Notes On Poirot’s Early Cases

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1974

Motive for Murder: Wealth / Woman / Identity

Highlights:

 ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ –

in The King of Clubs

 These seventeen cases of the famous little Belgian man mean to rediscover the brilliance of Christie’s story-telling skill. Personally, I feel I have found the ‘twin’ of Poirot Investigates (see the previous note) owing to the same references which the two books share – mostly are names. Needless to say, there are also similarities in the plot as well as the kind of crimes that have been committed.

What makes me wonder is Poirot’s Early Cases was published fifty years after the other. What made the authoress postpone it? To begin with, it does seem that it might have been written after Poirot Investigates. The first paragraph of Hastings’s in the opening case appears to indicate such, which runs as follows:

‘Pure chance led my friend Hercule Poirot, formerly chief of the Belgian force, to be connected witj the Styles case. His success brought him to notoriety, and he decided to devote himself to the solving of problems in crime. Having been wounded on the Somme and invalided out of the Army, I finally took up my quarters with him in London. Since I have a first-hand knowledge of most of his cases, it has been suggested to me that I select some of the most interesting and place them on record. I cannot do better than begin with that strangle tangle which aroused such widespread public interest at the time. I refer to the affair at the Victory Ball.’

Furthermore, The Double Clue describes the circumstances of Poirot’s meeting  Countess Vera Rossakoff (further details are in the plot in the other section). His client, a collector and connoiseur, describes the countess as ‘a very charming Russian lady, a member of the old regime.’ Poirot’s gentleman touch in handling a jewel thief is bewildering, yet it his remarks to Hastings at the end of the story that is witty: ‘A remarkable woman. I have a feeling, my friend – a very decided feeling – I shall meet her again. Where, I wonder?’

An illustration of Poirot and Countess Rossakoff for ‘The Capture of Ceberus’ written in 1939, which is entirely different from a story with the same title in The Labours of Hercules. Sixty years afterward the Daily Mail published the story about a dictator, August Hertzlein who represents Adolf Hitler.

Hence their reunion in The Big Four (see the Notes) and in The Captures of Ceberus (see Notes on The Labours of Hercules) in which he returns her favours. Arguably, it is deduced that he has fancied her over the years, for the countess then has never been caught while Poirot does not sound to be keen at the idea.

Meanwhile, not only does The Affair At the Victory Ball attract the public at large but also it is the early formulation of the enigmatic Mr. Harley Quin. For the setting of the story is a murder at a costume party in which the attendees wear costumes from Commedia dell ‘Arte characters. Then the murderer takes advantage of the situation by establishing a convincing alibi. Nonetheless, he makes a mistake: a dead body cannot lie.

The Plymouth Express will jog readers’ mind to the plot of The Mystery of The Blue Train (see the Notes). To my mind, the short story works better than the than the novel as it has the right pace and there are not too many characters. What I like most is Christie’s dry humour in the denouement; the last sentences of Poirot’s. ‘The good Japp, he shall get the official credit, all right, but tough he has got his [whodunit’s name], I think that I, as the Americans say, have got his goat!

A break to the countryside brings the trio Hastings-Japp-Poirot to Market Basing. Soon it is ruined by a curious suicide case of Walter Protheroe. Has the names rung a bell to you, readers; the market town’s name near St. Mary Mead and the same surname in The Murder At The Vicarage (see the Notes)?

Speaking of chocolates, no doubt readers will remember that Christie has made quite a few references to cocoa in her novels. Take the example of an elderly woman at a nursing home who  eats a chocolate filled with Arsenic in Three-Act Tragedy. In Peril At End House, the murderer tries another attempt to  …….. by sending a box of chocolates with Poirot’s card enclosed. In The Chocolates Box, however, Poirot recalls his failure in a case to Hastings while he was a detective in Belgium. Nonetheless, what is the relation between the death of a French Deputy, a devout Catholic which occurs after dinner and the shortage of Trinitine tablets belonged to one of the guests whom stays over at the deceased’s house?

