Rating: 4.7 out of five
Year of Publication: 1932
Motive for Murder: Wealth
Nick Buckley has missed a bullet going into her head. When Hercule Poirot points a hole in her hat, she laughs at the sleuth’s suggesting an attempt at her life. Further on, she tells him and Arthur Hastings three curious accidents occurred recently.
At the same time, the news of the missing aviator, Michael Seton, makes the headlines. Besides public excitement towards his around-the-world mission, Seton is an heir to the richest man in Britain, Sir Matthew Seton. The media speculate as to whether the young Seton would die intestate or has there been a will made to whom he has left the wealth. Rumours have it that he has been secretly engaged before commencing the intrepid journey.
Meanwhile, as Poirot senses the impending murder attempt to Buckley, he then takes all reasonable precautions. On Guy Fawkes’s night celebrated at Nick’s home, End House, in spite of his and Hastings being on their guard, a murder happens. Maggie Buckley, a distant cousin of Nick, is shot dead. She only arrived the day before.
Why would someone want to kill an orphan penniless girl? Who is the lucky woman to whom Seton has engaged? How come are Seton’s letters to his fiancée found at End House?
‘So much depends on how you look at a thing’ –
James Warburton in Dead Man’s Folly
Poirot, high in self-esteem, sees the case from Nick Buckley’s viewpoint – the target. On the day he met her at the Majestic Hotel, the young woman appeared to have not realised that her life had been in danger. No sooner had Poirot realised the hole in the hat than he decided to engage himself in the investigation.
To begin with, his client is a woman with little means; her killing does not benefit anyone apart from her cousin, Charles Vyse, to whom she will leave End House, the run-down mansion and nothing else. Vyse himself is a successful lawyer and therefore he is financially secure.
Next, the death of Maggie Buckley. Her killer seems to have mistakened the poor cousin as Nick. Poirot then transfers Nick to a nursing home as safety precaution only to find out later that she is poisoned by a box of chocolate sent with a card signed by the Belgian.
It is a Tom and Jerry game; the murderer is ‘Tom’ and Poirot the ‘Jerry’. ‘Tom’ is an uncanny personality who has studied carefully ‘Jerry’’s movements and his way of thinking. More importantly, ‘Tom’ is not alone; just as Poirot he has a sidekick who helps plant false clues. As a result, ‘Tom’ outsmarts ‘Jerry,’ scoring more and luring ‘Jerry’ to pay attention to different things. ‘Jerry’ is left baffled with the turns of the events; not until he reads the Maggie’s letter to her mother does he learn the identity of Michael Seton’s fiancee (see The Twists).
Where does the story of the missing aviator fit in, you might ask? Apparently, he has made a will in which he left everything to his fiancée. Hence, a clear motive to the woman’s death. Nonetheless, who is ‘Maggie,’ to whom Seton has written? Was it Maggie Buckley, the daughter of a parson or the other one, Magdala, ie. Nick Buckley, the orphan? For she told Poirot that her real name is Magdala and Nick is simply her nickname after her grandfather.
Nick’s background is another intriguing aspect. She is the last in the family, just as Amanda Folliat (Dead Man’s Folly – see the Notes). What is more, opinions are divided about Nick. Frederica Rice, her old friend, regards her as a “little liar.” Furthermore, Hastings makes a point when he and Poirot do their search around End House. On the table they see St. Loo Weekly Herald lying open with the news of the detective’s presence at the Majestic Hotel. To Poirot, it means little, for he believes that Nick only reads paper to know about the tides. ‘But why do you think that somebody read that paragraph other than Miss Buckley?’ remarks Hastings.
The Crofts, who rent the lodge, is unlike the Legges in Dead Man’s Folly. The husband and wife Bert and Mildred seem to be excited to meet the famous sleuth whilst Alec and Sally Legge are indifferent. They do not think that the man with an egg-shaped head requires a celebrity treatment. On the other hand, Mildred Croft has sound knowledge on Poirot (see Clues). What makes them follow the sleuth’s career? Are they really what they say they are – having emigrated from Australia and are settled down in St. Loo because Mildred’s relatives are Cornish? Poirot’s background check about them shows nothing suspicious . Yet, did the detective seek the information correctly?
Be that as it may, I already had a guess as to whodunit but was hardly able to explain the reasons. There is very little in the sub-plots which enable me to find the right clues. In the second reading, as I skimmed for details, it was dawning at me that they were been in a sentence or a gesture that opened to interpretation. Thus I suppose it is up to readers to judge statements from a number of minor characters. Personally, it was like playing a guessing game about the extent of truth in someone’s words; having to sieve facts that bear half-truth, home truth or the whole truth.
As Warburton pinpoints above, it depends on how something is perceived; hence the mistake on Poirot’s part. Fortunately, he makes it even in the end; the good old Jap helps him spot a cat among the pigeons.
For the closing of the curtain, it is a play at End House directed by none other than Monsieur Poirot. In three acts the murderer is revealed.
Act One: Nick’s passing from cocaine poisoning
Act Two: an invitation to a séance held at the house whereby all suspects attend.
Act Three: Nick’s making a comeback to the Good Earth and the murderer is unmasked.
Who is it going to be?
To sum up, Peril At End House is Poirot’s admitting of having looked at things from the wrong angle. It only makes him human, doesn’t it?
