Rating: four out of five
Year of Publication: 1991
Motive for Murder/Crime: Wealth
In this compilation of eight marvellous short stories, Agatha Christie delights readers with the presence of her three male sleuths in six respective stories. Two stories each for Parker Pyne, the duo Harley Quin-Satterthwaite and Hercule Poirot ‘the police hound.’ In the two other, two women on a crossroads of their life are faced with difficult decision to make.
Presumably first appeared in the UK magazines, seven of them were written in the twenties and in the thirties. Only The Harlequin Tea Set was in 1971. Interestingly, the copyright of five of them were signed as Mrs. Mallowan; hence after her divorce in 1928.
Poirot’s cases concern with a reconstruction of a suicide and the death of an old eccentric well-to-do man who summons the Belgian to his home. In the former story, it starts when he receives a telephone call from a mysterious woman begging for his help. ‘…table with yellow irises,’ she sounds frightened of being overheard. In the latter, a shot is heard moments after the first gong for dinner but a guest firmly believes of having heard the second gong. Four years later the same plot appears in Dead Man’s Mirror (see Notes On The Murder In The Mews) with alterations to the character names.
In the non-detective stories, two female protagonists must make her choice. On the one hand, it is between a dog or starvation in Next To A Dog; the dog being the very memory of a dead husband. On the other, Theodora Darrel undergoes a battle of will between loyalty vs happiness. Will she still walk out from her marriage having known that her husband has been in a serious charge of theft and fraud?
The Love Detectives (1926) seems to mark the early appearance of Harley Quin; an enigmatic man of whom his path is crossed with Mr. Satterthwaite’s on a number of occasions (see Notes On The Mysterious Mr. Quin). In a dark night both meets when their car collide; Sattwerthwaite is with Colonel Melrose on their way to a crime scene. An aristocrat has been killed with a bronze figure of Venus. Then his beautiful wife and a male guest whom stays over in the house confess of the murder. Who is one to believe?
Any readers who remember Mrs. Protheroe and Lawrence Redding will understand what occurs next in the story (see Notes On The Murder At The Vicarage). The clock is changed to suit the alibi of a suspect and the study also becomes where the ‘thing’ happens. In Miss Marple’s case, however, the deceased’s wife and her lover state that they have shot the victim’s head from the back at close distance. Apt readers would soon realise the reason Mrs. Mallowan puts Colonel Melrose in the above-mentioned short story.
As for The Harlequin Tea Set, Mr. Satterthwaite’s visit to an old friend turns to be an adventure to prevent a murder. Again, meeting Mr. Quin in a nondescript cafe, he gives the other a clue in a word. In this regard the authoress marvels at the association between Daltonism and the rainbow colours of the tea set. For the victim’s inability to distinguish between red and blue cups creates an opportunity for the murderer. Before the tea in a blue cup is drunk, Mr. Satterthwaite comes to the rescue.
I recall the recurring plot in S.O.S. (one of the stories in The Hound of Death). Mortimer Cleveland spots the three letters for a cry for help in his room. He has to figure out the appropriate course of action given that he has no evidence to substantiate. Likewise, Mr. Satterthwaite in the eleventh hour the switch of identity between two boys who have been raised as brothers; one has a colour blind and the other has not.
Forty-one years after twelve beguiling cases in The Mysterious Mr. Quin, I wonder what is the reception to the last case of Mr. Satterthwaite’s. He must have been very old, perhaps older than the authoress who was eighty one when it was published.
What I never cease to admire is the authoress’s agility in mind, with which her brain worked just the same. She may have ‘cooked’ a story using the ingredients, but the result is still a different ‘dish’ to peruse .
Joyce Lambert in Next to A Dog (1929) reminds me of Vivien Corzier in While The Light Lasts (1925). They have the same background; both are widows due to the Great War and continue to live shadowed by the memories of their husbands.
They are very different nevertheless. Corzier moves on and is remarried. She enjoys a comfortable life with a diamond ring on her finger. Joyce does not; life after the War is tough. She lives hand to mouth because she cannot give up an old dog which used to be her husband’s. Ten years afterwards time has come when she has to bite the bullet of having to agree to marry a man she hates for his money so she can keep the dog.
Magnolia Blossom intrigues me because of the intricacy of the catch twenty-two situation the protagonist in. In spite of having been married to a handsome and popular man wi
th means, she is deeply unhappy. Her meeting the right man leads to her decision to elope with him. What happens when she is informed that the man is the one who is going to bring her husband down with some damning papers about the fraud? What choice does she have?
Personally, what is extraordinary is the appearance of Mrs. Mallowan’s less known sleuth, Parker Pyne. He calls himself ‘a specialist in unhappiness’ resolving a sense of futility between two women while on holiday in Majorca. In the other story he helps a man to save his neck after the loss of a diamond belonged to an American millionaire in the party he has attended.