Third Girl (see the Notes) seems to be inspired by he Third-Floor Flat in which a woman is shot and the body is hidden under the curtain. Although the motive and the circumstances are entirely different, the basic plot remains the same. Whilst in the sixties’ novel an ordinary girl comes to Poirot because she thought she had killed someone, in the short story Poirot offers his assistance when an occupant of a flat two floors down from his has been killed.The Submarine Plan and The Market Basing Mystery are another examples of recurring plots, of which are then extended in The Incredible Theft and Murder In The Mews (see Notes On Murder In The Mews).

At this stage I must admit that sometimes it disappoints me a bit to have noticed the same ingredients and taste used in ‘a dish of crime’ of Christie’s. On the positive note, it is fascinating to realise that an occurrence and a character can be depicted from a different angle. Besides, her sharp observation of the changing world and the aptness to embrace –  or her subtle rejection to some of them – are eloquently expressed.

Anyhow, impostors and fake alibis are aplenty; from a broke aristocrat man who sees a fake kidnap as a way out to a multi-faceted man whose mask is lifted before the end of a voyage; from thefts at a grand scale to Poirot’s tale of acquiring shares in a Burmese steel mine for his fee.

Interestingly enough, the world of the City and investment seem not to bear a good impression to the authoress.  The Adventure of Clapham Cook, The Lost Mine and The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly are those which pinpoint the dark sides of bankers and financiers. Such is also highlighted in Poirot Investigates in The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim.

One thing that is most fascinating is Christie’s firm objection about superstition and medium. The King of Clubs and The Lemesurier Inheritance sees to them, for through both stories she seems to have wished to dispel the myths of a hundred years curse and a medium’s words of warning (‘Beware of the kings of clubs. Danger threatens you!’).

If anything, the above notion is a contrast to The Hound of Death and The Mysterious Mr.Quin. For she regards unintelligible events with an air of solemnity which borders to sadness.  More importantly, it is a depart from the light-hearted mood found in the books previously published, particularly the banters among Poirot, Hastings and Inspector Japp. I am intrigued whether   the unfortunate event in 1926 has had something to do with the change of mood in her writing.

Anyhow, Wasps’ Nest and How Does Your Garden Grow are two favourites of mine. The former story sees Poirot’s quiet act to prevent a murder, just as what he does to Hastings in Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. In the latter story,  the use of a nursery rhymes which has ‘cockle shells’ in it is marvellous; who would ever thought of such a method of smuggling poison? Unfortunately, this kind of deceiving approach does not recur in the novels. I only remember a similar kind of association in Four-and-Twenty (see Notes On The Adventure of The Christmas Pudding).

To sum up, some lines from Hamlet below might suit:

The ghost I have seen

Maybe the devil: and the devil hath power

To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps

Out of my weakness and my melancholy,

As he is very potent with such spirits.

Abuses me to damn me

The Plots, Cast of Characters and The Twists in the order of appearance:

1.     The Affair At The Victory Ball

Plot:  Two deaths in the same night of Lord Cronshaw and a famous actress who attends a ball wearing Harlequin and Columbine costumes attract the attention of public. Whilst ‘Harlequin’ is stabbed with a table-knife, his lover has an overdose of cocaine.

To Poirot Inspector Japp consults the matter and shows him a small pompom of emerald green silk taken from the clenched hand of the dead Viscount.

Commedia dell’ Arte masks

Cast:

The Davidsons (who attend the ball as Pierrott and Pierrette)

The Honourable Eustace Beltane (who succeeds the title as Lord Cronshaw, dressed as Punchinello)

Inspector Japp

Mrs. Mallaby (dressed as Pulcinella)

The Twist:

The doctor who examines Lord Cronshaw’s body is amazed by the stiffening of the limbs of the deceased despite having been informed that the deceased was alive ten minutes before.

 

2.     The Adventure of The Clapham Cook

Plot: A rather hysterical woman sees Poirot and declares the urgency to find her cook. ‘A good cook’s a good cook – and when you lose her, it’s as much to you as her pearls are to some fine lady.’

The next day, to the sleuth’s utter dismay, the client wishes to cease the investigation and enclose a guinea for a consultation fee. Will Poirot accept the money and the missing cook? What does it relate to the disappearance of a blank clerk with fifty-thousands pounds in cash?

