Notes On Taken At The Flood

Rating: 4.3 out of five

Year of Publication: 1948

Motive for Murder: Lack of motive

Plot:

London, autumn 1944.  Gordon Cloade is killed in an air raid along with his two servants. His young wife, Rosaleen, of whom he married a few weeks before survives. She is now the sole beneficiary of the billionaire Gordon.

In the late spring 1946 Hercule Poirot receives a visit from a middle-aged woman, Katherine Cloade. The wife of Gordon’s younger brother wants the Belgian to find Rosaleen’s first husband, Robert Underhay. For the spirits have guided her to consult the matter as Mr. Underhay is possibly alive after all; that the report of his death from fever in Africa might not have been true. Poirot refuses to represent her on the grounds of her muddled explanation, particularly as it involves spiritualism.

In the early spring 1946 Lynn Marchmont comes home after four years service abroad as a Wren. In the aftermath of the War she finds out her mother, Gordon’s younger sister, is struggling financially, just like the rest of the Cloades. For they were all used to the idea of depending on the deceased whose fortune would have settled their debts and money worries.

Five days after Mrs. Cloade’s visit, Poirot reads on the paper about the death of Enoch Arden, a guest at the Stag inn in the village where the woman lives. He is found dead in his bed with fractures in his skull. More importantly he recalls a rambling of old Major Porter in the club after Gordon’s death. He said he had known Mr. Underhay. He then relayed the other man’s words: ‘”If a report of my death gets back that will make Rosaleen a widow, which is what she wants.”’ ‘And what about you?’ I said. “Well, maybe a Mr. Enoch Arden will turn up somewhere a thousand miles or so away and start life anew.”’

Is the dead Arden Robert Underhay? At the inquest, who is one to believe: Rosaleen Cloade, who says that she has never seen the deceased in her life or Major Porter, who contradicts her statement, having identified the deceased as indeed Underhay?  Afterward police arrest David Hunter, Rosaleen’s brother, for the murder.

 

Highlights:

The ghosts of the War seem to haunt the lives of the women in post-war Britain. Do their husbands die or their being missing in action?

The plot touches the impact of Enoch Arden that might have blighted the lives for many unfortunate women with small children needing to survive. Is it bad to wish their husbands have gone and their moving on?

In Christie’s world, the pressing matter is not the mere predicament, but the people who takes opportunity of the situation. Or some who would not want to lose a nice life deemed to be almost non-existent for most people after the War.

After ten years in a deserted island, Enoch Arden the merchant seaman finally returns home, only to find his wife has remarried and has a child.

Gordon Cloade was sixty-two years old bachelor when he met Rosaleen. His unprecedented marriage is quietly disapproved by his relatives, undoubtedly owing to their being unable to get their hands of his wealth. As the news of his death reaches them, all of a sudden their sheltered life is ruined. Supposing then Rosaleen’s first husband has not died after all?

Be that as it may, the Cloades are good people. As respected members of the community, their feeling bitter about the reality is not much different to everybody else whom is on the brink of bankruptcy. Yet in their upbringing it may not occur to their minds to act beyond a wishful thinking, let alone plotting a murder. A little trick, yes, as ‘Enoch Arden’ turns out to be Frances Cloade’s cousin.

Here Christie discusses the sentiment against a rich poor girl Rosaleen Cloade; a stranger who comes to fortune and the woman as a person. Opinions are divided among the Cloades; to the women Gordon’s widow is a lamb, yet to the men she is definitely a trouble. Her brother, a war hero, puts the family in a difficult situation owing to his cynical attitude and spiteful remarks to the Cloades.

Pride and prejudice as well as sense and sensibility are rife in the exchanges of words. Just like Arundells (Dumb Witness), the Cloades do not pretend about resenting David Hunter controlling his sister moneywise.

Hunter the Brutus is against Rowley Cloade the Cassius (see Clues about them).  The men hate one another; not entirely because of money but as a competitor to win the heart of Lynn’s. They deploy power differently; Hunter has the means of money whereas the young Cloade is able to conjure up Major Porter at the inquest with the help of Poirot.

What ‘Enoch Arden’ has done is to upset both plans. No sooner has he checked in at the Stag than he turns the tables. He makes Hunter believe he was Rosaleen’s first husband. Panicking, Hunter bows easily to the other’s demand of £10,000 in cash. He brings the money to the inn only to find a lifeless body of Arden’s. And it puts him in the tight spot because the body is still warm.

Major Porter’s suicide after the inquest astounds Rowley. He has not seen it coming, for he persuaded the deceased to give a false testament about Arden’s identity. He succeeds to have planted the suspicion to Hunter whereby he is charged with the murder of Arden.

The authoress’s focus on the male characters, inspired by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, is the most brilliant part of the book.  Most significantly Lynn Marchmont’s responses. A triangle of love that brings about a woman to see the contrasting personality between two men; one adventurous and attractive and the other contended in the quiet life of the countryside, untouched by war.

What is more, the dynamics among the minor characters are equal to a host of parodies attempting to claim the individual rights towards Gordon’s money. One comes with a spirit angle in her tale (see The Most Fascinating Character), another teams up with a crooked cousin and Lynn’s mother chooses the plain way of begging for a huge sum of loan.

Act Four in the play sees Brutus attacks Cassius who accepts bribes.  They reconcile after Brutus reveals that his beloved wife Portia had committed suicide under the stress of his absence from Rome. In Christie’s book, Rosaleen is sadly dead in her bed from an overdose of morphia. The harmless Bromide, prescribed by Dr. Lionel Cloade, is substituted with the similar-looking tablet containing the fatal dose.

As mentioned above, it is the lack of motive that motivates the murderer; two thumbs-up to the reverse logic that beguiles the readers.

The recruiting poster for Wrens in the Second World War.

My only criticism is the seemingly easy adjustment of Lynn Marchmont into civilian life. Surely the War has changed her as a person; a woman on the crossroads judging her option of being a farmer’s wife or eloping with a ‘dangerously attractive man. I wonder if she did not see anything in Egypt that are disturbing. Besides, there is no mention about what she did in the overseas unit – not even an inkling of it. Nor the lines which suggest her being sworn to secrecy and therefore is not at liberty to talk about her role. Instead, Christie’s focus is on her love life the domestic issues with  a trying mother.