Thus Problem At Pollensa Bay is chosen as the most favourite story owing to Pyne’s ingenuity to make the most of a man’s infatuation to women. Having involved an actress, all is better in the end.
This English gentleman’s sharp mind in The Regatta Mystery lies in his choice of words After describing the unfortunate event to the detective, Evan Llewellyn, the client remarks, ‘I can’t expect you to believe me [with the amazing story]– or anyone else.’ ‘Oh, yes, I believe you,’ replies Pyne. ‘You do? Why?’ ‘Not a criminal type,’ as Pyne continues, ‘not, that is, the particular criminal type that steals jewellery. There are crimes, of course, that you might commit – but we won’t enter into that subejct…’ A touch of Sherlock Holmes here; forthright and harsh.
Be that as it may, I am not satisfied with the way the solution is offered. There should have been more in the story before the jewel thieves are caught. And why has it always been an Italian mafia?
The best thing is the smartness of Mrs. Mallowan having created the likes of Poirot/Pyne/Satterthwaite. For the three of them have a balanced mind between the left and right side of their brains. First and foremost of their correct attitude while dealing with the opposite sex. Furthermore, they listen to women’s gossiping and actually can converse with different types of women when a circumstance suits them.
Supposedly, they are intended to draw the line between the Victorian men and the new era and opportunities up for grab for women after the War. More importantly, Mrs. Mallowan is correct to make clean breast with the famous Sherlock Holmes, who tend to regard women simply as a nuisance.
Lastly, what more than to conclude that those eight stories are worth reading for? Together with the twelve stories in While The Light Lasts (see the Notes), the twenty of them will be sufficient to enter ‘Write Your Own Christie’ competition. Fancy to try?
Plots, Cast of Characters and The Twists in the order of appearance:
1. Problem At Pollensa Bay
Plot: On holiday in Spain Parker Pyne meets the Chesters; Adella the mother and her son Basilin as they stay at Pino d’Oro. The presence of the carefree artist Betty Gregg in the arms of Basil infuriates Adella, of whom disapproves the young woman’s way of dressing and talking.
Furthermore, she flatly refuses the idea of his marrying Miss Gregg. ‘Yes. Mr. Parker Pyne, you must do something. You must get my boy out of this disastrous marriage!’ she pleads.
As for Basil, he wishes his mother had had an open mind to accept his fiancée. Nonetheless, he is aware of Betty being quite stubborn about herself in front of his mother.
Mr. Pyne goes for a week to Soller. On his return he sees the two women have tea together. What has been going on? And why do they look pale?
Betty Gregg (Basil’s girlfriend)
The Chesters (Adella and Basil)
Dolores Ramona (the Spanish woman to whom Basil is infatuated)
Nina Wycherley (Parker’s acquaintance)
The Twist: Miss Ramona is a false identity of an actress, of whom Parker Pyne has hired to seduce Basil Chester
2. The Second Gong
Plot: When the second gong of dinner is sounded, Joan Ashby hurries down the stairs. She thought she was late and at the same time argues with her friend about the accuracy of the fact.
For the first time in the history of Lytcham Close the first gong is delayed. For Hubert Lytcham Roche, the owner, instructs the butler to have done so. He has been waiting for Poirot, whose train has been delayed for half an hour.
Nobody in the house is informed about a sleuth’s presence, except the butler. When he enters into the dining room apologising of his lateness, it dawns on the butler that his master is not among them.
Diana Cleves (Hubert’s adopted daughter)
Digby (the butler)
Geoffrey Keene (Hubert’s secretary)
Gregory Barling (a financier, a suitor for Diana)
Hubert Lytcham Roche (the victim)
Harry Dalehouse (Hubert’s nephew)
Joan Ashby (Harry’s friend)
John Marshall (Hubert’s agent)
Mrs. Lytcham Roche (Hubert’s wife)
The Twist: the murderer sets for the shot to take place at 8.12 pm with his alibi in place. Yet the bullet hit the gong and he picks it up on his way to the study to join others.
3. Yellow Iris
Plot: An American millionaire has a strange way to celebrate the anniversary of the death of his wife four years ago. In a supper party in New York, Irish Russel was poisoned with potassium cyanide. The verdict came as suicide as the remaining poison was found inside the deceased’s handbag.
Unconvinced, her husband recreates the atmosphere in London. He invites all people who were in New York’s one with the cabaret and rolls of drums. This time, he wants to get to the bottom of it.
Anthony Capell (Poirot’s acquaintance)
Barton Russel (an American millionaire)
Senora Lola Valdez (an Argentine actress)
Luigi (the restaurateur at the club Jardin des Cygnes)
Pauline Weatherby (Barton’s young sister-in-law)
Stephen Carter (of foreign service)
The Twist: Pauline Weatherby is coming of age and will inherit her late sister’s wealth.
4. The Harlequin Tea Set
As sweet as love, as black as night, as hot as hell. That’s the old Arab phrase, isn’it?
