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.

Advertisements

Notes On A Caribbean Mystery

Rating: four out of five

Year or Publication: 1964

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot: Mr.Rafter is not an amiable fellow; the nearly octogenarian English man speaks in a forthright manner, barks orders and does not care less for small talks with the guests in Golden Palm Hotel. But he is very rich.

When a guest dies mysteriously, it is to him Miss Marple turns to; after all there is more than one can do when they have money in their hands.  Then a maidservant is stabbed and she knows too well that another life is in imminent danger.

Meanwhile, rumours have it that Lucky Dyson married her husband Greg just over a month after the demise of his first wife, Gail. Prior to her death Lucky was Gail’s carer during her illness. More importantly, Lucky was in charge of the other’s medicine. Gail’s death results in Greg having inherited a vast fortune. Did Greg have nothing to do with Gail’s death?

Time is essential as Lucky is found drowned in the small hours.

 

Highlights:

The clear blue sky and the peaceful surrounding of the imaginary St. Honore do not put Miss Marple’s mind at ease any more. Thousand miles away from England, she feels alone.  Not only does she try to find a murderer among the hotel guests but also a dangerous killer who already got away with his crimes. Moreover, who would trust her saying that Major Palgrave was about to show her a snapshot of a murderer earlier in the day before he died?

Enter Mr. Rafter, an unlikely partner in crime. Miss Marple sees a shrewd mind and wealth beyond his rude addressing that come handy. The rest is a collaboration of minds as they compare notes and take actions against someone who blends himself well among the guests.

The plot sees Christie’s attention to detail and her mastering the art of gossiping.  The opening chapter is intriguing although it appears to be a mere dialogue between two hotel guests. Its significance lies on the fact that Major Palgrave is then killed and it is to Miss Marple to whom he spoke.

Furthermore, what makes the scene tickle readers’ ‘little grey cells’ is how stories spread through the grapevines and more importantly gossiping is part of human nature – not women’s in particular. Then Major Palgrave does it; yet as a character he is an unreliable voice. To Mr. Rafter there is no mentioning about the snapshot and he is quite sure about it.

The Major’s death apparently is the reason to believe in some truths in his tales. Then Miss Marple’s inquiry into the questionable photograph comes to nothing, for there are not any images among the Major’s personal items.

And how about Victoria Johnson’s story? The maidservant notices that a bottle of tablets for high-blood pressure is in the Major’s room a day after his death. For she is not aware of it before.  Besides, she knows to whom it belongs. Is that what triggers her killing? Or perhaps her seeing the opportunity to blackmail the murderer?

Knowledge can be such a dangerous thing, especially the one which comes with the full realisation long after it is done. To my mind the subplot on the Dysons goes well as a reference to the actual murderer plus the confession of an accessory (see Clues).

What holds the story is the dynamic between Miss Marple and Mr. Rafter. Splendid as it is, it is also comical. On the one hand is a disabled man bound in the wheelchair, who does seem eccentric at face value but generous at heart. On the other is an ‘old pussie’ who is able to put aside her feelings and make ‘allowances’  to the other’s forthright manner. (see the dialogue in the right box).

Miss Marple (Julie McKenzie) and Mr. Rafiel (Anthony Sher) in 2013’s novel adaptation for television. “We’ve been discussing the murder here,” said Mr. Rafter.  Esther Walters looked slightly startled. She turned her head towards Miss Marple. “I’ve been wrong about her,” said Mr. Rafter, with characteristic frankness. “Never been much of a one for the old pussies. All knitting wool and tittle-tattle. But this one’s got something. Eyes and ears, and she uses them.” Esther Walters looked apologetically at Miss Marple, but Miss Marple did not appear to take offence. “That’s really meant to be a compliment, you know,” Esther explained. “I quite realise that,” said Miss Marple. “I realise, too, that Mr. Rafter is privileged, or thinks he is.” “What do you mean—privileged?” asked Mr. Rafter. “To be rude if you want to be rude,” said Miss Marple. “Have I been rude?” said Mr. Rafter, surprised. “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you.” “You haven’t offended me,” said Miss Marple, “I make allowances.”

 

Esther Walters comes into the scene; a loyal secretary who knows how to handle her employer.  You will see later why I have chosen her as The Most Fascinating Character; partly because she represents a sort of woman that is a world apart from the glamorous Lucky Dyson or the quiet intelligent Miss Preston. Nonetheless, there is more about her than just being a secretary to a millionaire.

As regards to the twists in the plot, Lucky Dyson’s death will remind readers to Cora Lansquenet (After The Funeral). For at first Dyson is perceived as another woman –the intended victim- due to similar height and build, until Miss Marple notices Dyson’s hair colour. As for Lansquenet, nobody realises that it is not her until Helen Abernethie realises the way the other turns her head in the wrong way.

In terms of the ending, it reminds me of the similar scene in A Murder Is Announced in which Miss Marple’s ‘little game’ is put in order. Mr. Rafter’s valet, Arthur Jackson, plays part in it although –again, surprisingly- he befriends the murderer. As the curtain falls in which a cunning plot is revealed, there is a lot of similarities about it compared to Patrick Redfern’s (Evil Under The Sun) and Michael Rogers’s (Endless Night).