Lastly, the book sees the beginning of the fruitful relationship between Superintendent Spence (Mrs. McGinty’s Dead and Hallowe’en Party) and Poirot.

To conclude, Taken At The Flood elucidates the impacts of the War for ordinary people wrapped in  crimes and passion.

 

The Twists:

 

– Enoch Arden’s real name is Charles Trenton

– The real Rosaleen Cloade is killed with her husband during the air raid whilst the housemaid is not

– Rosaleen Cloade is Catholic

 

Cast of Characters:

The Cloades:

Adela Marchmont (Gordon’s sister)

Frances (nee Trenton, Jeremy’s wife)

Gordon (killed in an air raid in London in 1944)

Jeremy (Gordon’s brother, Frances’s husband)

Katherine (Lionel’s wife)

Lionel (a doctor, Gordon’s other brother)

Lynn Marchmont (Adela’s daughter)

Rosaleen (ex Mrs. Underhay, Gordon’s wife)

Rowley (Lynn’s cousin and fiancé)

 

In the poem, Enoch Arden does not let himself known to his wife following his return for fear of ruining her happiness.

Others:

Beatrice Lippincott (the manageress at the Stag, the local inn where Arden stays)

Charles Trenton (a.k.a. Enoch Arden, Frances’s cousin)

David Hunter (Rosaleen’s brother)

Sergeant Graves

Hercule Poirot

Mr. Mellon (Poirot’s acquaintance at the club)

Major Porter (an ex-army man and a club member where Poirot hears about Gordon Cloade for the first time)

Superintendent Spence

The coroner at Enoch Arden inquest

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Katherine Cloade

Irony is what seems to be the fate of Dr. Lionel Cloade’s wife. To everyone she is ‘auntie Kathie,’ a slightly eccentric woman devoted to séance and the After World. In the prologue she pays a visit to Poirot; more or less eighteen months after her brother-in-law’s demise.

George the manservant describes her look to the Belgian: ‘She would be aged between forty and fifty, I should say, sir. Untidy and somewhat artistic in appearance. Good walking-shoes, brogues. A tweed coat and skirt – but a lace blouse. Some questionable Egyptian beads and a blue chiffon scarf.’

Her ‘provincial look’ resembles Mabelle Sainsbury Seale (see Notes On One,Two Buckle My Shoe) and the artisan touch makes her equal to Cora Lansquenet (After The Funeral). Reluctantly the sleuth receives her, knowing too well that she is quite determined to see him, having come straight from the country.

Her nonsensical story about some spirits that pinpoints ‘H.P.’ and her quoting a part of a children’s nursery rhymes for symbolising ‘Underhay’ are hilarious. Her confusing words about detective’s fee  intrigues him at that time; beyond her mishap sartorial choice and comical behaviour. Unfortunately she is then turned down (which is a big mistake on Poirot’s part as he gets his due from her nephew Rowley)!

With dignity she accepts his refusal and leaves. Perhaps she does not think of their crossing their path again.

Celia Imrie gives an outstanding performance as ‘aunt Kathie’ in 2006’s Poirot TV series.

Beyond the muddled mind of hers there is a woman suffers greatly in silence. Ever since the War her husband has been a drug addict. Their wealth has dwindled fast owing to his dependence to morphine and his empty promise to stop the terrible habit. Nobody else needs to know about  it  and she will not dream to tell anyone either.

I admire her in a way, sticking to the principle of not begging. For unlike her husband she does not ask a penny to Rosaleen. Instead she offers the other to live with her after Hunter is charged with Arden’s murder. Despite being nearly in destitute, she gives her niece Lynn a homecoming party.

In the book she is like a shadow, speaking very little about herself. There is not much interest about this childless woman who is warm at heart and sincere. Fortunately she does seem to have a real friend and her relationship with Adella Marchmont and Frances are limited to the pleasantries for sister-in-laws. And therefore I would very much like to be her friend.

 

Clues:  

Brutus and Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.Christie reinvents the characters in David Hunter and Rowley Cloade in the book.

 

Conversations between Rosaleen Cloade (RC) and David Hunter (DH):

RC: ‘I’ll do what you tell me, David.’

DH: ‘There’s the girl! All you have to do, Rosaleen, is to stick to your story. Hold it that the dead man is not your husband, Robert Underhay.’

RC: ‘They’ll trap me into saying things I don’t mean.’

DH: ‘No – they won’t. It’s all right, I tell you.’

RC: ‘No, it’s wrong – it’s been wrong all along. Taking money that doesn’t belong to us. I lie awake nights thinking of it, David. Taking what doesn’t belong to us. God is punishing us for our wickedness.’

DH: ‘Listen, ROsaleen. Do you want me to be hanged.’

RC: ‘Oh, David, you wouldn’t – they couldn’t –‘

DH: ‘There’s only one person who can hang me – that’s you. If you once admit, by look or sign or word, that the dead man might be Underhay, you put the rope round my neck! Do you understand that?’

RC: ‘I’m so stupid, David.’

DH: ‘No, you’re not. In any case you haven’t got to be clever. You’ll have to swear solemnly that the dead man is not your husband. You can do that?’

‘Look stupid if you like. Look as if you don’t understand quite what they are asking you. That will do no harm. But stand firm on the points I’ve gone over with you. Gaythorne will look after you. He’s a very able criminal lawyer – that’s why I’ve got him. He’ll be at the inquest and he’ll protect you from any heckling. But even to him stick to your story. For God’s sake don’t try to be clever or think you can help me by some line of your own.’

RC: ‘I’ll do it, David. I’ll do exactly what you tell me.’

DH: ‘Good girl. When it’s all over we’ll go away – to the South of France – to America. In the meantime, take care of your health. Don’t lie awake at nights fretting and working yourself up. Take those sleeping things Dr. Cloade prescribed for you – bromide or something. Take one every night, cheer up, and remember there’s a good time coming!’

