Rate: 4.5 out of five
Year of Publication: 1924
Motive for Murder: Wealth
Disguise, the trick of the mind and minute details are the highlights of the eleven cases of Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings’s.
In the postwar Britain, an eccentric foreigner and his war hero sidekick have never been short of jobs. Various clients come in and out of his flat, demanding the ex-detective in the Belgian police force to take ‘little problems’ of theirs without having to involve the police.
To begin with, an American film star Mary Marvell has received threat letters concerning a diamond in her possession in The Adventure of The ‘Western Star.’ Is it true that unless the stone is reunited with its twin that the curse might fall on Marvell? A curious case over the death of a man who, a few weeks prior to his death, has insured his life for a very large sum attracts an insurance company. Did he die naturally or having committed a suicide? Poirot is then sent for establishing the nature of the death and later finds an intriguing story told during the dinner. Nonetheless, a spell of spy in The Adventure of The Cheap Flat is quite a contrast Poirot indulges himself in renting a flat at an extortionate amount of rent just to catch a suspect.
Furthermore, a murderer plays a little game of disguise in order get away from the murder of an old man with means (The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge). What is more, a robbery is not a robbery, but merely a trick for a coverage in the front pages in The Million Dollar Bank Robbery. A woman whose fiancée is accused of having stolen the bonds determines to get to the bottom of it. Who is one to believe: bankers at the London Scottish Bank or the man in charge of guarding the bonds with his life on board of a liner heading for New York?
The authoress does not forget to splash a touch of superstition in The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb. Interestingly enough, the Belgian is oblidged to undergo a journey to Cairo accompanied by the faithful Hastings with a view to dispel the curse of King Men-her-Ra. Be that as it may, what makes Poirot say ‘I will put it plainly. Was any act committed by those four men which might seem to denote disrespect to the spirit of Men-her-Ra?’
A woman who comes sooner than expected to her hotel room has ruined the plan of a gang of jewel thieves. But for Poirot’s eye of a faint square mark on a table in the opposite room, the swift act of the gang would not have been revealed. Christie’s brush with politics in The Kidnapped Prime Minister puts forward an Irish descendant Chief Inspector Detective at Scotland Yard in the hot seat. Being the driver for the PM during the kidnap, O’ Murphy is suspected to ‘have his finger in the pie’ for the kidnapping, particularly that he, along with Captain Davies, the PM secretary then disappear. Poirot is given a carte blance to find the PM in twenty-four hours.
When a well-known financier has not come back for three days after having been seen to have walked out of his house, there seems to be the possibility of a foul play. Yet, as Poirot looks at the content of his safe which have gone missing, The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim reveals the fact that he is still alive. What is the relationship between his hobby of collecting precious stone and a tramp caught of having pawned the other’s gold ring?
A chat with a neighbour is interrupted when an Italian nobleman, the neighbour’s patient dies from having been struck on the head by a marble statue. The lift attendant says that the deceased has apparently dined with two foreign gentlemen in his flat. Yet, as Poirot notices later, the food has all been consumed but three coffee cups remain untouched. A woman fortunately is not involved in The Adventure of The Italian Nobleman, although Poirot’s last client is decidedly a woman without a face of a Nymph. She presents The Case of The Missing Will in which she would obtain a late uncle’s fortunes if she can find the second will made within a year. Was it a mere treasure hunt or another exercise of the little grey cells? Most significantly, where to start? Little does Poirot realise that it is right under his nose.
The amiable Hastings – the ‘Dr. Watson’ – tries his hands on two cases to no avail. Much as he tries to the best of his ability to apply Poirot’s method, he cannot make out where his mistakes are. Needless to say, he looks a case from a wrong angle. ‘Poirot, am I quite demented?’ he asks, after the ‘Western Star’ has been returned to its rightful owner. ‘No, mon ami, but you are, as always, in a mental fog,’ replies Poirot.
The second chance emerges when the ill Belgian cannot afford to disappoint a client. Hastings goes with the client to the crime scene and reports everything. Still, it beggars belief as he receives a telegram from Poirot saying ‘Advise Japp to detain the housekeeper.’ While Hastings’ attention is drawn to the mysterious guest who comes to see the deceased earlier on the day, Poirot has a different idea in his previous telegram. ‘Of course black-bearded description of housekeeper and what clothes she wore this morning….’
The eleven cases in which Inspector Japp also appears speak volumes the dynamics between the duo or when Japp is involved, the trio. Banters on the part of the inspector and slight criticism spoken on Poirot’s peculiar remarks and gestures by Hastings are deployed brilliantly. On the contrary, the Belgian has shown no signs of being low profile and disregards the other two’s ‘jokes’ over his preoccupation with precision and symmetry.