 

The Twists:

-Major Palgrave does not have problems with his blood pressure

-The murderer removes a snapshot of himself from the Major’s wallet

-Edward Hillingdon is an accessory to the murder of Gail Dyson, Greg’s first wife

-Mr. Rafter grants £50,000 for Esther Walters in his will

-Lucky Dyson was meeting Arthur Jackson on the beach at the time she was murdered

-Arthur Jackson’s snooping in the Kendals’ room results in his suspicion about Molly’s face cream

 

Cast of Characters:

-Arthur Jackson (English, Mr. Rafter’s valet and masseur)

-Inspector Daventry (a constable in Jamestown)

-Colonel Edward Hillingdon (Evelyn’s husband)

-Esther Walters (Mr. Rafter’s secretary)

-Evelyn Hillingdon (Edward’s wife)

-Jane Marple

-Canon Jeremy Prescott (English)

-Joan Presscott (English, the Canon’s sister)

-Dr. Graham (a retired doctor in the island)

-Greg Dyson (American, who writes on butterflies, Lucky’s husband)

-‘Lucky’ Dyson (American, Greg’s second wife)

-Molly Kendal (English, Tim’s wife, who runs the hotel with her husband)

-Tim Kendal (English, Molly’s wife)

-Mr. Rafter (an English millionaire, who vacations in St. Honore every year)

-Dr. Robertson (the young doctor in the island)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Esther Walters

She is a widow who is employed by Mr. Rafter as his secretary. She follows his annual holiday to Caribbean and tends to his whims and tantrums. Although her employer is frequently rude to her, she does not seem to take notice and simply carries on her duties. Perhaps it is the generous salary and Mr. Rafter’s paying of her daughter’s school fee that make her bear his treatment.

To Miss Marple Mr. Rafter explains who Walters is as follows:

” She’s a good girl. First-class secretary, intelligent, good-tempered, understands my ways, doesn’t turn a hair if I fly off the handle, couldn’t care less if I insult her. Behaves like a nice nursery governess in charge of an outrageous and obstreperous child. She irritates me a bit sometimes, but who doesn’t?

There’s nothing outstanding about her. She’s rather a commonplace young woman in many ways, but I couldn’t have anyone who suited me better. She’s had a lot of trouble in her life. Married a man who wasn’t much good. I’d say she never had much judgement when it came to men. Some women haven’t. They fall for anyone who tells them a hard luck story. Always convinced that all the man needs is proper female understanding. That, once married to her, he’ll pull up his socks and make a go of life! But of course that type of man never does.

Anyway, fortunately her unsatisfactory husband died, drank too much at a party one night and stepped in front of a bus. Esther had a daughter to support and she went back to her secretarial job. She’s been with me five years. I made it quite clear to her from the start that she need have no expectations from me in the event of my death. I paid her from the start a very large salary, and that salary I’ve augmented by as much as a quarter as much again each year. However decent and honest people are, one should never trust anybody. That’s why I told Esther quite clearly that she’d nothing to hope for from my death. Every year I live she’ll get a bigger salary. If she puts most of that aside every year—and that’s what I think she has done—she’ll be quite a well-to-do woman by the time I kick the bucket. I’ve made myself responsible for her daughter’s schooling and I’ve put a sum in trust for the daughter which she’ll get when she comes of age. So Mrs. Esther Walters is very comfortably placed. My death, let me tell you, would mean a serious financial loss to her.”

 

As for Miss Marple, she notices that Walters is a kind of woman without sex appeal (in Miss Marple’s young days the other is  someone that ‘lacks come-hither in her eye’). The one who would not make a man turns his head and will be flattered when one does.

Be that as it may, Walters is a dark horse. She is a decent woman that will not make a pass at a woman’s husband and leers at a ‘potential.’ She craves for  attention nevertheless and she falls for one as soon as it is bestowed upon her. And who wouldn’t, having learnt that she will inherit £50,000 upon the death of Mr. Rafter – sooner or later?

Clues:

 

Conversations between Edward and Evelyn Hillingdon:

“I helped her to commit a murder—”

 

The words were out. There was silence. Evelyn stared at him. “Do you know what you are saying?”

 

“Yes. I didn’t know I was doing it. There were things she asked me to get for her—at the chemist’s. I didn’t know—I hadn’t the least idea what she wanted them for. She got me to copy out a prescription she had . . .”

 

“When was this?”

 

“Four years ago. When we were in Martinique. When—when Greg’s wife—”

 

“You mean Greg’s first wife—Gail? You mean Lucky poisoned her?”

 

“Yes—and I helped her. When I realised—”

 

Evelyn interrupted him. “When you realised what had happened, Lucky pointed out to you that you had written out the prescription, that you had got the drugs, that you and she were in it together? Is that right?”

 

“Yes. She said she had done it out of pity—that Gail was suffering—that she had begged Lucky to get something that would end it all.”

 

“A mercy killing! I see. And you believed that?”

 

Edward Hillingdon was silent a moment, then he said: “No—I didn’t really—not deep down. I accepted it because I wanted to believe it—because I was infatuated with Lucky.”

 

“And afterwards—when she married Greg—did you still believe it?”

 

“I’d made myself believe it by then.”

 

“And Greg—how much did he know about it all?”

 

“Nothing at all.”

 

“That I find hard to believe!”

 

Edward Hillingdon broke out: “Evelyn, I’ve got to get free of it all! That woman taunts me still with what I did. She knows I don’t care for her any longer. Care for her? I’ve come to hate her! But she makes me feel I’m tied to her by the thing we did together.” Evelyn walked up and down the room then she stopped and faced him.

 

 

Major Palgrave talking to Miss Marple:

Major Palgrave speaks to Miss Marple about showing a snapshot of a murderer.

 

“Lots of chaps talking at the club one day, you know, and a chap began telling a story. Medical man he was. One of his cases. Young fellow came and knocked him up in the middle of the night. His wife had hanged herself. They hadn’t got a telephone, so after the chap had cut her down and done what he could, he’d got out his car and hared off looking for a doctor. Well, she wasn’t dead but pretty far gone. Anyway, she pulled through. Young fellow seemed devoted to her. Cried like a child. He’d noticed that she’d been odd for some time, fits of depression and all that. Well, that was that. Everything seemed all right. But actually, about a month later, the wife took an overdose of sleeping stuff and passed out. Sad case.” Major Palgrave paused, and nodded his head several times. Since there was obviously more to come Miss Marple waited. “And that’s that, you might say. Nothing there. Neurotic woman, nothing out of the usual. But about a year later, this medical chap was swapping yarns with a fellow medico, and the other chap told him about a woman who’d tried to drown herself, husband got her out, got a doctor, they pulled her round—and then a few weeks later she gassed herself. Well, a bit of a coincidence—eh? Same sort of story. My chap said: ‘I had a case rather like that. Name of Jones—(or whatever the name was)—What was your man’s name?’ ‘Can’t remember. Robinson I think. Certainly not Jones.’ Well, the chaps looked at each other and said it was pretty odd. And then my chap pulled out a snapshot. He showed it to the second chap. ‘That’s the fellow,’ he said. ‘I’d gone along the next day to check up on the particulars, and I noticed a magnificent species of hibiscus just by the front door, a variety I’d never seen before in this country. My camera was in the car and I took a photo. Just as I snapped the shutter the husband came out of the front door so I got him as well. Don’t think he realised it. I asked him about the hibiscus but he couldn’t tell me its name.’ Second medico looked at the snap. He said: ‘It’s a bit out of focus—but I could swear—at any rate I’m almost sure it’s the same man!’ Don’t know if they followed it up. But if so they didn’t get anywhere. Expect Mr. Jones or Robinson covered his tracks too well. But queer story, isn’t it? Wouldn’t think things like that could happen.”