 

Rowley Croade to Hercule Poirot in the presence of David Hunter and Lynn Marchmont:

‘Ever since that party at Aunt Kathie’s I’d realized – well, never mind all that. I’ve sometimes thought I’m going mad –perhaps I am a bit mad. First Johnnie going – and then the war – I-I-can’t talk about things but sometimes I’d feel blind with rage – and now Lynn- and this fellow. I dragged the dead man into the middle of the room and turned him over on his face. Then I picked up those heavy steel tongs – well, I won’t go into details. I wiped off fingerprints, cleaned up the marble curb – then I deliberately put the hands of the wrist-watch at ten minutes past nine and smashed it. I took away his ration book and his papers – I thought his identity might be traced through them. Then I got out. It seemed to me that with Beatrice’s story of what she’d overheard, David would be for it all right.’

 

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Notes On Cards On The Table

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1936

Motive for Murder: Fear (of identification)

Plot: Eight people are invited to a small party. Four, according to the host, have got away with their crimes whilst the other four attendees are experts in crime. Nobody but the murderer knows what comes at the end of it: a crime passionel killing using a weapon belonged to the host. And all the time, the seven of them thought the deceased had been observing the games of bridge while sitting in his armchair by the fire.

Being an eccentric person, the host makes an intriguing remark earlier during the dinner: ‘If I were to commit crime, I should make it very simple, I think. There’s always accident- a shooting accident, for instance – or the domestic kind of accident…’ 

There are not any traces of evidences left, nor the apparent motive. Nonetheless, the deceased was aware of how each crime had been carried out by the suspects. Since he has no longer been able to tell the secrets, it is up to Superintendent Battle, Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race and Ariadne Oliver to dig up the past.

How much do they need before the murderer strikes again?

 

Highlights:

A perfect crime is committed, which involves a quick thinking on the part of the killer and his carrying out in the presence of a Scotland Yard man and the famous private detective. A psychopath in the midst of seemingly civilised group of people, a brainy woman, a dangerous thief masked in meek personality and an ex-army man who likes hunting and travels a lot. Each of them is connected to a curious accident. Which one of them did actually murder Mr. Shaitana?

Written at the height of her career, Christie marvels at her choice of setting; a fatal game of bridge. The clues lie in Poirot’s interviewing each suspect about what they have recalled from the opponents’ movements. A different approach to Battle’s who is inclined to scrutinise a suspect’s background as he widens the net to interview employees and friends.  In a nutshell, the book is a crime within crimes; a mammoth task for the four law-abiding people having to consider opportunity, circumstances and the chance of the slipping of the tongue by the murderer. Moreover, to comb truths from lies, wrong from right conclusions from a number of witnesses.  Be that as it may, it is clear that the killing was done by one person (hurrah!)

An illustration of a game of bridge where the four suspects play. It is a game of skill, not luck.

Personally, Christie’s succinct writing appeals to me most. Freud’s theories as for the will to kill is discussed with a touch of feminine approach in Ariadne Oliver, a ‘hot-headed feminist.’ A bolshie middle-aged childless woman, she seems to share some personality traits with her creator. Although I doubt whether Christie was either a feminist or an extrovert. Doubtless of their similar spirits and imagination.

It is intriguing that Mrs. Oliver should express her wish that a woman were to be the Head of Scotland Yard, which is quite an idea at that time given the right to vote for women in Britain was regulated eight years beforehand. Yet, Christie’s balancing it with a shudder from Superintendent Battle whom believes earnestly that such idea might ruin a crime investigation.

The opening, Poirot’s meeting with Mr. Shaitana, is also interesting. The would-be victim with a suggestive name laughs devilishly to Poirot about his collection of murderers and furthermore his appreciation towards ‘the artistic point of view ’ of a murder (see Clues). I wonder if the name ‘Shaitana’ derives from Arabic syaithan which means evil. It is personally plausible; the fact that Christie undertook journeys to Syria between 1935 and 1937 to accompany her husband. Hence her exposure to the language and its dialect.

What is more, I am not sure what is exactly Mrs. Oliver’s role in the book. Apart from her also being a writer, she does not contribute as much as  the others. In all fairness, she helps Battle to identify the crime Anne Meredith has done and makes a good guess about the murderer.  What else? Not that I was not entertained by her wittiness, but to my mind her role is superfluous. On the other hand, her being a partner in crime to Poirot works very well in the later novels of Christie’s.

Concerning the plot, the present ends with the killing as the digging of the past begins. Words of mouth that might tie each suspect to the death emerge, from the former maid of a suspect’s ex-patient to a housemate who reveals the accidental death of a woman when a suspect was a companion.  In addition to the clean background of a sixty-three-year-old suspect, two opposing versions of a shooting accident in a South American jungle are described. Who is one to believe, the widow’s who tells Poirot a suspect’s infatuation to her that led to the death of her husband or the suspect’s who declares that the shot was meant to  have rescued the deceased’s life?

Part of the Amazon in South America from above.

If the plot wished to have reiterated the success of revealing the ingenious mind of a psychopath, just like in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, it had not been achieved. For there are similarities in the murderer’s profile and motive. Yet, in terms of the ending, I prefer the convict to face his trial in court.

Poirot shines once more but it is Mrs. Oliver who steals the show. Her outbursts – ‘None of those people can be criminals!’ – seem comical and particularly her firm suspicion to a suspect, which was then expressed moments after the discovery of the murder. ‘If I were you, Superintendent Battle, I should arrest [the murderer] at once,’ she says. To which Battle replies matter-of-factly,’ I dare say we would if there was a Woman at the Head of Scotland Yard. But you see, mere men being in charge, we’ve got to be careful. We’ve got to get there slowly.’ ‘Oh men, men,’ she sighes.

What I am curious is what Christie had in mind for Mrs. Oliver as the murderer has been revealed. Did she mean to continue or was it an experiment  on her part?  For she reappeared twenty years later in the murder hunt mystery for a fete at Nasse House (see Notes On Dead Man Folly).