Cast:

Annie (the maid at the Todds‘s house)

Eliza Dunn (the missing cook)

Mr. Simpson (a bank clerk in the City who pays for dinner at the Todds)

The Todds (the husband works in the City and the wife, of whom she asks Poirot to find the cook)

The Twist:

Elizabeth Dunn’s trunk is packed and corded before she gives an abrupt notice to her employer.

 

3.The Cornish Mystery

Plot: ‘I’m dreadfully afraid I’m being poisoned,’ says an anxious middle-aged woman who comes Polgarwith in Cornwall. Poirot’s arrival the next day is half an hour’s late: the woman has just died thirty minutes before.

Who is to blame: the husband who has an affair with his young secretary; a niece who has had a row with the deceased about her infatuation with a man twenty years her junior or the man concerned, of whom he is engaged to the niece?

Cast:

Freda Stanton (Mr.Pengelley’s niece who lives with the Pengelleys)

Mrs. Pengelley

Jacob Radnor (The Pengelleys’ friend, Freda’s fiance)

The Twist:

The killer does not know that Mrs. Pengelley has asked Poirot to investigate  

 

4.     The Adventure of Johnnie Weaverly

Plot: A three-year-old boy, an heir of Marcus Waverly, one of the oldest families in England, has been kidnapped from his house. Three threatening letters prior to the incident were received, along with the increasing demand of ransom to fifty-thousand pounds.

A visit to Waverly Court brings to light a priest’s hole, which only the parents of the boy and a long-standing butler know. As Poirot and Hastings observes the tiny room, the Belgian looks at a mark in a corner – four imprints close together. ‘A dog,’ Hastings cries. ‘A very small dog.’ ‘A Pom.’ ‘Smaller than a Pom.’ ‘A griffon?’ ‘Smaller even than a griffon. A species unknown to the Kennel Club.’ Hastings sees the other’s face is alight with excitement and satisfaction.

What does Poirot mean in his last sentence?

Cast:

The Waverlys (the parents of the kidnapped boy)

The Twist:

Marcus Waverly knows that his wife never likes the butler

5.     The Double Clue

Plot: A plea comes from a collector whose rubies and an emerald necklace have vanished during a dinner party in his house. Of all the attendees, there are four suspects; a Russian countess, an English dame, a South African millionaire and an acquaintance of the host. Who has seemed to have stolen the stones?

In the safe where they used to be kept, there is a glove and a cigarette case. While a suspect admits that it is his, he denies the initials on the case as his. And yet, the answer to the latter problem lies in First Step of Russian book.

Cast:

Bernard Parker (an acquaintance who finds wanted items for Hardman)

Marcus Hardman (a collector, the host of the dinner party)

Lady Runcorn

Countess Vera Rossakoff (one of the guests)

The Twist:

Countess Rossakoff does not intend to drop her cigarette case

 

6.     The King of Clubs

King of Clubs – the missing card in the Oglanders’s bridge game.

Plot: This time a Russian prince enquires Poirot to seek the truth behind the killing of an impresario, of whom is connected to the prince’s fiancée, Valerie Saintclair. The deceased has blackmailed her to reveal her true identity to the prince.

Nonetheless, he is afraid of that his fiancee has hit the deceased in a fit of rage, as she was present at his villa on the night of the murder.

The next day, Saintclair tells Poirot about a tramp who was hiding behind the curtain and attacked the deceased. Afterwards the tramp leaves and she runs out of the house into a cottage where a family has been playing the bridge.

Will Poirot find the murderer?

Cast:

Count Paul Feodor (Valerie’s fiancé)

The Oglanders ( lives in a cottage near Reedburn’s)

Valerie Saintclair (a famous dancer)

The Twist:

The Oglanders play the bridge without the king of clubs

 

7.     The Lemesurier Inheritance

Plot: A plea from a woman who worries about three accidents to his elder son brings Poirot and Hastings to the home of the Lemesuriers. Prior to that, years before, they met the husband, Hugo, whom was present when a fatal accident then occurred to his cousin, the father of Hastings’s acquaintance.