 

Notes On The Mysterious Mr. Quin

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1930

Motive for Murder: Jealousy and Wealth

Plot: Harley Quin is a catalyst of truth concerning a crime. From a man who shot himself ten years ago to a Russian woman mysteriously drowned in a pond, his presence reveals various facts hidden in people’s gestures and remembrances.

Mr. Satterthewaite, the patron of Art, understands him. As a matter of fact, his meeting the other on an unusual occasion is perceived as a sign of help for lovers  and the dead. As he deals with each case, every time a facet of Mr. Quin emerges. Beyond his appearance and his coming and going mysteriously, Mr. Quin’s love for his ‘Columbine’ is the most important thing learnt.

The moment he appears, life’s dull moment to Mr. Satterthwaite vanishes.

 

Highlights:

In the book, Mr. Quin is invisible to everyone but Mr. Satterthwaite; he knows when Mr. Quin is around – or will be. This is not to say that Mr. Quin is an imaginary friend; in most cases people are bewildered that he appears as if it is a result of a magic trick.

Figurines from Harlequinade

Christie’s foreword about the tale of Harlequinade explains readers about her creating a Mr. Quin character. On the one hand, it is her fascination to the myth as a girl; Mr. Quin,the zanni in commedia dell’arte that stands in the mantelpiece of Clarissa Miller’s along with the others (see the illustration on the right). I wonder why Harlequin among the figures; was being the invisible considered attractive to Christie?   

Twelve short stories based on Harlequinade with varied crimes as the main course is a depart from the previous books published. At that time the authoress has moved on from writing ghost stories to crime. Yet, it does not mean those two genres are independent from one another as seen in some of the stories with a brush of superstition and an air of mystery in them, ie. The Shadow On The Glass, The Voice In The Dark and The Sign In The Sky. Moreover, she splashes romance into the mixture to toe the line with Harlequin by highlighting the relationship problems.

In terms of the setting, Christie’s fondness of travelling, theatre/play and mingling with people brings Mr. Satterthwaite to meet Mr. Quin in different countries in which Mr. Satterthwaite’s shrewd observation and quiet wits are the main factors in solving a case.

What would become Harley Quin in the end? Would he find the answer he had been looking for?

I have found it is most interesting how Christie shapes Mr. Quin’s identity in the plot. He helps lovers in trouble but he is also the advocate of the dead. These contradicting traits in a major character are common in Christie’s work; yet personally they are confusing. Particularly with the final story Harlequin’s Lane, in which Anna Kharsanova’s death is a bewildering: did she drown herself or somebody pushed her head in the water?  Most importantly, did Mr. Quin do it?

Commedia dell’Arte characters

The most mysterious story to the best of my knowledge is The Man From The Sea. Here is Mr. Quin admits the loss of love as a result of pomposity and too proud to oneself. As far as I am concerned, from what he tells Mr. Satterthwaite, he is dead to the woman he used to love. Having understood that another man has replaced him, Mr. Quin decides to prevent the other man to take his own life –out of desperation, for he thought the woman had died. Perhaps an act of repentance on the part of Mr. Quin after many years. Or did he just know about the other man?

There is more than meets the eye in the book. Each story is equally intriguing and personal. It seems to me Christie has given herself away a lot, revealing a little from the depth of her mind her remembrances about hurtful events in her life. Perhaps it is her desire to move on and a favourite tale of hers has become a medium to send the message to the world.

Concerning love she discusses in the stories the lurking danger of being infatuated and blinded by ‘a cast spelt over one’ and jealousy. Also, she draws a line between wealth and love and vice versa. If anything, Anna Kharsanova’s words lingers in my head. ‘For ten years I have lived with the man I love. Now I am going to the man who for ten years have loved me.’

Mr. Quin’s presence does not necessarily mean a murder happened. In The Face Of Helen, he gives hints to Mr. Satterthwaite in preventing a killing. It is my most favourite story; not because Christie’s criticism about the sheer beauty of a woman’s that ruins another but the almost perfect plot of the  murderer using precise timing and gas. Clever.

To conclude, I highly recommend the book for life in retrospect. For writers, the stories are the unpolished germs, which provide possibilities to be a respective novel in its own right. Learn from a woman who pulls it off very well.

The Twists: (one for each case in the order of appearance)

  1. Derek Capel sees a constable from the window of his room and believes that he has come to take him as the main suspect in the Appleton case
  2. Richard Scott is still in love with Iris Saverton
  3. The art objects at Ashley Grange are stolen from France
  4. Sir George Barnaby winds up the clocks in his house every Friday
  5. M. Pierre Vaucher is Countess Czarnoza’s ex-husband
  6. Anthony Cosden thought the English woman as Spaniard
  7. Beatrice Barron is not dead when the shipliner “Uralia” sank off the coast of New Zealand forty years ago
  8. Philip Eastney sends a four-falve wireless set as a wedding present for Gillian West and Charles Burns
  9. Alix Charnley thought that her late husband was having an affair with a maid before shooting himself
  10.  Roger Graham is about to break up her affair with Mabelle Annesley on the night she dies
  11. Naomi Smith is Alec Gerard’s fiancée, of whom Rosina Nunn has accused of having stolen her opal
  12.  Anna Derman is thought dead in Bolshevik Revolution by Sergius Ivanovitch

 

Cast of Characters: (featuring Mr. Quin and Mr. Satterthwaite)

  1. The Coming of Mr. Quin:

    Columbine and Harlequin dance in the last story of the book – Harlequin’s Lane. Anna Derman (nee Kharsanova) as Columbine and Mr. Quin as Harlequin.