Above all, I have little criticism about the book. Except for the same killing methods  which repeat in the other novels. For instance, how Mrs. Lorrimer die is very similar to Rita Vandemeyer in The Secret Adversary (see the Notes) while Mr. Craddock’s will remind readers to Dr. Geoffrey Thomas‘s in Murder Is Easy (see the Notes). Mrs. Craddock’s subsequent death in Egypt, however, turned out to be a hint as to the next setting of Christie’s novel (Death On The Nile was published a year afterward in which it features the collaboration between Colonel Race and Poirot).

The triumphant Mrs. Oliver –‘I always said he did it!’ sums up the story well. Seventy seven years later, a woman is not yet to be the Head of Scotland Yard. The dream continues.

The Twists:

-The murder weapon is of Mr. Shaitana’s collection; a small dagger which lies on a table among others in the house

Alexander Siddig stars as Mr. Shaitana in the novel adaptation into Poirot series in 2005

– Poirot invents a witness to catch the murderer by the help of an actor who poses as a window cleaner

-Mrs. Lorrimer confesses to the murder of Mr. Shaitana to Poirot and is murdered the next day

– Anne Meredith knows that Rhoda Dawes has told Mrs. Oliver about the event at Combeacre

– Rhoda Dawes is meant to die but it was her would-be murderer whom has not survived

 

 

 Cast of Characters:

Anne Meredith (suspect 1)

Ariadne Oliver

Mrs. Astwell (daily woman at Wendon Cottage where Anne and Rhoda live)

Superintendent Battle (of Scotland Yard, who also appears in The Seven Dials Mystery, The Secret at Chimney and Towards Zero)

Miss Burges (Dr. Roberts’s secretary)

Dr. Davidson (who examines the dead body of Mrs. Lorrimer)

Elsie Batt (the former maid of the Craddocks, of whom the wife was Dr. Roberts’s patient)

Hercule Poirot

Major John Despard (suspect 2)

Mrs. Lorrimer (suspect 3)

Mrs. Luxmore (the widow of Professor Luxmore, the late botanist whom died from a gunshot)

Sergeant O’Connor (of Scotland Yard, who cajoles Elsie to tell about the Craddocks)

Colonel Race

Rhoda Dawes (Anne’s housemate)

Dr. Roberts (suspect 4)

Mr. Shaitana (the host)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Mrs. Lorrimer

She is a brilliant bridge player who wins all the rubbers that night. She has a marvellous memory of what her three opponents have done during the game. Her focus means that she would not have had noticed anything else – the murderer’s movement in this instance. She nevertheless provides Poirot with a very valuable clue from the bridge game she has played that night.  In a game she teamed up with the murderer against the other two suspects. Her partner, being equally a great player, then overcalled and therefore their combined score went down, albeit not very much.  The overcalling was deemed unnecessary, as reflected later by Poirot. Why did the murderer do it?

She is invited to the party as she has known Mr. Shaitana for some time; their acquaintance begins at a hotel in Luxor, Egypt. Nonetheless she has not seen him much. As for the other attendees, it is only Dr. Roberts whom she has met before.

Her poised manner bear resemblances to Jane Plenderdeith (Murder In The Mews) and Jane Mason (The Plymouth Express – see Notes on Poirot’s Early Cases). Her answers to Superintendent Battle is concise and ready. When enquired as to whom in her view has been the killer, she declines to answer. ‘I should not care to do anything of the kind. I consider that a most improper question.’

It fascinates me that such a woman – seemingly a well-respected and harmless one- is herself a murderer. Nearly the end she confesses to Poirot to have killed her husband. As for the motive, she says stifly, ‘Really, M. Poirot. My reasons were entirely my own business.’ She does not give away anything, just like the way Countess Vera Rossakoff does (The Big Four, The Labours of Hercules, Poirot’s Early Cases). Yet, there remains questions about her meticulous murder plot and how did Mr. Shaitana guess about it.

Above all, her confession of murder to Poirot is meant to protect another suspect, Anne Meredith. Much as her trying to persuade him into believing such tale, he does not waver. For there is an element of spontaneity in the stabbing of Mr. Shaitana which does not match. Why would she have done it anyhow? I leave you to comment about it. To my mind, partially she might have seen her younger self in Meredith and therefore it arouses her maternal instinct to shield her. ‘I’ve never been a very soft-hearted or compassionate woman, but I suppose these qualities grow upon one in one’s old age. I assure you [M. Poirot], I’m not often actuated by pity.’

 

Clues:

Hercule Poirot and Mr. Shaitana (a conversation prior to the deceased’s speaking of his idea of the party) :

‘And what do you consider the best objects, artistically speaking, in crime?’ inquired Poirot.

Mr. Shaitana leaned forward and laid two fingers on Poirot’s shoulder. He hissed his words dramatically. ‘The human beings who commit them, Mr. Poirot.’

‘Aha, I have startled you. My dear, dear man, you and I look on these things as from poles apart! For you crime is a matter of routine: a murder, an investigation, a clue and ultimately (for you are undoubtedly an able fellow) a conviction. Such banalities would not interest me! I am not interested in poor specimens of any kind. And the caught murderer is necessarily one of the failures. He is second rate. No, I look on the matter from the artistic point of view. I collect only the best!’

‘The best being – ?’ asked Poirot.

‘My dear fellow – the ones who have got away with it! The successes! The criminals who lead an agreeable life which no breath of suspicion has ever touched. Admit that it is an amusing hobby.’

 

The profiles of the suspects:

Suspect A: ‘He was a cheerful, highly coloured individual of middle age. Small twinkling eyes, a touch of baldness, a tendency of embonpoint and a general air of well-scrubbed and disinfected medical practitioner. You felt that his diagnosis would be correct and his treatment agreeable and practical – “a little champagne in convalescence perhaps.”’

A very good bridge player who tends to overcall, but otherwise plays his hand brilliantly.

He is alleged to have put Anthrax into Mr. Craddock’s shaving tool while on visit to his home. The infection kills him a few weeks later. Beforehand, they were in a row over the doctor’s treatment to Mrs. Craddock, during which her husband also threatens to report the other man to the General Medical Council. Furthermore, after Mr. Craddock’s death, his wife dies from blood poisoning during her winter holiday in Egypt. Prior to her departure she goes to the doctor for two required injections for foreign travelling.