Legend has it that the old family has been cursed for hundred years. Furthermore, Poirot’s observation of the house leads him to his discovering that the curse is simply a myth encouraged by an insane mind whom is willing to take life of his own blood.

Cast:

Gerald Lemesurier (Hugo’s younger son)

Hugo Lemesurier (Ronald’s father)

John Gardiner (Hugo’s secretary)

Mrs. Lemesurier (Ronald’s mother)

Roger Lemesurier (Vincent’s cousin)

Ronald Lemesurier (Hugo’s elder son)

The Twist:

There are only Hugo’s words that Ronald has been stung by a bee

 

8.     The Lost Mine

Plot: A financier urges Poirot to recover documents relating to the sale of an ore mine in Burma. They have been brought into Britain by a Chinese man, Wu Ling, who came to Britain to negotiate the sale.  After his arrival at Southampton he was seen to have checked in at the Russel Square Hotel in London.  On the day of the meeting he did not come and later on was found died.

Suspicion is then drawn to a passenger on board the liner Wu Ling was in. The man is arrested but the relevant documents are not with him. Instead he said to the police that he had meant to meet the deceased at the hotel but he did not turn up. His servant offered to take the suspect to where his master was. Yet, the deceased had travelled alone.

Does it make Lester a murderer nevertheless?

Cast:

Charles Lester (who is on the same boat with Wu Ling)

Inspector Miller

Mr. Pearson (Poirot’s client, the financier)

The Twist:

Mr. Pearson gives false account of not having met Wu Ling at Southampton.

 

9.     The Plymouth Express

Plot: When Lieutenant Simpson cannot put his suitcase under the opposite seat on the train, he stoops down to see what the obstacle is. A cry and a halt are in order afterwards, for a body of a daughter of an American magnate was found.  Flossie Carrington (nee Halliday) was on her way to Torquay and with her was a jewel case whose contents worth a fortune.

According to her maid, she was told to take the luggage out and wait in Bristol. Furthermore, there is a husband whose financial situation does not look promising and an ex-lover, of whom the deceased intended to have met.

Who has lied to Poirot?

Cast:

Count Armand de la Rochefour (Flossie’s former lover)

Ebenezer Halliday (the American magnate, Flossie’s father)

Inspector Japp

Jane Mason (Flossie’s maid who travels with her mistress)

The Honorable Rupert Carrington (Flossie’s estranged husband)

The Twist:

The maid keeps the outfit the deceased has worn on the day – a white fox fur toque with white spotted veil and a blue frieze coat and skirt.

 

10.                        The Chocolate Box

Plot: A young woman approaches Poirot while he is on holiday. For she believes that her cousin’s husband, a very senior politician in Belgium, has been poisoned. Nor she thinks that the doctor’s verdict of heart failure is satisfactory. The man, of whom she has known well, had a clean bill of health.

What can Poirot do after three days when the police have done with the crime scene and he can no longer see the body nevertheless? From her he learns about the household, which consists of the client, the deceased’s mother, long-standing servants and the presence of two guests at the time.

Poirot’s observation brings about his noticing a large box of chocolates whose contents have not been touched but the colour of the lid is mismatched with the box.  From the old servant he gathers that the deceased used to be fond of sweets and eat them after dinner. On the day, the deceased finished a box and the one that is present is the new one.

Not until the sleuth sees an English chemist who prescribes little tablets of Trinitrines for John Wilson and shows him the tablets does he begin to see how the deceased was poisoned with the overdose of them.

Whom, among the people in the house, has poisoned him?

Cast:

Francois (the old servant)

Mrs. Deroulard (the deceased’s mother)

John Wilson (an English businessman, one of the guests who stays over)

M. de Saint Alard (one of the guests, a neighbour of the deceased in France)

Virginie Mesnard (the late deceased’s wife’s cousin who lives in the house)

The doctor

The Twist: Mrs. Deroulard has cataract in both eyes

 

11.                        The Submarine Plans

Plot: In the small hours Poirot and Hastings are summoned to the residence of the Minister of Defence. The plans of the new Z type of submarine have been stolen. It was discovered late at night after the guests of the dinner the Minister has hosted retire to bed.