The New Year Party guests at Royston:

-Lady Laura Keene

-the Portals (Alex Portal and his Australian wife, Eleanor)

-Sir Richard Conway

-Tom Evesham (Derek Capel’s old friend, who was in the house when Capel committed suicide)

 

2. The Shadow On The Glass:

The guests at the Unkertons’ party:

–         Lady Cynthia Drage

–         Mrs. Iris Staverton

–         Captain Jimmy Allenson (Moira’s lover)

–         Major John Porter

–         Moira Scott (Richard’s young wife, whom he met in Egypt)

–         Richard Scott (Iris’s ex-lover)

–         Mr. And Mrs. Unkerton (the party host)

–         Inspector Winkfield

 

3.At The ‘Bells and Motley’:

–         The garage man (to whom Masters brought in the car with a flat tyre)

–         Mary Jones (William’s daughter)

–         Masters (Mr. Satterthwaite’s driver)

–         William Jones (Mary’s father, the proprietor of ‘Bells and Motley’ Inn)

 

4. The Sign In The Sky

-Mr. Denman

– Louisa Bullard ( a maid at the Barnabys)

– Sylvia Dale (the defendant’s girlfriend)

 

5. The Soul of The Cropier

–   Countess Czarnova (from the pearl of Bosnia, unknown origin)

–   Elizabeth Martin (American, Franklin’s friend)

–   Franklin Rudge (American, Elizabeth’s friend)

–   M. Pierre Vaucher (a croupier at a Monte Carlo casino)

 

6. The Man From The Sea

-Anthony Cosden (of whom Mr. Satterthwaite meets in the garden of La Paz)

-The English woman

 

7. The Voice In The Dark

-Alice Clayton (a long-standing maid in the family)

-Lady Barbara Stranleigh (nee Barron, the younger sister of Beatrice)

-Margery Gale (Lady Barbara’s daughter)

-Marcia Keane (the Lady maid)

-Roley Vavasour (Margery’s cousin)

 

8. The Face of Helen

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) – English dramatist, poet and translator in the Elizabethan era. ‘The Face of Helen’: Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships, And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. Her lips suck forth my soul: see where it flies! Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again. Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips, And all is dross that is not Helena. I will be Paris, and for love of thee, Instead of Troy, shall Wittenberg be sack’d; And I will combat with weak Menelaus, And wear thy colours on my plumed crest; Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel, And then return to Helen for a kiss. O, thou art fairer than the evening air Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars; Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter When he appear’d to hapless Semele; More lovely than the monarch of the sky In wanton Arethusa’s azur’d arms; And none but thou shalt be my paramour!

– Charles Burns (Gillian’s fiancé)

-Gillian West (an amateur singer)

-Philip Eastney (Gillian’s old friend, who helps her in her singing career)

 

9. The Dead Harlequin:

– Alix Charnley (the wife of the late Lord Charnley)

– Apasia Glen (an actress, an ex-maid of the Charnleys; alias Monica Ford)

–         Mr. Cobb (a dignitary at a gallery where Mr Satterthwaite buys a picture of “The Dead Harlequin”)

–         Frank Bristow (the artist, of whom he made the picture at the Terrace Room in the Charnleys’ residence)

–         Colonel Monkton (Mr. Satterthwaite and Lord Charnley’s friend, who was at the house when the other shot himself)

 

10. The Bird With The Broken Wing

The party at Laidell:

–         David Keeley(the host, Madge’s father, a brilliant mathematician)

–         Gerald Annesley (Mabelle’s husband)

–         Mabelle Annesley (Gerald’s wife, of whom Madge’s man falls in love with)

–         Madge Keeley (David’s daughter, who invites Mr. Satterthwaite to Laidell)

–         Mrs. Graham (Madge’s fiance’s mother)

–         Roger Graham (Madge’s Mr. Right)

 

11. The World’s End:

– The Duchess (Mr. Satterthwaite’s travel companion to Corsica)

-Helen Judd (Rosina’s husband)

-Naomi Carlton Smith (an artist, the Duchess’s relative)

-Rosina Nunn (an actress)

-Mr. Tomlinson

-Mr. Vyse (a producer)

 

12.Harlequin’s Lane:

-Anna Denman (a.k.a Anna Kharsanova, Russian, a legend ballerina)

-Claude Wickam (a music composer)

– John Denman (the host)

– Molly Stanwell (John’s lover)

-Sergius Ivanovitch (Kharsanova’s ex-lover)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Mr. Quin

Readers, I suppose it is obvious from the title.

 

Clues:

  1. The Coming of Mr. Quin: Sir Richard Conway to Mr. Quin, Evesham, Mr. Satterthwaite and Alex Portal:

 

‘Astounding – that’s what it was (the death of Derek Capel). Here’s a man in the prime of life, gay, light-hearted, without a care in the world. Five or six old pals staying with him. Top of his spirits at dinner, full of plans for the future. And from the dinner table he goes straight upstairs to his room, takes a revolver from a drawer and shoots himself. Why?  A Nobody ever knew. Nobody ever will know.’

 

2. The Shadow On The Glass: Mr. Satterthwaite to everyone attending the party:

 

‘I believe the original story centres around a Cavalier ancestor of the Elliott family. His wife had a Roundhead lover. The husband was killed by the lover in an upstairs room, and the guilty pair fled. But as they fled, they looked back at the house and saw the face of the dead husband at the window, watching them. That is the legend, but the ghost story is only concerned with a pane of glass in the window of that particular room on which is an irregular stain, almost imperceptible from near at hand, but which from far away certainly gives the effect of a man’s face looking out.’