 

Suspect B:

‘A tall, lean, handsome man, his face slightly marred by a scar on the temple. Introductions completed, he gravitated naturally to the side of Colonel Race – and the two men were soon talking sport and comparing their experiences on safari.’

He wrote a travel book. As a bridge player he is generally a good sound one.

He accompanied a botanist and his wife, the Luxmores, to the depth of the Amazon. The botanist wrote about rare plants and the suspect knew the condition of South American jungle well.

Regarding the incident, the widow tells Poirot that the major occurred to have had a bitter argument with her late husband over her. He threatened the other and a shot was fired accidentally. Consequently, Timothy Luxmore died.

Contrary to her version, the suspect denies that he fell for her. Mr. Luxmore had a bad fever. One night, in a state of delirious and unconscious of what he was doing, the suspect saw him head for the river from a distance. In an attempt to stop him from drowning, the suspect decided to shoot his leg. When he was about to fire, Mrs. Luxmore suddenly flung herself on him and caught his arm. As a result the bullet went into the back of Mr. Luxmore and killed him.

Suspect C:

‘A girl in the early twenties entered. She was of medium height and pretty. Brown curls clustered in her neck, her grey eyes were large and wide apart. Her face was powdered but not made-up. Her voice was slow and rather sly.’

A daughter of an ex-Army person, she is penniless and had to make ends meet being a companion to elderly women. One of them was Mrs. Derring, Rhoda Dawes’s aunt. After the aunt is required a care in a nursing home due to her cancer, she went on to work for another old woman in Combeacre, Devonshire, for two months. It was during her stay that the woman then died, having mistakened a hat paint for her health tonic. Afterward she accepted Miss Dawes’s offer to live with her in a cottage at the imaginary city of Wallingford (Watford?) outside London. They have lived together there for over three years.

She meets Mr. Shaitana in Switzerland when she went there with Dawes. They stayed in the same hotel and she recalled he won the competition in the Fancy Dress Ball. To Dawes he seemed to have been attracted to the suspect. Nonetheless, his presence was disconcerting.

As a bridge player, she is a cautious one and gets up to peek at the hands’ of her opponents. When invited by Poirot to his house with Dawes, they are shown nineteen pairs of good quality nylon stockings. When they leave, there are only seventeen of them. For the ‘nice girl’ has stolen them.

 

Suspect D: ‘A well-dressed woman of sixty. She had finely-cut features, beautifully arranged grey hair and a clear, incisive voice.’

There is nothing suspicious about her in Superintendent Battle’s interviews with her friends and ex-servants. More about her is in The Most Fascinating Character.

Notes On Murder Is Easy

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1939

Motive for Murder: Hatred

Plot: In Wychwood-under-Ashe, there have been deaths in the last year. The names pass Lavinia Pinkerton’s lips as she talks to Luke Fitzwilliam, who sits opposite on the train. Pinkerton is on her way to Scotland Yard, for after a while she comes to realise that they are not accidents as everyone tend to believe.  ‘It’s very easy to kill – so long as no one suspects you…’ she says.

Fitzwilliam learns about her death on the paper later on; she was run over near Whitehall.  What is more, he notices one of the names she mentioned is also on the obituary, too.

At first, it is hard for the ex-police man to conjur an image of a murder in the picturesque English village. Once he meets the residents, a myriad of tales emerge about the deceased. Amy Gibbs swallowed a paint hat, which she had mistakened with a cough mixture.  Tommy Pierce fell down the ladder while cleaning the library windows  and Dr. Humbleby from a septic finger.

Further investigation draws Fitzwilliam’s attention to Lord Whitfield, a self-made millionaire. Of whom fired Pierce after he was mocking his employer and Dr. Humbleby had an argument with the Lord’s lawyer. Moreover, his chauffeur took Gibbs out with the Rollroyce to London for a day on the day Pinkerton died.  As a result, the driver was dismissed and is found dead afterwards. Interestingly, a witness stated a number plate of the car that had been seen to have killed Pinkerton is matched to Lord Whitfield’s.

Meanwhile, a pair of shrewd eyes watch as events are unfolding,filled with a simmering hatred over the years. The look that killed Pinkerton.  And yet, murder is easy and he is finalising a plan to strike once again.

 

 

Highlights:

Luke Fitzwilliam, an ex-police man, has just been a few hours in England, having come back after years of service abroad. He misses his train and must take the next one in which an elderly woman then tells him about a serial killer.

Enter a folklore writer in a quiet village, taking his residence at Ashe Manor. Fitzwilliam has decided to dig into the death of the woman. Exit the ex-police man for a while.   Almost everyone believes Fitzwilliam’s saying for doing research about the Middle Age witchcraft rituals – except Bridget Conway. As he makes inquiries into the deaths, Conway soon makes him admit his intention and  becomes the partner in crime. Tommy and Tuppence, Bundle and Bill Eversleigh; readers might understand what will occur next. But here is the catch: Conway is engaged to Lord Whitfield, Fitzwilliam’s host.

Shirley Henderson stars as Honoria Waynflate in 2008’s TV adaptation into Miss Marple series. ‘Men have courage – one knows that,’ said Miss Waynflete, ‘but they are more easily deceived than women.’

Before having the title, the self-made millionaire was known as Gordon Ragg, whose father made shoes. In his youth he was engaged to Miss Honoria Waynflatte, but then he broke it. Miss Waynflatte remains unmarried and works as a librarian. The village library used to be her childhood home before it was sold and bought by his ex-fiancee, who was then already wealthy.

In the meantime, Fitzwilliam has decided to come clean. For he finds motives and opportunities in a number of people; Major Horton vs Mr. Abbot, Dr. Humbleby vs Mr. Abbot, Tommy Pierce vs Lord Whitefield and Mr. Ellsworthy-Amy Gibbs. At the same time, he is baffled as regard to the victims: what cause them to have been killed? Motive and opportunity, says Poirot, are not enough reason. ‘There must be a crime temperament,’ he says (quoted from Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds; one of the stories in The Adventure of The Christmas Pudding. See the notes).

Personally it is not easy to differentiate red herrings from vital clues. For Christie keeps things in check. More importantly, she is consistent with point of view; that almost everything must be seen from Fitzwilliam’s.