The Minister then asked his secretary to take out the highly-confidential documents and put it on the desk in the study. He heard a scream and went out of the room; a guest’s French maid was standing on the stairs with her hands over her head.

Meanwhile, the Minister says to have seen a shadow slip out of French windows from the room the secretary had been in while having had a stroll up and down the terrace with his friend. Nonetheless, the friend contradicted the other’s saying.

Who has told the truth?

Cast:

Lord Alloway (a.k.a. Sir Ralph Curtis, Minister of Defence)

Mrs. Conrad (a socialite, Lord Alloway’s friend)

Fitzroy (Lord Alloway’s secretary)

Sir Harry Weardale (an Admiral, Lord Alloway’s friend)

Leonard Weardale (Sir Harry’s son)

Leonie (Mrs. Conrad’s French maid)

Lady Juliet Weardale (Sir Harry’s wife)

The Twist:

Lady Juliet takes much longer time to produce the stolen documents to Poirot

 

12.                        The Third-Floor Flat

Plot: A misplaced flat key brings an adventure to two young men who go into the service lift. But they enter the wrong flat one floor down. When they finally get into the right one, they open the door for their two friends whom have been waiting outside. Patricia Garnett points out to one of the men that there is blood on his hands. ‘Hullo, what’s up? You haven’t hurt yourself badly, have you?’ asks the first male. ‘I haven’t hurt myself at all,’ said the second male.

Curiosity brings them back to the third-floor flat. This time one of them spots a woman’s foot under the heavy curtains.

Poirot turns up at Garnett’s door, offering his service to the matter. What does he make of it?

Cast:

Donovan Bailey (Patricia’s friend, of whom she fancies)

Jimmy  (Pat’s other friend, her secret admirer)

Mildred Hope (Pat’s other friend)

Patricia Garnett (the flat’s owner at the fourth floor)

The Twist:

Two clues found in the crime scene: a note from J.F. and a silk handkerchief

 

13.                        Double Sin

Plot: A leisure trip to Charlock Bay from Dartmoor by bus introduces Hastings to Mary Durrant. The young woman with auburn hair works for her aunt, Elizabeth Penn, whom owns an antique shop. She says that her aunt has trusted her with five hundred pounds worth of Cosway miniatures to a potential buyer.

Exmouth Promenade by Brett Humpries. Exmouth might be the imaginary ‘Ebermouth’ where Poirot and Hastings have lunch with Marry Durrant on their way to ‘Charlock Bay.’

To her amazement, having arrived in Charlock Bay and checked-in into a hotel, she finds out that the miniatures are missing. She appeals Poirot to find them.

Cast:

J. Baker Wood (the buyer)

Mary Durrant (the woman who loses the miniature)

The Twist:

Elizabeth Penn’s business is in a bad state

 

14.                        The Market Basing Mystery

Plot: A doctor is not convinced that a dead man he has been examined has committed suicide.  Although in the room where the deceased was in, the door had been locked from the inside and the windows are bolted.

Walter Protheroe is a recluse who has lived in a house in Market Basing for eight years. It is his housekeeper who raised the alarm to the police as she had not been able to get answer to her knocking her employer’s room. Recently Protheroe had visitors, Mr. and Mrs. Parker, whom the deceased did not look pleased at all to have received them in the house.

A break in the countryside for Poirot, Hastings and Inspector Japp has come to an end. In the crime scene, Poirot notices that the grate is filled with cigarette stubs but there is no smell of tobacco.

Be that as it may, Protheroe is not the deceased’s surname.

Cast:

Miss Clegg (the deceased’s housekeeper)

Dr. Giles (the doctor who examines Walter Protheroe)

Inspector Japp

Constable Pollard (of Market Basing police)

The Twist:

The Parkers blackmails Protheroe for his taking part in the blowing-up of the Navy’s first class cruiser in 1910

 

15.                        Wasps’ Nest

Plot: An old acquaintance of Poirot’s is surprised when the Belgian pays a visit to him. What is more is the claim that the detective has come to prevent a murder and shall need the other’s help.