Personally, I believe the contrasting and amusing Japp-Hastings-Poirot might be one of the unusual blend of characters that works extremely well in the crime genre. Poirot’s foreignness is hardly understood whilst his collaboration with Japp gives him an opportunity to establish himself as a sought-after private detective. And yet, without Hastings, a personae of quintessentially English, Poirot might not have been accepted in a certain circle. Also, Hasting as a narrator with his choice of words and viewpoints makes Christie’s self-criticism to English stiff upper-lip attitude becomes tolerable.
At this stage I still wonder why Poirot is potrayed in such a way. His being preoccupied with order and accuracy nowadays can be perceived as symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. What does Christie try to tell her readers about the little Belgian? Also, it raises the question whether a profession might be defined by personality and a different type of intelligence. For Poirot seems to have a photographic memory; he is able to remember a mere description of a suspect and his movement and then deduces its significance to the crime. On the other hand, Hastings is good at reflection and can describe an occurrence with sufficient detail. Yet, he does not sound to see something beyond facts, which he often admits.
Lastly, this is the book that should be read along with Poirot’s Early Cases, for there are some references that will only make sense when readers if both books are read side by side. I will tell you all in the next notes.
Plots, Cast of Characters and The Twists in the order of appearance:
1. The Adventure of The ‘Western Star’
Mary Marvell goes to Poirot having received a threat letter about the diamond in her possession called The ‘Western Star.’ She ignored the previous letter, thinking that was a joke. Yet, when the latest one came by hand and delivered by a Chinese man, she had a change of heart. For the precious stone is a present from her husband, the American actor Greg Rolf, whom bought it from a Chinese man in San Franscisco three years ago.
After she leaves, Lady Yardly amazingly comes with a similar story; that the ‘twin’ diamond of Marvel’s –the ‘Eastern Star’- in the hands of the aristocratic woman will be taken from her during the dinner party at their residence. In the meantime, her husband has found a potential buyer to the family’s heirloom and she will have to wear it on the occasion.
On the day, as Lady Yardly appears in a long white shimmering dress for the dinner, her hand stretches out for the big light switch. Then, the incredible thing happens….
Is it true that the diamonds are cursed?
Gregory B. Rolf (Mary’s husband, an actor)
Mary Marvell (the Hollywood actress)
Lord and Lady Yardly
The Twist: Lady Yardly and Greg Rolf had an affair while she was in the USA.
2. The Tragedy At Marsdon Manor
Plot: Mr. Maltravers, a client of the Northern Union, dies for some unknown reason but a kind of internal haemorrhage. Poirot is sent by the insurance company to establish the circumstances of the death and finds out whether the deceased is likely to have committed suicide. For a few weeks beforehand he has insured himself with a large sum of money with his wife as the sole beneficiary.
On Tuesday, the day before the murder, a son of the deceased’s old friend came to visit and stayed for dinner. He was scheduled to board a liner heading for East Africa the next day, but decided to cancel the passage having received a telegram about an uncle who had died in Scotland and his leaving the nephew some money. Moreover, he thought he ought to revisit Marsdon Manor to offer his condolescences to the widow.
Will Poirot believe the man’s story? How about the doctor’s verdict of the cause o death from gastric ulcer in spite of blood on the deceased’s lips?
Captain Black (Mrs. Maltravers’s acquaintance)
Dr. Bernard (the deceased’s doctor)
The Twist: Mr. Maltravers is not a Scientologist
3. The Adventure of The Cheap Flat
Plot: In a small gathering the newlywed Mrs. Robinson shares her delight of having just acquired a flat at an affluent London neighbourhood at an incredible price below the market rate. Further on Hastings retells the story to the Belgian sleuth, whom takes a great interest in it and makes enquiries about the flat in Montagu Mansions.
The porter says to Poirot and Hastings that the Robinsons have lived in the flat for six months nevertheless. To Hastings’s surprise, his slightly eccentric friend then decides to rent a flat next to the Robinsons.’ ‘But I make money nowadays! Why should I not indulge a whim? By the way, Hastings, have you a revolver?’
What does Poirot have in mind?
Mr. Burt (of the US Secret Service)
Elsa Hardt (American, a concert singer)
Gerald Parker (Hastings’ s old friend)
Luigi Valdano (Italian, who follows Elsa Hardt from New York)
The Robinsons ( the American newlywed couple)
The porter at Montagu Mansions
The Twist: A stolen very confidential document belonged to the US government is sewn in the inner lining of telephone cover in the shape of a big black velvet cat.