 

3. At The ‘Bells and Motley’ : Mr. Satterthwaite to Mr. Quin:

 

‘It was just over a year ago that Ashley Grange passed into the possession of Miss Eleanor De Grange. It is a beautiful old house, but it had been neglected and allowed to remain empty over the years. It could not have found a better chatelaine. Miss Le Coteau was a French Canadian, her forebears were émigrés from the French Revolution, and had handed down to her a collection of almost priceless French relics and antiques. She was a buyer and a collector also, with avery fine and discriminating taste. So much so, that when she decided to sell Ashley Grange and everything it contained after the tragedy, Mr. Cyrus G. Bradburn, the American millionaire, made no bones about paying the fancy price of sixty thousand pounds for the Grange as it stood.’

 

4. The Sign In The Sky: Louisa Bullard to Mr. Satterthwaite:

‘I was in my room, sir, changing my dress, and I happened to glance out of the window. There was a train going along, and the white smoke of it rose up in the air, and if you’ll believe me it formed itself into the sign of a gigantic hand……”That’s a sign of something coming” – and sure enough at that very minute I heard the shot….’

 

5. The Soul of the Cropier: M. Pierre Vaucher to an audience of a supper party:

[telling the story of his life until he decides to become a cropier]

‘…..His lungs had been affected by gas [during the Great War], they said he must find work in the South. Suffice it to say he ended up as a cropier,and there – there in the Casino one evening, he saw her again- the woman who had ruined his life. She did not recognize him but he recognized her. She appeared to be rich and to lack for nothing –but messieurs, the eyes of a cropier are sharp. There came an evening when she placed the last stake in the world on the table. Ask me not how I know- I know- one feels these things…’

 

6. The Man From The Sea: the English woman to Mr. Satterthwaite:

[the first part of the story of her life]

‘If you are here long, somebody will tell you of the English swimmer who was drowned at the foot of this cliff. They will tell you how young ang strong he was, how handsome, and they will tell you that his young wife looked down from the top of the cliff and saw him drowning.’

‘That man was my husband. This was his villa. He brought me out here with him when I was eighteen, and a year later he died – driven by the surf of the black rocks, cut and bruised and mutilated, battered to death.’

 

7. The Voice In The Dark: Clayton to Mr. Satterthwaite:

‘I have never heard anything of the house being haunted. To tell you the truth, Sir, I thought it was all Miss Margery’s imagination until last night. But I actually felt something – brushing by me in the darkness. And I can tell you this, sir, it was not anything human. And then there is that wound in Miss Margery’s neck…’

 

8. The Face of Helen: Gillian West to Mr. Satterthwaite:

‘I dreaded telling Phil about Charles. It was silly of me. I ought to have known Phil better. He was upset, of course, but no one could have been sweeter. Really sweet he was. Look what he sent me this morning – a wedding present. Isn’t it magnificent?’

 

9. The Dead Harlequin: Frank Bristow to Aspasia Glen:

‘…Something about the place – about Charnley, I mean, took hold of my imagination. The big empty room. The terrace outside, the ideas of ghosts and things, I suppose. I have just been hearing the tale of the last Lord Charnley, who shot himself.  Supposing you are dead, and your spirit lives on? It must be odd, you know. You might stand outside on the terrace looking in at the window at your own dead body, and you would see everything.’

 

10. The Bird With The Broken Wing: Roger Graham to Mr. Satterthwaite:

‘…I couldn’t have killed Mabelle. I-I loved her. Or didn’t I? I don’t know. It’s a tangle that I can explain. I’m fond of Madge – I always have been. And she’s such a good sort. We suit each other. But Mabelle was different. It was – I can’t explain it- a sort of enchantment. I was, I think- afraid of her.’

 

11. The World’s End: Rosina Nunn’s to an audience at a camp in The World’s End:

 

‘….The opal had was lying on the dressing-table. He’d been out in Australia and he knew something about opals. He took it over to the light to look at it. I suppose he must have slipped it into his pocket then. I missed it as soon as he’d gone….’

‘They found the empty cases in his rooms. He’d been terribly hard-up, but the very next day he was able to pay large sums into his bank. He pretended to account for it by saying that a friend of his had put some money on a horse for him, but he couldn’t produce the friend. He said he must have put the case in his pocket by mistake….’

 

12. Harlequin’s Lane: Mr. Satterthwaite to Mr. Quin:

[about Anna Derman and Sergius Ivanovitch]

 

‘The same old drama. I am right, am I not? Those two belong together. They are of the same world, think the same thoughts, dream the same dreams…One sees how it has come about. Ten years ago Denman must have been very good-looking, young, dashing, a figure of romance. And he saved her life. All quite natural. But now – what is he, after all? A good fellow- prosperous, successful- but well- mediocre, Good Honest English Stuff, very much like Hepplewhite furniture upstairs. As English – and as ordinary- as that pretty English girl with her fresh untrained voice…’

Notes On And Then There Were None

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1939

Motive for Murder: Justice (?)

Plot:  Ten strangers arrive on ‘free holiday’ in Soldier Island, Devon. In the first evening after the dinner, their jolly mood suddenly change. A recorded voice then announces each name and the crime committed; all of them have slipped out of the justice radar. Afterwards, the night claims a life.

The next day begins and so does the terror. Stranded on an island in a stormy weather, more lives are taken as days pass. Suspicions among the remaining party are inevitable, for they come to realise one of them is the murderer. But who; a retired judge, an ex-Chief Inspector Detective (CID), a doctor or an elderly puritan woman?

Ten people were to spend a leisure time in an island that had  become a sensation in the media. For the speculation is rife as regard to the identity of its mysterious owner, Mr. Owen.

Ten dead bodies are found and only one of them, who would have been able to tell who had killed the people.