Mr. Satterthwaite to Mr. Quin
Plot: Mr. Satterthwaite meets Harley Quin by chance in a village cafe. Over Turkish coffee they talk about a family, of whom Mr. Satterthwaite is going to visit. ‘Dantonism,’ says Mr. Quin as they part.
Having been reacquainted with members of the family of an old friend, Satterthwaite feels unease. He reckons that Roland, the grandson, does not esemble much of his father except for his red hair. Then he is intrigued with the similarity in built of Roland’s stepbrother, Timothy.
Something is going to happen, something is amiss. But what?
Beryl Gilliat (Simon’s second wife)
Dr. Horton (Thomas’s friend)
Inez Addison (Thomas’s granddaughter)
Thomas Addison (Mr. Satterthwaite’s old friend)
Roland Gilliat (Thomas’s grandson, Simon’s son)
Simon Gilliat (the late Lily’s husband who remarries)
Timothy Gilliat (Roland’s stepbrother, Beryl’s son)
The Twist: Thomas Addison wears one red and one green pair of shoes when he greets Mr. Satterthwaite.
5. The Regatta Mystery
Plot: Isaac Pointz, a diamond merchant, showed everyone in the party about ‘The Morning Star’ on board of his yacht. The next evening Eve Leathern, who was present, bets that she can steal the precious stone and makes it disappear temporarily without everyone realising it.
The thirty-thousand pounds stone does vanish afterwards. It is clear that one of them has stolen it.
Evan Llewellyn (Pyne’s client)
Eve Leathern (Samuel’s daughter)
Isaac Pointz (Hatton Garden diamond merchant)
Mrs. Jane Rustington
Leo Stein (Isaac’s business partner)
The Marroways (Sir George and Lady Pamela)
Samuel Leathern (an American business acquaintance of Isaac’s)
The Twist: Pointz to Miss Leathern: ‘Eve. I take off my hat to you. You’re the finest thing in jewel thieves I’ve ever come across. What you’ve done with that stone beats me…’
6. The Love Detectives
Plot: Colonel Melrose receives a telephone call about the killing of Sir James Dwighton. Mr. Satterthwaite has been with the chief constable and therefore he accompanies the other to the crime scene at Alderway. On their way driving in the dark they almost collide with car coming from the opposite. In it is Mr. Quin.
At Alderway the three of them meets the deceased’s wife, Lady Laura. Apparently, prior to his husband’s death she had an affair with Paul Delangua, whom had been the guest in the house. The late Sir James then asked him to leave a week ago.
Things move in a different direction when both Lady Laura and her lover confess of a murder. She said to have shot her husband and he had stabbed him with a small dagger. Nonetheless, the cause of death is from a blunt instrument – the bronze figure of Venus.
Furthermore, in the crime scene Satterthwaite picks up a piece of glass. Not until Mr. Quin explains the solution to the case does Satterthwaite realise that the glass will save a man from the gaol.
Inspector Melvin Curtis
Jennings (the deceased’s valet)
Lady Laura Dwighton (the deceased’s wife)
Colonel Melrose (the local chief constable)
Paul Delangua (Lady Laura’s lover)
The Twist: Mr. Satterthwaite’s glass is an evidence that the deceased’s golf watch has not been smashed in his pocket.
7. Next To A Dog
Plot: A stranger helps Joyce Lambert takes her old dog to the vet. It has fallen while standing on the rotten window sill in a flat where she lives. Yet Terry the dog does not have long to live.
Earlier on the day she has agreed to marry a man she despises. Under one condition: Terry must live with them. For it is a living memory of Joyce’s late husband who dies in the War.
The death means that Joyce is now free. What will she do to the engagement? Who is the stranger who helps her?
Mr. Allaby (who interviews Joyce for vacancy as a carer/governess)
Arthur Halliday (Joyce’s would-be husband)
Mrs. Barnes (Joyce’s landlady)
Terry the dog
The Twist: Joyce Lambert breaks her engagement to Arthur Halliday
8. Magnolia Blossom
Plot: Vincent Easton is anxious whether Theodora Darrel will come. He is afraid that she has changed her mind to run away with him.
As for Mrs. Darrel, Easton is a fresh breath. She has been unhappy with her popular and handsome husband and in public she has been expected to play a happy couple. When she is introduced to Easton by her husband, she falls for him.
Richard Darrel knows that Easton is attracted to his wife. He lets Theodora get closer to the other man for his benefit. Darrel’s firm, Hobson, Jekyll and Lucas, has been under scrutiny by the authority and he realises that Easton is commissioned to look into the matter.When the papers begin to sniff the wrongdoing in the firm investment in South Africa, Darrel needs his wife. And he has a way to make her come back to him in spite of herself.
The Darrels (Richard and Theodora)
Vincent Easton (an auditor)
The Twist: Vincent Easton gives the damning report about the firm to Theodora Darrel without wanting a penny for it.