4. The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge
Plot: A telegram comes concerning the untimely death of an old uncle with means. The nephew, having received the news, begs Poirot to take the case. Being ill from influenza, the sleuth sends Hastings with Roger Havering to the crime scene, Hunter’s Lodge, in the midst of Derbsyhire moors.
Harrington Pace, who made home with the Haverings for three years prior to his death, seems to make the nephew as his heir. Nonetheless, why does Havering go to the detective if he has killed Pace? Was it because his wife’s suggesting to do such in the telegram? Moreover, what makes Inspector Japp come to investigate, too?
Harrington Pace (the deceased, Roger’s maternal uncle)
Mrs. Middleton (the housekeeper)
Roger Havering (the nephew of Harrington)
Zoe Haring (nee Carrisbrook, the wife of Roger’s)
The Twist: Mrs. Middleton, the quiet middle-aged woman who appears normal and respectable, has left the day after the murder.
5. The Million Dollar Bond Robbery
Plot: A million dollars’s worth of Liberty Bonds sent to an American bank in New York has been stolen on board the Olympia. Philip Ridgeway, the trustworthy employee at London and Scottish Bank who brings the bonds with him in a trunk, is held responsible. With his career badly affected, it spurs Esmee Farquhar, his fiancée, into action. She lays all the facts to Poirot and Hastings, of whom have then agree to solve the puzzling matter.
First and foremost, the trunk is fitted with a special ‘Hubbs’ lock, meaning that each lock is unique. Ridgeway is the only one who holds the key on the ship. A thorough search bears no result. What astonishes him most is that the bonds were offered for sale within half an hour of the liner’s arrival.
‘….Remember, Mr. Ridgeway never opened it from the time it was placed in his hands in London,’ says Poirot to Hastings. What does it lead to?
Esmee Farquhar (Philip’s fiancée, the employer at the bank)
Philip Ridgeway (Esmee’s fiancé, Mr. Vavasour’s nephew)
Mr. Shaw and Mr. Vavasour (the joint general managers at London and Scottish Bank)
The Twist: Mr. Shaw orders the lock himself and he also has the key besides Ridgeway and Mr. Vavasour.
6. The Adventure of The Egyptian Tomb
Plot: The curse of ‘Men-her-Ra’has dawned upon the team who has found the tomb of an ancient Egypt king. Three people have died within a month of the opening of the tomb; a heart failure, acute blood poisoning and suicide. It is by the wish of one of the deceased’s widow whose son has followed his father’s step to be involved in the expedition that Poirot braces himself to undergo a journey to Cairo accompanied by Hastings.
The fourth life is claimed when they arrive in the excavation site. This time, the cause is tetanus from a septic wound. Who, among the remaining people, has the greatest interest to make the impression that a supernatural force is behind all deaths?
Sir Guy WWaillard (Lady Willard’s son)
Mr. Harper (the secretary of the expedition)
Hassan (Sir John’s devoted native servant)
Lady Willard (the widow of Sir John Willard, who dies from a heart failure)
Dr. Robert Ames
Dr. Toswill (an official connected to the British Museum)
The Twist: Mr. Bleibner, one of the victims, shoots himself having believed himself a leper.
7. The Jewel Robbery At The Grand Metropolitan
Plot: Mrs. Opalsen, upon meeting Poirot at the Grand Metropolitan Hotel, wants to show him the pearls she has brought with her. She goes up to her room, where they have been kept in a jewel case, to fetch but does not come back. Moments later Poirot and Hastings are summoned to her room and presented with the problem of the stolen pearls.
The suspicion lies at her maid who has been in and out of the room during the stay although the jewel case is locked. Furthermore, there is also a chambermaid who cleans the room. Yet, Poirot’s little experiment shows that there was not enough time for the chambermaid to have taken the pearls without being noticed by the maid. Be that as it may, the pearls are found presently under the maid’s bed. Does it mean that it was the maid whodunit?
Celestine (Mrs. Opalsen’s French maid)
The Opalsens (the husband is a stock brocker who makes a fortune in oil boom)
The Twist: Poirot’s coat sleeve is smeared by French chalk when he examines Mr. Opalsen’s room, of which has a connecting door to his wife’s.
8. The Kidnapped Prime Minister
Plot: The absence of Britain Prime Minister in the Allied Conference in Paris is a must to the success of the Pacifist propaganda backed by German. The PM is believed to have been kidnapped on his way to France. Prior to that, an attempt to his life was made but he managed to escape with little injury. Then he has disappeared, along with his secretary and the driver; the three of them were in the same car.