 

Highlights:

A wholesale murder seems to be the recipe of the great success behind the plot, for the title has proved to be one of Christie’s most popular books to date. Furthermore, the controversy surrounding its original title ‘Ten Little Niggers,’ of which then she had to bend to the pressure of altering it to a more politically correct one some time later. Hence And Then There Were None, the title taken from the last words in the nursery rhymes concerned (see Clues). I wonder if the title might have been ‘Murders in Summer’ due to her choice of timing on 8th August, the day the ‘ten  little soldiers’ go on a boat to the island without the slightest idea of their fate.

‘Ten Little Indians’ movie poster; the film adaptation of the novel released in 1974. Richard Attenborough, who starred in it, also played in The Mousetrap.  

On the onset, the treacherous English summer intriguingly provides the drama the plot required. For an old man on the train laments about the chance of thundering to William Blore: ‘I am talking to you, young man. The day of judgment is very close at hand.’ Astounded, the ex-CID man thought otherwise. He should have taken the other’s words seriously.

The first man ‘sentenced’, Anthony Marston, is a man in his prime; healthy and full life. He choked as he was gulping down his drink after he had admitted to have run over two people and caused their deaths. Quickly dismissed such an accident, it is apparent that he does not feel sorry to his reckless behaviour.

When the cook, Mrs. Rogers, is found ‘died in her sleep,’the court of inquiry proceeded by Judge Redgrave commences. Bubbles of thoughts floated in everyone’s mind as they went to bed in the previous night. By the end of the second day the eight people left realise that there is no way they can leave the island.  The boat would not come for them while the gathering clouds in the sky turns the weather for the worse. Meanwhile, each of them starts to see one another in a different light.

I applaud Christie’s craft in suspense and irony. A serene surrounding, a comfortable and luxurious accommodation, plenty of food and in the company of agreeable group of people, albeit strangers. What could go wrong?   Little do they realise the ‘temperament’ some of them have; the urge to kill and guilt. Survival for the fittest is put to a test. More importantly, confessions are made, acknowledging the injustice and malicious intentions behind a seemingly normal decision. As a storm is on its way they become seven. Old General John MacArthur –what a name!- is hit on the head from behind.

Until the end of the first reading, personally everything passes in blur. One by one they are gone in accordance with the nursery rhyme. Here is the irony of childish lines; Christie’s little jokes about crimes that go unpunished but later on justice will find its way regardless the length of time.  Nonetheless, in the second reading, it is most fascinating how reverse logic works in a situation; the trick of the brain that corrupts reality. At any rate she controls the balance well in the narration.

Parts of ‘Ten Little Niggers’ Nursery Rhyme

The presence of three women characters; a puritan woman, a governess/secretary and a cook/housemaid against seven men is most interesting. Mrs. Rogers who dies second is felt more or less it is not being there at all, having no voice but observed by Emily Brent, the puritan, clearly ridden by guilt. Two women left and the sisterhood is formed. Yet Vera Claythorne is rather taken aback by  Brent’ confession about the pregnant girl she threw out of her house. To my mind Brent slightly bears traits of Honoria Waynflete (Murder Is Easy) and Claythorne’s way of recollecting events resemble Elinor Carlisle (Sad Cypress).

What I like most from the choice of the people is their background profession; police, judge, servants, governess, a spinster(see The Most Fascinating Character), a doctor, a very proud man, an ex Army General and a hunter who cares money most. Although I suspect the reason of Christie having omitted an ex-nurse/dispenser is personal (she is an ex-VAD [Voluntary Aid Detachment] in the First World War).

I have found it extremely hard to imagine that someone –the Mastermind in the book- actually enjoys the role of creating havoc and terrors and most importantly kill them (although the other does the job for the Master for a murder). An invitee, however, has suspected who the Mastermind is all along. Yet the villain, as wicked as the murderer of Roger Ackryod, anticipates it and then ends the life with a little trick with the help of another.

I suppose the power of some of the character’s words linger owing to their double meaning. What sounds natural in a sentence or a phrase would soon turned the other way round when pondered over.  While they make readers shudder, the authoress has achieved to have created in seeing murders from a different angle. That indeed it might be easy, particularly when such is done quietly and executed under the eye of others – or at least is what they thought.

In spite of the great things about the book, I am a little uneasy about the ending: a confession through a letter of the whole plot. On the one hand it serves to fill the gaps in the police investigation. On the other, I think the writing before a suicide is not my cup of tea – a rather coward act in fact. He should have told at least the person who had suspected him while still alive. What do you think?

 

The Twists:

-The ten people invited never meet neither the host nor the hostess before

-Some of the deceased then wrote their account of events in their diaries

– Mr. Isaac Morris dies on the night of 8th August from sleeping draught.

 

Cast of Characters:

 

 

‘Ten Little Soldiers’:

Anthony Marston – had a telegraph from his friend, Badger Berkeley, who was telling him to come to the island

Dr. Edward Amstrong – a Harley Street doctor, who received a letter with a more than adequate sum of money for his consultation fee to come for Mrs. Owen’s sake.

Emily Brent – a sixty-five-year-old woman, who had a letter from U.N.O (presumably Mrs. Owen), whom inviting her to spend time in a a new guess house Mrs. Owen has just opened on the island

Richard Attenborough, who starred in the 1974’s movie adaptation

Ethel Rogers – came with her husband, Thomas, as a cook and housemaid for the party

General John Macarthur – had a letter telling him that some of his old friends would have been on the island and he was to join them

Justice Lawrence Wargrave – a retired judge; he received a letter from his friend Lady Constance Cummington about coming to Soldier Island

Thomas Rogers – Ethel’s husband, a butler for the party

Philip Lombard – was offered a hundred guineas to travel to Sticklehaven in Devon and to spend a week on the island

Vera Claythorne – was offered a secretarial holiday job by Una Nancy Owen

William Blore – an ex-CID that becomes a private detective. A handsome amount of money was offered in exchange of watching the other nine invitees.

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Emily Brent

 

‘Emily Caroline Brent, that upon the 5th of November, 1931, you were responsible for the death of Beatrice Taylor’

Having her crime being announced, she says: ‘Are you waiting for me to say something? I have nothing to say.’ To which Judge Redgrave responds: ‘You reserve your defence?’ She replies: ‘There is no question of defence. I have always acted in accordance with the dictates of my conscience. I have nothing with which to reproach myself.’