I am most fascinated about Fitzwilliam’ role. The fact that he conducts his investigation purely without neither any financial advantages nor benefits entail. Could it be real? If anything, he does not seem to mind with his expenses. To my mind he is an idealist- not a Good Samaritan- who wants to right the wrong, just as his predecessor Anne Beddingfield and Bundle. Although towards the end he hands over the case to Scotland Yard.

As for the plot, it seems to follow a similar pattern of Christie’s books in the twenties. Besides Conway, Fitzwilliam picks Miss Waynflate as  another partner, of whom she appears to him and Conway to be an intelligent and sensible woman. Fitzwilliam’s ruling out the possibility of a female suspect is suggestive. Is it because of his falling for Conway?

Conway as a sidekick is equally an interesting character. Apart from her intelligent eyes and wittiness, she points out to Fitzwilliam that there are things that men do not understand. Take the example of  a woman’s pick for the colour of the paint for her hat, which sometimes does not make sense to men. Yet a red hair woman will not go out without a hat of a certain colour and therefore it has to be repainted.  On the other hand, a hat paint is an old-fashioned custom and young women like Amy Gibbs would not want to paint her hat any more. Readers, you might wonder why I should deliberate on this small matter. Well, Christie is very good with details and this analogy is not just a talk…

What is most substantial argument in the book is distinguishing a healthy mind from a psychopath’s. In the era when the science of the mind is almost unheard of, Christie’s deliberation on the issue is incredible. In other books she often includes her views on mental illness through the character behaviour and remarks. Nonetheless, her subtleness in expressions and double-meaning phrases often conceal the mind of the murderer well.

In terms of the denouement, the conflicts that build towards the climax are simply brilliant. Bombshells are dropped along the way coupled with the presence of Superintendent Battle (The Secret of Chimney, Seven Dials Mystery). Then Mrs. Humbleby’s warning (see The Most Fascinating Character) comes almost too late.  Both Conway and Fitzwilliam find out whodunit respectively, guided by their gut instinct. All end well; two pairs of lovebirds are saved.

To sum up, Murder Is Easy is one of Christie’s best ventures on people’s mind. It is a favourite for many of her loyal readers that is worth reading and re-reading.

The Twists:

-Gordon Ragg and Honoria Waynflete’s engagement broke because of a Canary bird

-Waynflete tells Fitzwilliam that the engagement was terminated because Ragg had killed her Canary

-The hat paint that causes the death of Amy Gibbs is not raised in the inquest

-Wonky Pooh, Lavinia Pinkerton’s Persian cat, has a septic ear before Dr. Humbleby dies

– Lord Whitefield’s ex-chaffeur dies after a row with his ex-employer

-Bridget Conway breaks her engagement to Lord Whitfield

Cast of Characters:

Mr. Abbot (a local solicitor who employed Tommy Pierce)

Mrs. Anstruther (Bridget’s aunt who lives with her at Ashe Manor)

Superintendent Battle (of Scotland Yard)

Bridget Conway (Jimmy Lorrimer’s cousin)

Mrs. Church (Amy Gibb’s aunt)

Mr. Ellsworthy (owns an antique shop and is keen at pagan traditions)

Dr. Geoffrey Thomas (the village doctor, the partner of the late Dr. Humbleby and Rose’s fiance)

Honoria Waynflete (an old spinster, who employed Ammy Gibbs before the maid died and an ex-fiancee of Gordon, ie. Lord Whitfield)

Major Horton (owns bulldogs, a short-tempered man whose wife also died a year before)

Mrs. Humbleby (the wife of the late Dr. Humbleby, Rose’s mother)

Jimmy Lorrimer (Luke’s friend, Bridget’s cousin)

Mrs. Pierce (Tommy’s mother)

Lavinia Pinkerton (found Tommy Pierce died and drew Luke’s attention to the deaths at Wychwood)

Luke Fitzwilliam (an ex-police officer in India, an old friend of Jimmy’s, who met Pinkerton on the train)

Rose Humbleby (the daughter of the late Dr. Humbleby)

Mr. Wake (a local rector)

Lord Whitfield (i.e. Gordon Ragg, a self-made millionaire, Bridget’s fiancé, who owns Ashe Manor)

Sir William Ossington (a.k.a. Billy Bones, Luke’s friend at Scotland Yard)

The Most Fascinating Character: Mrs. Humbleby

‘There’s a lot of wickedness about…One must be prepared – to fight it! John (her late husband) was. He knew…,’ she says to Luke Fitzwilliam as he sees the widow at her home for the first time.

Her only daughter, Rose, is engaged to Dr. Geoffrey Thomas, the junior partner of his father. Rose’s father’s demise means that her fiancée has been ‘benefited’ from the death, for he is now being fully in charge of the surgery. On the other hand, their engagement hangs owing to Dr. Thomas becomes one of the suspects.

Mrs. Humbleby’s words give Fitzwilliam the impression of her deep sorrow. Yet she is scared and therefore is discreet as well . She then does not say anything further to Fitzwilliam.

Much later on she happens to notice Fitzwilliam going out of the inn where he stays (after facing Lord Whitfield’s anger). She asks him Conway’s whereabouts, which is responded by such and such. She rephrases the above sentences of hers concerning ‘wickedness’. For she already has known who murdered her husband and so has Lavinia Pinkerton. Both women apparently compared their notes. Further on she says, ‘You don’t believe me? Well, why should you? But I can’t forget the day when John came home with his hand bound up from her house, though he pooh-poohed it and said it was only a scratch.’

Clues:

Mrs. Pierce (to Luke Fitzwilliam):

‘Tommy was always good at imitations. Make us hold our sides with laughing the way he’d mince about pretending to be that Mr. Ellsworthy at the curio shop- or old Mr. Hobbs, the churchwarden- and he was imitating his lordship up the manor and the two under-gardeners laughing, when up came his lordship quiet-like and gave Tommy the sack on the spot-and naturally that was only to be expected, and quite right, and his lordship didn’t bear malice afterwards, and helped Tommy to get another job.’