Cast of Characters:
Captain Arthur Hastings
Charles Vyse (Buckley’s cousin, a lawyer)
The Crofts (Australians; Bert the husband and Mildred the wife is disabled)
Frederica Rice (Buckley’s oldest friend)
Commander George Challenger (Buckley’s friend and a secret admirer)
Giles Buckley (Maggie’s father, a clergyman)
Jean Buckley (Maggie’s mother, a parson’s wife)
Jim Lazarus (Buckley’s other friend, an Art dealer)
Maggie Buckley (a distant cousin of Nick’s, a Clergyman’s daughter)
Mr. Whitfield (Sir Matthew Seton’s lawyer)
-Frederica Rice’s telling Hastings that there is nothing wrong with the brakes of Nick Buckley’s car.
-Maggie Buckley’s letter to her mother after she arrives at End House. This is the fascinating part: ‘It is lovely weather here. Nick seems very well and gay – a little restless, perhaps, but I cannot see why she should have telegraphed for me in the way she did. Tuesday would have done just well…’
-Jim Lazarus’s offering an oil painting of Nick Buckley’s grandfather for fifty pounds, which is thirty pounds more than its value
-Rice receives a phone call from Buckley asking her to send a box of chocolate to the nursing home
-Rice is an cocaine addict.
The Most Fascinating Character: Jean Buckley
Maggie Buckley’s mother holds a crucial clue to the death of her daughter. She has no idea in the least that a line in the letter in her late daughter’s handwriting put things in perspective. As for Poirot, he recalls Nick’s saying to him that she would wire Maggie to come to accompany her.’ Please refer to the letter (see The Twists).
Mrs. Buckley, the wife of a parson, fascinates me most due to her being philosophical about Maggie’s death. There is not a hint of resentment towards the murderer but acceptance of the untimely death of one of her five children. She does not sob nor complain and remains poised throughout the Poirot and Hastings. Giles Buckley, who accompanies her, sums up her personality: ‘My wife is wonderful. Her faith and courage are better than mine…’
The husband and wife meets the men after the inquest. Her feeling dislike about End House is important. ‘I don’t like it. I never have. There’s something all wrong about that house. I disliked Sir Nicholas (Nick Buckley’s grandfather) intensely. He made me shiver.’ What is she afraid of – the house itself or the inhabitants? Is she superstitious or simply bearing any grudge to the old Nick? Most importantly, how well does she know about him?
Moreover, she mentions a letter she has received from Nick after Maggie died. It expressed the guilt of having asked Maggie to come down to End House – as if she had gone to meet her fate. To which Mrs. Buckley dismisses it as most pathetic on Nick’s part.
Readers, I am speechless. This woman is a tower of strength and has a generous heart. There is nothing but my admiration to her. Readers, you will know why.
Frederica Rice to Arthur Hastings (in the presence of Jim Lazarus):
‘Oh! Well – I’m glad to hear Nick didn’t invent the whole thing. She’s the most heaven-sent little liar that ever existed, you know. Amazing – it’s quite a gift.’
I [Hastings] hardly knew what to say. My discomfiture seemed to amuse her.
‘She’s one of my oldest friends and I always think loyalty’s such a tiresome virtue, don’t you? Principally practised by the Scots – like thrift and keeping the Sabbath. But Nick is a liar, isn’t she, Jim? That marvellous story about the brakes of the car – and Jim says there was nothing in it at all.’
The fair man said in a soft rich voice: ‘I know something about cars.’
Hercule Poirot to Arthur Hastings about the murderer (after visiting End House):
‘What I am afraid of is – that he is a very clever man. And I am not easy in my mind. No, I am not easy at all.’
‘Poirot, you’re making me feel quite nervous.’
‘So I am nervous. Listen, my friend, that paper, the St. Loo Weekly Herald. It was open and folded back at – where do you think? A little paragraph which said, “Among the guests staying at the Majestic Hotel are M. Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings.” Supposing – just supposing that someone had read that paragraph. They know my name – everyone knows my name – ‘
‘Miss Buckley didn’t.’
‘She is a scatterbrain – she does not count. A serious man – a criminal – would know my name. And he would be afraid! He would wonder!He would ask himself questions. Three times he has attempted the life of Mademoiselle and now Hercule Poirot arrives in the neighbourhood. “Is that coincidence?” he would ask himself. And he would fear that it might not be coincidence. What would he do then?’
‘Lie low and cover his tracks.’
‘Yes-yes-or else-if he had real audacity, he would strike quickly – without loss of time. Before I had time to make inquiries- pouf, Mademoiselle is dead. That is a man with audacity would do.’
‘But why do you think that somebody read that paragraph other than Miss Buckley?’
‘It was not Miss Buckley who read that paragraph. When I mentioned my name it meant nothing to her. It was not even familiar. Her face did not change. Besides she told us – she opened the paper to look at the tides – nothing else. Well, there was no tide table on that page.’
‘You think someone in the house-‘
‘Someone in the house or who has access to it. And that last is easy – the window stands open. Without doubt Miss Buckley’s friends pass in and out.’
Poirot and Hastings while visiting the Crofts in the lodge:
‘Who do you think this is, mother?’ said Mr. Croft. ‘The extra-special, world-celebrated detective, Mr. Hercule Poirot. I brought him right along to have a chat with you.’
‘If that isn’t too exciting for words,’ cried Mrs. Croft. ‘ Read about that Blue Train Business, I did, and you just happening to be on it, and a lot about your other cases. Since this trouble with my back, I’ve read all the detective stories that ever were, I should think. Nothing else seems to pass the time away so dear….’