There is no qualm in her words nor uneasiness in her eyes, although she does not deny the ‘charge’ upon her. For she used to know Beatrice Taylor, who then committed suicide by throwing herself into the river. She was apparently employed as a maid by  God-fearing Brent but asked to leave no sooner than Brent had found about her expecting a baby out of wedlock. As a result, Taylor killed herself out of desperation, for her parents already shunned her and she had nowhere to turn to but her employer.

To Vera Claythorne she admits having prompted Taylor’s death – women to women.  After which Claythorne responds: ‘But if your hardness –drove her to it.’

Brent’s reply: ‘Her (Taylor) own action – her own sin- that was what drove her to it. If she had behaved like a decent modest young woman none of this would have happened.’

(Quoted from the book) The little elderly spinster was no longer slightly ridiculous to Vera. Suddenly – she was terrible.

Brent is easily lured to come to the island as the sender claimed to have known her at a premises where they used to work. Brent ignores the fact that she does not actually know who ‘U.N.O.’ was. The signature is unclear, yet she reckoned it must have been Mrs. Oliver’s. Her being in a tight money situation sees the opportunity for a dream holiday. If only she knew that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Six little soldier boys playing with a hive;

A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.

A death ‘stung’ by a bee is surely the least expected thing on a holiday.

Nonetheless, i the justice done this way?

 

Clues:

 

Ten little soldier boys went out to dine;

One choked his little self and then there were Nine.

Nine little soldier boys sat up very late;

One overslept himself and then there were Eight.

Eight little soldier boys travelling in Devon;

One said he’d stay there and then there were Seven.

Seven little soldier boys chopping up sticks;

One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.

Six little soldier boys playing with a hive;

A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.

Five little soldier boys going in for law;

One got in Chancery and then there were Four.

Four little soldier boys going out to sea;

A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.

Three little soldier boys walking in the Zoo;

A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.

Two little soldier boys sitting in the sun;

One got frizzled up and then there was One.

One little soldier boy left all alone;

He went and hanged himself and then there were None.

 

Notes On Hallowe’en Party

Rating: Four out of five

Year of Publication: 1969

Motive of Murder: Wealth and Identity

Plot: In a Hallowe’en party preparation Joyce Reynolds is heard saying that she saw a murder once. Later at night she is dead; her head was inside a galvanised bucket among bobbing apples.

Hercule Poirot takes up the case as his distraught friend, Ariadne Oliver, happens to attend the party with her friend in the village. Coincidently,  ex-Superintendent Spence (Mrs. McGinty’s Dead) also lives there too. No sooner has Poirot arrived there he contacts the ex-high ranking officer to find out about past murders in the area.

Then what is the connection between the stabbing of a junior clerk at a respectable solicitor office and the disappearance of an au pair girl, a companion to a rich elderly woman with the death of a twelve-year-old girl during the party?

As the sleuth walks around the sunk garden, of which its creation is owing to the dead rich woman, there is something that makes him shudder. There is fear. One thing for sure, the murderer is among the people in the party.

Highlights:

Personally it is the cleverest title of Christie’s, first and foremost. The party is a  smoke screen and furthermore a taster to the journey to a tale in a wood where a dryad lives and Undine is present; from the Biblical Apochrypha in which the story of Judith and Holofernes is mentioned to the wishing well in a17th century  nursery rhymes.

Moreover, the atmosphere of the party; the murmuring of Mrs. Oliver recalling the traditions of Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving and All Saints’ Day and the traditional games played in Britain are all very visual.

What aroused my curiosity is the young who are killed – yes, there is another dead of a child after Joyce Reynolds. This is the first time I have experienced a plot in which children become the victims. Usually the authoress creates them as minor characters in which they are the silent voices in the families although their insights then provide important clues. In By The Pricking Of The Thumb a child serial killer is unmasked by Tuppence Beresford. Nonetheless the killing occur twenty years before she comes to look for a house in the painting that belongs to her husband’s late aunt Ada.

Be that as it may, it is the two motives above which I find more intriguing. On the one hand, a murderer strikes and gets the wrong child. On the other, the second killing is targeted; his ‘blackmailing’ a dangerous adult by asking for more money comes to a point whereby he must be silenced for good. In the sixties, I suppose the thought that a child could do such a cunning thing must have been unheard of. Or am I wrong in this matter? Having brought up the issue, Christie surely realised that a child is not as innocent as the adults may perceive. And she is right to point out that in most cases the parents have no idea but someone else, who is reluctant to share her notion in case of retribution.

As I was reading it, I got used to with Christie’s seemingly unrelated facts that would make sense towards the end anyhow. Yet nothing prepares me from what lies underneath ‘water’ and ‘apples’.  On the second reading I begin to understand and is grateful to Christie’s memory while writing the book (she was nearly eighty at that time).

When Mrs. Oliver decides never to touch an apple, her choice of substitution to dates is agreeable. For the fruit bears many health benefits in spite of its stickiness.

What is more amusing about her perhaps the dynamics she has with her  Belgian friend; their being chalk and cheese that turns out well. Her certain remark about something or her somewhat uncomprehending behaviour does inspire the other with his  ‘little ideas’. From her critic about his wearing tight leather patent shoes to the computer mind of his the duo never stop to draw a smile to readers.

Cliveden House and Gardens in Maidenhead, UK is part of the National Trust.

I was fascinated that Christie should describe a garden built in the former quarry in a great deal. Somehow it reminds me of Cliveden and its history. Both seem to be ambitious projects that are extremely successful.  Of equal merit is the association between the garden and the person behind the design – the character.  Without any words from the dead rich woman herself, Mrs. Llewellyn –Smythe’s legacy already tells readers a lot about her. Such also applies to the landscape gardener Michael Garfield, to whom she has commissioned to design it.

It is worth quoting in the following Poirot’s first impression of the garden.