Rose Humbleby (to Luke):

Because-it’s so odd- she (Pinkerton) seemed quite afraid that something was going to happen to daddy. She almost warned me. Especially about accidents. And then that day – just before she went up to town-she was so odd in her manner- absolutely in a dither. I really do think, Mr. Fitzwilliam, that she was one of those people who have second sight. I think she knew that something was going to happen to her. And she must have known that something was going to happen to daddy, too. It’s-it’s rather frightening, that sort of thing!’

Mr. Wake (to Bridget Conway and Luke Fitzwilliam):

‘…But you know, my dear Miss Conway, sometimes cruelty is not so much innate as due to the fact that imagination is slow in ripening. That is why if you conceive a grown man with the mentality of a child you realize that the cunning and brutality of a lunatic my abe quite unrealized by the man himself. A lack of growth somewhere, that, I am convinced, is at the root of much of the cruelty and stupid brutality in the world today. One must put away childish things – ‘

Lord Whitefield (to Luke):

‘Matter of fact we (Lord Whitefield and Miss Waynflate) had a bit of a row over something. Blinking bird she had – one of those beastly twittering canaries- always hated them-bad business-wrung its neck. Well- no good dwelling on all that now…’

 

 

Notes On N or M?

Rating: three out of five

Year of Publication:1941

Motive for Murder: Identity

Plot: Tuppence Beresford looks gloomy as she sends off her husband Tommy to Scotland. He has an “office work. Hush-hush and all that, but not doesn’t sound thrilling .” It is the World War II in the bleak Britain. Rumour has it that German invasion is in progress and the Fifth Column movement has drawn many supporters in the country.

Tommy’s assignment is simple: find two German agents, N and M, in Sans Souci; a guest house in the South coast of England. N is a man and M is a woman –both English. Prior to the assignment, a British agent was killed when he was following a lead to the agents’ whereabouts. Before he dies he says “N and M. Song Susie.”

When Tommy arrives, a great surprise is in store. Mrs. Perenna, the proprietress, introduces him to other fellow residents. His attention is immediately drawn to Mrs. Blenkensop, who sits knitting a balaclava. She is none other than Tuppence.

Who are among them are Hitler’s ardent supporters? Is it a Major with sinister remarks and sneers towards a German refugee? A man who often makes a fuss about his health? A mother and her two-year-old daughter? A busy body of an Irish woman? The proprietress herself? Is it true that Carl Von Deinim fleeing from the Nazi prosecution? Moreover, by chance Tuppence see a Polish woman peer inside  the premises vigilantly. She talks to Von Deinim and asks Tuppence some foreign names who might stay at the house.

As the surrender of Paris reaches Tommy and Tuppence, they are racing with time to unmask N and M. Or else, Britain will meet the same faith.

Goosey, goosey, gander Whither shall I wander, Upstairs or downstairs Or in the ladies chamber? There I met an old man Who wouldn’t say his prayers, I took him by the left leg, And threw him down the stairs.

Highlights:

From the Cold War Era in my previous post (Notes on The Clocks) to the Second World War Britain at the time when the public mood hit rock bottom; German was bombing the UK cities and many lives were claimed. Furthermore, the British troop evacuation was undergoing in Dunkirk (whilst nobody had any idea at the time the mess they had been into).

It was clear then at such time a murder might have been the last thing in any readers’ mind. A little cheering up would do – not necessarily a propaganda, mind you.   Matters which British media had not covered or was not allowed to cover due to their sensitive nature. Knowing Christie, she would tend to go to the core of the problem: the Nazi. Yes, readers – the organisation itself.

Here lay the beauty of telling a story – or a crime. For only in stories the characters react and behave in certain ways. Hence contrasting views about the War and the threat of Germans invasion; on the one hand people who openly expressed their admiration towards German’s efficiency and on the other personalities who defended  somewhat unorganised British and its democracy.  The plot related these divided opinions to the degree of penetration of the Nazi and fascism in the UK.

Furthermore, it was not so much about a conspiracy theory which interested me but the authoress’s notion concering German-Anglo alliance. In the sixteenth century during the Reformation Henry VIII clinched the opportunity to replace the Pope whereby he formed the Church of England and declared himself the supreme head on Earth. Personally the Anti-Catholicism that followed bore the same principle to the anti-Nazi prosecution in the concentration camp.

And therefore it was a little wonder a suitable nursery rhymes should accompany.  “Goosey Goosey Wander” caught the mood perfectly for the hunting of two dangerous Nazi agents.   The rest of the plot then followed the lines as guessing games began. But how to smell out spies?  Did it require “witches” as Tommy suggested to Major Bletchley?

It was intriguing how freely Christie discussed at length about Germans, double agents, war strategies and British politics in general. Not only did she have the knack to present each  topic with a degree of sensitivity but also she knew exactly which character as the bearer of certain attitude or remark. More significantly, she managed to capture various moods that made readers see the implications of the War for ordinary people from both sides.

As tensions rose and conflicts occurred, some residents began to suspect one another.  Tuppence had her eyes on Mrs. Perenna whilst Tommy suggested Mrs. Sprot and Miss Minton as “M”.  The kidnapping of little Betty, Mrs. Sprot’s daughter, was unprecedented. In the aftermath a woman was shot through the head and Von Deinim was arrested.

Meanwhile, Tommy was running out of time.  One of the male characters realised that the former was not what he had seemed to be. One evening, he did not come back to the house after leaving Commander Haydock’s home after dinner. Tuppence straightaway knew that he had been captured. Fortunately, help was at hand; Albert, the Beresfords’ ex-manservantas was the backup.  He was then deployed to track Tommy’s whereabouts.

A Priest Hole was originally created in many houses in the UK to hide a Catholic priest on the run during the prosecution period. Then it was also used for different purposes.

Concerning the characters and circumstances, there was a number of similarities with the duo’s later adventure By The Pricking of My Thumb (1968). Tommy’s Aunt Ada reminded readers to Mrs. O’ Rourke, one of Sans Souci’s residents. For both women were observant, shrewd and deduced that something was not right. Nonetheless, Mrs. O’Rourke was Irish and she was not murdered like Aunt Ada (see the Most Fascinating Character). Next, Sunny Ridge was the embodiment of Sans Souci minus a serial killer in the midst.  Thirdly, The House By The Canal –the painting Tuppence found in Aunt Ada’s room-  had a “priest hole”; a secret room behind a wardrobe in which the elderly Tuppence was lured in by the murderer.