O’Murphy, the Premier’s chauffeur, becomes the suspect although he is a Chief Inspector Detective. The other is Captain Daniels, the secretary who is a fine linguist. For when the car was deviated from the main road, who had made the decision? Was O’Murphy’s doing having turned the car? Or because Davies told him so?
Poirot has twenty fours before the Conference commences at Versailles.
Bernard Dodge (a member of the War Cabinet, the Prime Minister’s friend)
Lord Estair (Leader of the House of Commons)
Major Norman (a military officer who is assigned to assist Poirot)
The Twist: Mrs. Everard, Captain Daniels’s so-called aunt, is Frau Bertha Ebenthal whom police has been looking for some time.
9. The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim
Plot: When a senior partner at Davenheim and Salmon, a reputable City banker and financier company disappears, Poirot is inclined to think of such as a deliberate act. As he discusses the case with Inspector Japp and Hastings, it seems clear for the Belgian that the motive can be found given all facts are laid in front of him. ‘….Bet you a fiver that you can’t lay your hand – or rather tell me where to lay my hand- on Mr. Davenheim, dead or alive, before a week is out,’ replies Japp, being slightly amused by the other’s confidence.
On Saturday, Mr. Davenheim failed to see a man who has had an appointment with him at his house. After an hour waiting in the study, the guest left. Sunday morning the police was informed while on Monday the safe in the missing man’s study had been broken into; bonds for a substantial amount of money and Mrs. Davenheim’s jewels were taken.
Furthermore, police has detained Billy Kellet, a man who tried to pawn a thick gold ring with a solitaire diamond of Mr. Davenheim’s. Kellet had been in jail for three months months before for lifting an old gentleman’s watch.
Before Japp leaves Poirot’s flat, the sleuth asks: ‘Have you any idea, my friend, whether Mr. And mrs. Davenheim occupied the same bedroom?’
Perhaps Japp should have a second thought before making a bet.
Billy Kellet (the tramp who tells the police that he found Mr. Davenheim’s ring)
The Twist: Mr. Davenheim is in Buenos Aires around the time Billy Kellet has been in jail.
10. The adventure of the Italian Nobleman
Plot: The housekeeper of Dr. Hawker flies into Poirot’s flat and finds her employer chatting with the host at night. Frantically she told the doctor about an urgent phone call she had received from Count Foscatini – something was amiss. No sooner has she finished than Poirot, Hastings and the other head for the count’s flat. The lift attendant tells them that the Count has had two gentlemen dining with him in his flat, but little did he know about the possibility of an ‘accident’ that had happened to the Italian man.
He is found dead, struck on the head by a marble statue. In the dining room Poirot sees meals for three; the food has been consumed but the coffees. According to his valet, two gentlemen of his country folks came to the flat the previous night on Tuesday and the Count then invited them to resume their discussion the next day during the dinner. The police, having acted based on this account, manage to catch one of the men before he left England. Yet he was let free as the Italian Ambassador vouches that the man had been with the Ambassador on Tuesday evening between eight and nine pm.
To Poirot the suspect says that he only came to see the Count on Tuesday morning for ‘some business.’ What kind of business which then killed him?
Signor Ascanio (Italian)
Dr. Hawker (the doctor – Poirot’s neighbour)
Graves (the valet/butler to Count Foscatini)
Robert – the lift attendant
The Twist: The curtain at Count Foscatini’s flat is not drawn and the coffees are left untouched on the night of the murder
11. The Case of The Missing Will
Plot: An orphan can acquire her late uncle’s fortune if she is able to find the missing will the uncle has written within a year. It is not actually missing but hidden in the house where the deceased used to live in Devon. For the reason, she commissions Poirot to find it.
In Crabtree Manor, the detective and Hastings are met by a husband and wife who look after the house. They say they signed the will three years ago in which their master had stated that he would leave everything to a hospital. Afterwards Andrew Marsh went out to the village to pay tradesmen’s books.
Furthermore, Poirot’s attention is drawn to a desk stands against the wall full of papers and are labelled. Attached to the key of the desk is a dirty envelope with words scrawled in crabby handwriting ‘key of roll-top desk.’ Interestingly, the wife mentions that two and a half years ago workmen had come to the house to do some repairs in the study. What for?
The Bakers (the caretakers at Crabtree Manor)
Violet Marsh (the beneficiary of Andrew Marsh’s will)
The Twist: Andrew Marsh uses a special ink to write his second will, of which following its discovery should overrule the first one signed by the Bakers.