Furthermore, he tells Poirot of his friend’s coming to take out a wasps’s nest. ‘Ah! And how is he going to do with it?’ asks Poirot. ‘Petrol and the garden syringe,’ replies the other. ‘There is another way, is there not? With cyanide of potassium?’ The other looks a little surprised. ‘Yes, but that’s rather dangerous stuff. Always a risk having it about the place.’

How does Poirot concern himself with the removal method of a wasps’ nest?

Cast:

Claude Langton (John’s friend, of whom Poirot has met before)

John Harrison (Poirot’s old acquaintance)

The Twist:

Harrison tells Poirot that Langton will come at nine o’clock.

 

16.                        The Veiled Lady

Plot: An aristocratic woman who has recently engaged to a duke comes to Poirot with a story of her being blackmailed for an incriminating letter, of which will jeopardise the prospect of her marriage.

‘Veiled Lady’ by Raffaelo Monti, an Italian sculptor, author and poet (1818-1881).

The blackmailer has apparently hidden the letter in his house. Using Japp’s credentials, Poirot manages to go into the house and unfasten the window for his plan. Later at night he takes Hastings on the thorough search to find the letter in a Chinese box.

When the client calls in the next day, he gives the letter and says, ‘I had hoped, milady, that you would permit me to keep it [the box] – also as a souvenir.’ He insists and further on opens the bottom of the case and takes out four large glittering stones. ‘The jewels stolen in Bond Street the other day, I rather fancy. Japp will tell us.’ The inspector himself comes out of Poirot’s bedroom.

Who is actually the woman?

Cast:

Lady Milicent Castle Vaughan (the client)

The Twist:

The client wears the wrong pair of shoes for a lady.

 

17.                        Problem At Sea

Plot: On board the ship heading for Alexandria, Egypt, the Carringtons become a talk among other passengers. For the wife, formerly the widow of Lord Carrington, has married to a man the society perceived below her class and younger. Her demeanour furthermore fits to a queen as she demands constant attention from her husband.

Most passengers then go on an excursion trip in Alexandria, but Mrs. Clapperton and Hercule Poirot. When Mr. Clapperton is back in the afternoon, his knocking to his wife’s cabin goes unanswered. He calls a steward for a key to their utter shock. On her bunk bed she lies with a dagger through her heart. A string of amber beads is on the floor of her cabin.

Was her murderer one of the Egyptian bead sellers who come on board that day or a passenger on the ship?           

Cast:

Passengers on board the ship:

Ellison Henderson

General Forbes

Colonel John Clapperton (Adeline’s husband)

Kitty and Pam (two young girls)

The Twist:

John Clapperton before the war was a ventriloquist.

 

 

18.                        How Does Your Garden Grow?

Plot:

Miss Lemon, the superefficient secretary, has to go to a village outside London for a change. She needs to enquire a fishmonger how much fish has been ordered on the day Amelia Barrowby died. For a large dose of strychnine was found inside the elderly woman’s body and it amazes Poirot how a bitter-taste liquid has successfully passed the deceased’s mouth without her complaining.

Pauline Moran stars as Miss Lemon on ITV’s Poirot series for many years.

As for the Delafontaines, the wife is Barrowby’s niece, of whom the deceased used to live with them and help with the upkeep of the house. Furthermore, she brought with her a nurse attendant who will inherit her fortune upon her death.

Suspicion lies at the nurse attendant as she has the motive. Nonetheless, does she have the will to kill her charge?

When Poirot visited the Delafontaine’s house for the first time, he remembers walking up a path  with neatly planned beds on either side and looking at the last bed which was partly edged with shells. He then murmured nursery rhymes:

Mistress Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With cockle-shells, and silver bells,

And pretty maids in a row

What links Miss Lemon’s task and the above children’s song?

Cast:

Amelia Barrowby (the client)

The Delafontaines (Henry the husband and Mary the wife

Katrina Rieger (Russian, Barrowby’s nurse attendant)

Inspector Sims (of Rosebank police)

Miss Lemon (Poirot’s secretary)

The Twist:

The Delafontaines brings a dozen and a half oysters as a little treat for their aunt after dinner

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