne Oliver (Poirot’s sidekick, a crime novelist)
Inspector Bland (of local chief constable)
Constable Bob Hoskins
Etienne De Sousa (Hattie’s distant cousin from West Indies)
Sir George Stubbs (the owner of Nasse House, Hattie’s husband)
Lady Hattie Stubbs (Sir George’s wife)
Captain Jim Warburton
Marlene Tucker (Old Merdell’s granddaughter)
The Matersons (the husband is a local M.P. and the wife is a shrewd woman)
Michael Weyman (an architect whose presence at Nasse is to build a tennis pavilion for Lady Stubbs, Sally’s friend)
Old Merdell (who has been working at Nasse House since he was a boy, Marlene’s maternal grandfather)
Sally Legge (Alec’s wife and Michael Weyman’s friend)
Mrs. Tucker (Marlene’s mother)
Major Werall (The Chief Constable of the County)
The Most Fascinating Character: Amanda Folliat
Recently I saw a programme on which it focuses on women behind bars; some of them are interviewed by Trevor Mc Donald in high security jails in the US. One of the interviewees is Sarah Jo Pender, who escaped in 2008 with the help of an officer. To the prison warden who has known her quite some time, Pender was one of the best manipulators the other had ever seen in her career spanning over 20 years.
To my mind, Amanda Folliat is on a league with Pender. If she made her boyfriend pull the trigger in 2000, Folliat persuades Hattie to marry Sir George so Nasse House would not have become something else.
To Poirot, she describes at length her relationship with Hattie.
‘I know her very well, you see. For a short time she was under my care.’
‘I did not know that,’ said Poirot.
‘How should you? It is in a way a sad story. Her people had estates, sugar estates, in the West Indies. As a result of an earthquake, the house there was burned down and her parents and brothers and sisters all lost their lives. Hattie herself was at a convent in Paris and was thus suddenly left without any near relatives. It was considered advisable by the executors that Hattie should be chaperoned and introduced society after she had spent a certain time abroad. I accepted the charge of her…..’
What emerges from that is Folliat’s filial affection to the other. Further on, she expresses her bitter feeling having lost the ownership of the house and lands. Old Merdell, who has known her since her coming to live in the house as a child, meets Poirot and tells him how she has been through a lot but taken it on the chin. Then comes his peculiar remark that ‘Always be Folliats at Nasse’, which is confirmed by Mrs. Masterton despite her saying the similar sentence as a joke.
I would like to highlight the fact that she is not the murderer, nor does she want anybody killed. As a result, the girl’s killing has shocked her a lot. Although she eventually realises the motive, unfortunately she keeps the knowledge to herself. Not until Poirot forces her to acknowledge it does she speak and ask Poirot to leave her to think about it afterwards.
Her mixing up past and present tense while speaking about Hattie sounds natural at first due to her aging. The inconsistency continues nonetheless and Poirot becomes to wonder. For there has to be some reason behind it. To readers the clues are described by Folliat’s gestures.
I suppose keeping secrets are extremely tiring and quite a lonely business. She does not seem to have friends and Mrs. Masterton is not Folliat’s cup of tea. Sarah Legge is much younger and unlike Hattie in character, while the Stubbsess’s guest, Ariadne Oliver, may have been too contemporary to Folliat’s way of thinking. The book does not say anything about Folliat’s friends, either.
To date, Folliat is a favourite among my collection of Christie’s Most Fascinating Characters. Her words linger in my head. ‘You see, as I told you [Poirot], Hattie is completely suggestible. Anyone she is with at the time can dominate her.’
Michael Weyman to Ariadne Oliver and Hercule Poirot about the Folly:
‘Top of that grassy bank by the house – perfect natural setting. But no, these tycoon fellows are all the same – no artistic sense. Has a fancy about a “Folly,” as he calls it, orders one. Looks round for somewhere to put it. Then, I understand, a big oak tree crashes down in a gale. Leaves a nasty scar. “Oh, we’ll tidy the place up by putting a Folly there,” says the silly ass. That’s all they ever think about, these rich city fellows, tidying up! I wonder he hasn’t put a beds of red geraniums and calceolarias around the house! A man like that shouldn’t be allowed to own a place like this!’
‘It’s bedded down in concrete. And there’s loose soil underneath – so it’s subsided. Cracked all up here – it will be dangerous soon…Better pull the whole thing down and re-erect it on the top of the bank near the house. That’s my advice, but the obstinate old fool won’t hear of it.’
Miss Brewis to Hercule Poirot:
‘Lady Stubbs knows perfectly well exactly what she is doing. Besides being, as you said, a very decorative young woman, she is also a shrewd one.’
Amanda Folliat to Hercule Poirot:
‘Sir George, though he is a self-made man and –let us face it – a complete vulgarian, is kindly and fundamentally decent, besides being extremely wealthy. I don’t think he would ever ask for mental companionship from a wife, which is just as well. Hattie is everything he wants. She displays jewels and clothes to perfection, is affectionate and willing, and is completely happy with him. I confess that I am very thankful that that is so, for I admit that I deliberately influenced her to accept him. If it had turned out badly –her voice faltered a little- it would have been my fault for urging her to marry a man so many years older than herself…’
Michael Weyman to Inspector Bland:
‘I should say she [Lady Stubbs] knows which side her bread is buttered better than most. A very ornamental young woman and knows how to make the most of it.’
‘But mentally not very active? Is that right?’ says the Inspector.
‘Depends what you mean by mentally. I wouldn’t describe her as an intellectual. But if you’re thinking that she’s not all there, you’re wrong. I’d say