Rating: 4 out of five
Year of Publication: 1952
Motive for Murder: Identity
‘Mrs. McGinty’s dead. How did she die?
Down on her knees just like I.
Poirot’s splendid evening is interrupted by the presence of Superintendent Spence. He begs the detective to save the neck of a man whom the policeman has believed did not give his landlady a fatal blow on the back of her head. Nonetheless, James Bentley is remarkable. He is indifferent to the guilty verdict and unenthusiastic of being freed. Poirot wonders whether he cares to thank the upright superintendent whose conscience has told him that an innocent man may be hanged in three weeks’ time.
Over five months ago Mrs. McGinty was found by her next door neighbour in the parlour of her cottage. Lying on the floor, she had been dead for twenty-four hours. Her bedroom was in a mess; the floorboards were prised up and the little saving she had had underneath was gone. She had no family but a niece.
What other facts can the sleuth possibly unravel from the death of a cleaner? His curiosity prevails nevertheless. As he gets to know the five families where she used to go in in Broadhinny, he does not spot something amiss from them. Not until he finds out that the deceased bought a bottle of ink in the post office two days before her death does he began to think to whom the letter was written. By nature, she did not write much.
When he looks at her belongings, he unwraps a pair of her shoes and notices that the newspaper used dated three days before her death. The middle page of one of them was cut off. What news was she being interested at?
Meanwhile, the murder weapon has not been identified yet – other than something like a meat copper with a very sharp edge.
It is to the forgotten crimes Poirot seeks the answer.
Mrs. McGinty’s dead. How did she die?
Holding her hand out just like I.
Christie’s opposition towards capital punishment seems to be the focal point of the plot. On the one hand is a scrupulous police officer who has grown uneasy that a wrong man is likely to be sent to the gallows. On the other is a convict whose nonchalant behaviour irritates Poirot. The victim herself is very intriguing, for what a simple woman like Mrs. McGinty might have done to be killed?
As for Poirot, there is no ‘glamour’ in the case; the deceased is a farmer’s daughter who earns her wage from being a charwoman in some homes. She does not leave much for the only relative, nor would the sleuth think of the niece the murderess.
Yet Mrs. McGinty likes to know people’s affairs. She is similar to Wilhemina Lawson (Dumb Witness, 1940) and Miss Gilchirst (see Notes On After The Funeral), of whom listen at the doors and checks the drawers for secret letters. What kills Mrs. McGinty is a faded photograph nevertheless.
Given her personality, the sleuth believes that the investigation must focus on the villain.‘….It is in the murderer and not the murdered that the interest of this case lies. Someone who wanted – what? To strike down Mrs. McGinty? Or to strike down James Bentley?’ The authoress puts forward three options to consider: is she the target? Is he the target? Did she die to incriminate him?
In the meantime, let’s postpone further thinking of the above choices. For Poirot faces a predicament staying at the Summerhayes’s home, the only guest house available in the village. Forget small inconveniences but the hostess’s disastrous cooking. And it is not better in the local pub, either. Moreover is being hit by an apple core on the cheek while walking on the country lane one afternoon. ‘Why, it’s M. Poirot,’ exclaims Ariadne Oliver. After sixteen years they are reunited (see Notes On Cards On The Table).
Still believes that a woman should be the Head of Scotland Yard, she drives in the village in order to save her Finnish detective character from being further ruined by Robin Upward, a promising playwright. For his idea for the adaptation of her novel into the stage is rather absurd to her mind. I wonder if Mrs. Oliver’s agitation might have been the reflection of the authoress’s about Alibi?
Be that as it may, I feel her appearance adds little to the plot. As hilarious as usual, she claims the village doctor as the most likely person to have done in Mrs. McGinty in a cold blooded manner. Furthermore, it gives chills to the bones when she realises that a murder to her hostess, Mrs. Upward, could have been carried out while she was sitting in the car outside the home.
Two bodies are not good news. To have found the missing murder weapon is a triffle thrilling nevertheless (see the illustration on the right box). It is preceded by an attempt at Poirot’s life (‘Splendid news. Someone tried to kill me..’ he says to Superintendent Spence on the phone right after the incident).
The fascinating aspect Christie has brought up in the story is reactions of people towards a seemingly harmless article on the newspaper. Despite its accuracies and facts are exaggerated, the piece has awakened a killer. At least a desire to kill in one of the pleasant inhabitants of Broadhinny. As for a curious Mrs. McGinty, one of the photographs stirred her memory of having seen the same one in one of the homes to which she goes. And yet, there are the forgotten children of the victims of the bygone crimes.
As far as I am concerned the book sounds to start the reference to some famous Victorian murder cases. In the book the imaginary Eva Kane seems to resemble Kate Webster. In her later novel By The Pricking of My Thumb (1968), the children killer might have had a touch of the notorious Mary Ann Cotton, whose crimes spanned for twenty years. Likewise, Dead Man’s Folly (1956), Elephants Can Remember (1972) and Hallowe’en Party (1969) also explores the personal background of the criminals, whom get off scot-free due to lack of evidences.
Here is the killer that is far from being hidden nor kept in the dark by the authoress; a cat among the pigeons whose masks himself well. But for fragments of conversations heard by chance, Poirot would not have been able to know his identity. Then an old story book with the killer’s real name on it is discovered.