What fascinated me was the depth of knowledge the authoress had about the spy. I wondered if the Fifth Column movement was solely her idea. Or did it come from her circle of friends, who might have slipped her information?  For she had gone too far when using “Bletchley” as a minor character’s name and  Deborah, Tuppence’s daughter, worked for the Intelligence Service.  The name was enough to trigger fear that Christie might have hinted about the highly confidential Enigma project at Bletchley Park. Her being under surveillance was revealed recently and it has been learnt that “Bletchley” was sheer coincidence on her part.

Of equal merit, was the conversation between Tommy and his handler Mr. Grant about the double agents was the fruit of Christie’s ingenuity? Or was it from her friends at the top?

Restless’s adaptation into a television series starring Michelle Dockery (Ruth Gilmartin) and Charlotte Rampling (Sally Gilmartin/Eva Delectorskaya) broadcasted on the BBC on 27th and 28th December 2012. Highly recommended.

William  Boyd’s Restless has quite similar plot.  A Russian refugee is recruited as a British agent and subsequently is being framed as a double agent in order to deter the US involvement in the Second World War.

Spionage aside, it was quite difficult to guess who N was. There were seven male characters plus Tommy. There was not much clues that could pinpoint X as a “N” but own surmises based on a character’s descriptions and elimination.  Nor the motive as to why did he turn his back to his country. It was easier to guess “M”, particularly after the kidnap. Tuppence’s remarks and thoughts helped in this regard.

The Clocks plot helped me to realise the medium the woman agent used to conceal information nevertheless. When I remembered the agent Colin Lamb was looking for, everything fell into its place.  The respective agents were associated with children and both were childless.

To sum up, N or M is a feelgood spy thriller with a clever plot. It achieves its aim to lift up people’s spirit about the War. As a crime novel, it does not satisfy hard-up readers who wish for grim murders and all the trimming.

The Twists:

-The tattered children’s book of Little Jack Horner

-Tommy’s accident in the bathroom of Commander Haydock’s home

-the kidnapping of Betty Sprot

-the note from Betty’s kidnapper

-Mrs. O’Rourke found a hammer lying in the drive

-Albert Batt singing if you were the only girl in the world and I was the only boy

Cast of Characters:

Albert Batt (The Beresfords’s ex-manservant)

Anthony Marsdon (Deborah’s colleague)

Major Bletchley

Betty Sprot (Mrs. Sprot’s daughter, a two-year-old girl)

Mr. and Mrs. Cayley

Carl Von Deinim (A German refugee)

Deborah and Derek Beresford (Tommy and Tuppence’s twins)

Mr. Grant (Tommy’s handler)

Commander Haydock (a retired Naval officer, resided at Smugglers’ Nest next to Sans Souci)

Mrs. O’Rourke (an Irish woman)

Mrs. Perenna (the proprietress of Sans Souci)

Miss Sheila Perenna (Mrs. Perenna’ daughter)

Miss Sophia Minton

Mrs. Sprot

Tommy Beresford (as Mr. Meadows)

Tuppence Beresford (as Mrs. Patricia Blenkensop)

Vanda Polonska (a Polish refugee)

The Most Fascinating Character: Mrs. O’Rourke

Christie’s description of her was the most amusing one. ‘She was rather like an ogress dimly remembered from early fairy tales. With her bulk, her deep voice, her unabashed beard and moustache, her deep twinkling eyes and the impression she gave of being more than life-size, she was indeed not unlike some childhood’s fantasy’.

It flashed through my mind the image of Princess Fiona in Shrek. Do you agree?

Mrs. O’Rourke was Irish and a wealthy woman who  owned an antique shop in London – the posh Kensington, in fact. Shrewd and sharp, she had a nose of a dog (see Clues); sniffing about and found that awkward things did happen at Sans Souci. To Mrs. Blenkensop she underlined the fact that some residents did not seem what they were. Moreover, she told her that she did not believe that Mr. Meadowes was rather stupid.

Furthermore, she gave Tuppence a tip about Mrs. Perenna that directed the latter’s attention to the former in search of “M”. Nonetheless, Mrs. O’Rourke did frighten the latter once (you know why – it’s in the book).

I supposed her character set her apart from others as a level-headed person who knew when and to whom she could talk about a particular subject. Her views were far from cynical – a bit of teasing sometimes.  Halfway I was afraid something would have happened to her and later I was pleased that she was not either stabbed or hit on the head.

Clues:

Major Bletchley:

[to Mr. Meadowes]

‘…The only other male in the place is Von Deinim, and to tell you the truth, Meadowes, I’m not easy in my mind about him.’

Mr. Cayley:

‘That woman [Mrs. Sprot] is always plumping that child down and expecting people to look after it…’

Mr. Grant:

[to Tommy Beresford]

‘…There are two possibilities. The whole Von Deinim family may be parties to the arrangement – not improbable under the painstaking Nazi regime. Or else this is not really Carl Von Deinim but a man playing the part of Carl Von Deinim.’

Commander Haydock:

‘You see, Meadowes, it’ like this. Nobody’s supposed to know it but I’m working on Intelligence MI42BX- that’s my department. Ever heard of it?’

Mrs. O’Rourke:

[to Mrs. Blenkensop]

‘You’ll be thinking I’m a terrible talker. It’s true. I’m interested in all my fellow creatures, that’s why I sit in this chair as often as I can. You see who goes in and who goes out and who’s on the veranda and what goes on in the garden…’

Sheila Perenna:

[to Mr. Meadowes]

‘His name [her father’s] was Patrick Maguire. He- he was a follower of Casement in the last war. He was shot as a traitor! All for nothing! For an idea – he worked himself up with those other Irishmen. Why couldn’t he just stay at home quietly and mind his own business? He’s a martyr to some people and a traitor to others. I think he was just  – stupid!’

Tommy Beresford:

[to Tuppence]

‘I suppose that even a secret agent might have a child.’