The use of force in the killing method suggests the sex of the killer. Although the diversions have been put in place by different assumptions, the strength deployed is a necessity. For the killer wants to ensure that the ‘danger’ has been eliminated. And there is an element of timing, too. In Christie’s books, such a methodical approach shows a brain behind it.
I least like the fact that Mrs. Oliver is there because of her profession, not her personality. For I am impartial about her; my favourite partner in crime of Poirot’s. I am not disappointed that her instinct is misleading, but for her wasting the time feeling frustrated to an overconfident male playwright. Yet, for whom the criticism Christie aimed at?
Lastly, has she been successful to make her points heard about the flaws in capital punishment? Halfway is on the verge of dropping the case. What keeps his going is Maude Williams (see The Most Fascinating Character), Bentley’s ex-colleague who takes too great an interest to the case. Does she say correctly that she has been driven by her feelings to the nonchalant convict?
On the other hand, supposing the implementation of capital punishment might help prevent the overcrowded of prisons in the UK nowadays, what would Christie have had to say?
On the whole, read the book with clear conscience, for justice is to whomever deserves, n’est-ce pa?
Mrs. McGinty’s dead. How did she die?
-Mrs. Upward lies to Poirot about her having seen the photograph of Lily Gamboll
-A smell of Mrs. Carpenter’s perfume in the living room of Mrs. Upward’s after the body is found
-Maureen Summerhayes is adopted, just like Robin Upward
-Maude Williams sees a man trying to get into Mrs. Wetherby’s barred windows using a ladder
-James Bentley forms the impression that Mrs. McGinty was talking about Mrs. Upward in relation to the newspaper article
-Maude Williams is Robin Upward’s half sister
Cast of Characters:
Mrs. McGinty’s dead. How did she die?
Sticking her neck out just like I
Mrs. Upward to Poirot
-Ariadne Oliver (the crime novelist who comes to stay with the Upwards)
-Mrs. Bessie Burch (Mrs. McGinty’s niece)
-Mrs. Elliot (the next-door neighbour who finds Mrs. McGinty’s body)
-James Bentley (the convict)
-Maude Williams (James’s friend who works at an estate agent office)
-Pamela Horsefall (the journalist who writes the article on the Sunday Comet)
-Mr. Scuttle (the partner at Messrs Breather & Scuttle, where James used to work)
-Mrs. Sweetiman (the woman at the post office)
Mrs. McGinty’s clients:
– The Carpenters (the husband, Guy, is an MP candidate and the wife, Eva)
-The Hendersons( a stepfather, a hypochondriac mother and the daughter Deidre)
-The Rendells (the husband a doctor and the wife Shelagh)
-The Summerhayes (the husband Johnnie and the wife Maureen)
-The Upwards (the mother an elderly, the son Lawrence is a playwright)
The Most Fascinating Character: Maude Williams
She approaches Poirot in a cafe and introduces herself after hearing his interview with Mr. Scuttle. Her look is described as ‘a very healthy young woman, with a full buxom figure that Poirot approved. About thirty-three or four and by nature dark-haired, but not one to be dictated by nature.’
She believes James Bentley is innocent. Initially Poirot thought her a woman whom has been in love to a very unimaginative man. If anything, she firmly stands for what she has chosen to believe.
A chance remark that brings a sudden note of bitterness in her voice makes him see her in a different light. More importantly is her slipping of the tongue about a fact that neither him nor Superintendent Spence has ever told anyone: what became Eva Kane after the trial of Dr Craig.
‘What’s that?’ she asks .
‘So you know that name?’
‘Why-yes…It’s the name Eva Whatshername took when she went to Australia. It-it was in the paper – the Sunday Comet.’
‘The Sunday Comet said many things, but it did not say that. The police found the name written in a book in Mrs. Upward’s house.’
‘Then it was her,’ she exclaims,’and she didn’t die out there…Michael was right.’
Convinced that her solid interest is to the above name, not Bentley’s freedom, he nonetheless must find out what she has meant that ‘Michael was right.’
Personally she is much useful a sidekick than Mrs. Oliver. For she has provided the sleuth with information about the murderer’s movement; without her understanding its importance in the first place.
In the end Poirot must ask her the truth. ‘Your real name is Craig?’ She nods.
‘I was brought up by some cousins – very decent they were. But I was old enough when it all happened not to forget. I used tothink about it a good deal. About her. She was a nasty bit of goods all right – children know! My father was just – weak. And besotted by her. But he took the trap. For something, I’ve always believed, that she did. Oh yes, I know he’s an accessory after the fact – but it’s not quite the same thing, is it? I always meant to find out what had become of her. When I was grown up, I got detectives on to it. They traced her to Australia and finally reported that she was dead. She’d left a son – Evelyn Hope he called himself.’
Thus her having applied a typist job at Broadhinny. This was done after having heard from a friend, a young actor, Michael that ‘Evelyn Hope’ had come from Australia.
Readers, I must stop here.
I cannot think of any intriguing nor fascinating remarks. Nonetheless you should try this: http://www.funtrivia.com/playquiz/quiz2288361a337e8.html