Somehow, he thought, this was not en English garden in which he was sitting. There was an atmosphere here. He tried to pin it down. It had qualities of magic, of enchanment, certainly of beauty, bashful beauty, yet wild. Here, if you were staging a scene in the theatre, you would have your nymphs, your fauns, you would have Greek beauty, you would have too-thought Poirot, working himself up – you would have fear too. Yes, he thought, in this sunk garden there is fear.

That is strengthened as he later meets mother and daughter Judith and Miranda Butler, for their back garden is adjacent to the sunk garden. His visiting them because Mrs. Oliver stays with them in the village.  The mother is described as bearing traits of Undine whereas the daughter is a wood nymph. Her search of a forgotten wishing well and Mrs. Goodbody’s saying ding dong dell, pushy’s in the well seal it all.

In Christie’s books published in the sixties and seventies, there are references to the previous novels. In the following I will highlight five points.

First, the authoress’s playing with the words ‘cod’ and ‘codicil’ to refer to two unrelated things with similar letters at the beginning. In The Thirteen Problems,   Miss Marple works out what word a dying man is meant to say from her interviews with the cook and the maid; something that also sounds like a fish name but actually is a poisonous substance.

Second, Miss Emlyn, the Headmistress at the Elms, Joyce’s school, is an old friend of Miss Bulstrode (Cat Among The Pigeons). Sharp and forthright too, Miss Emlyn helps Poirot by directing him to the right person he must interview. Unlike Miss Bulstrode, Miss Emlyn knows exactly who the Lady Macbeth is.  Thirdly, the reference to The Labours of Hercules, in which Poirot recalls ‘a robbery of old family silver five or six years ago in Ireland’ ( the Apples of Hesperides case). This minor detail makes me frown. For the book is published twelve years beforehand and therefore either it is a genuine mistake on Christie’s part or she wants to indicate that Poirot’s mind is already failing. If the latter is the case, it will contradict the police’s judgement about the sleuth’s state of mind. ‘Do you think he’s become a little senile?’ asked the Chief Constable to Ex-Superintendent Spence. ‘No, I don’t’.

Fourth, the adage ‘old sins have long shadows’ is stated, just as in Elephants Can Remember. Besides, Poirot employs the principle of his ‘elephants’ to people who remember past occurrences clearly.

Lastly, the character Leopold Reynolds resembles Terence Christow (The Hollow); very intelligent and shrewd minds (see more in The Most Fascinating Character).  Sadly, one of them is murdered.

Finally, has it ever occurred to anyone in the authoress’s circle at that time that she should have avoided a word being repeated too soon in a paragraph? The punctuations as well. (the examples are aplenty and it is going to be tiresome to mention them here).

On the whole, Hallowe’en Party deserves an applause for its coherent structure and painstaking details of the characters.

The Twists:

-Miss Whittaker saw Mrs. Drake dropped the vase onto the floor, looking startled

-Miranda Butler and Joyce Reynolds are best friends

-Mrs. Llewellyn –Smythe went on a National Trust tour of gardens in Ireland for her inspire to the sunk garden

-Rowena Drake and Michael Garfield said that the au pair girl had had a relationship with a young man who worked at a solicitor’s office in Medchester

-Miranda Butler disappears in a restaurant when she, her mother and Ariadne Oliver stops for lunch on their way to Mrs. Oliver’s flat in London

Cast of Characters:

Anne Reynolds (the mother of Anne, Joyce and Leopold)

Ann Reynolds (Judith’s elder sister)

Ariadne Oliver (Judith Butler’s friend)

Desmond Holland ( a local lad who helps in the party preparation with Nicholas Ransom)

Elspeth McKay (ex-Inspector Spence’s sister)

The potrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, painted by John Singer Sargent in 1889.

Elizabeth Whittaker (Maths and Latin teacher at the Elms)

Miss Emlyn (the Headmistress at the Elms)

Dr. Ferguson (the village’s doctor)

Mr. Fullerton (the lawyer to the late Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe)

Mrs. Goodbody (the witch in the party)

Hercule Poirot

Joyce Reynolds (Leopold and Anne’s sibling)

Judith Butler (Ariadne Oliver’s friend)

Leopold Reynolds (Judith’s younger brother)

Michael Garfield (the landscape gardener)

Miranda Butler (Judith’s daughter)

Nicholas Ransom (Desmond’s friend, who also helps in the party preparation)

Rowena Drake (the host of Hallowe’en Party)

Ex-Superintendent Spence (Elspeth’s brother)

The Most Fascinating Character:  Leopold Reynolds

The youngest of the Reynolds, Leopold is a nine or ten year-old boy who is a genius. When Poirot and Mrs. Oliver come to see the family to interview them, he has been in the garden assembling an aeroplane model and seems to be totally absorbed at his work. His attitude is nonchalant, as the sleuth asks him about her elder sibling Joyce. In the short interview there seems to be little they can get from him.

Nonetheless, the later interviews Poirot conducts with Desmond and Mrs. Goodbody (see Clues) reveal more of the boy. Desmond says that Leopold is “awful. He is a sneak. He eavesdrops. Tell tales” while Mrs. Goodbody wonders how the boy gets a lot of pocket money, for his parents cannot afford much.

To my mind he reminds me of Terence Christow (The Hollow), a thirteen-year-old son of John and Gerda. Both like science and are quick to read a situation to their advantage. Also, they haven’t been listened much by their parents and therefore it is likely that they do things to seek their attention.

Unfortunately Leopold’s intelligence is not on par with his emotional quotience. His naivety does not understand the danger lurking from asking more and more from a murderer masked in their friendly look.

Prince Leopold died at the age of thirty from his condition.

His name makes me think of Prince Leopold, the eighth child of Queen Victoria, whom happened to resemble his late father’s look. Just as Christie’s Leopold,  the prince was very intelligent and full of life despite the constant worry from his dominant mother as he was born with haemophilia.

To be truthful, Leopold Reynolds is a lonely child without someone who can understand him. He does not seem to get along with his two elder sisters; I can imagine how wonderful it is for him that someone else outside the family gives him the attention he desperately needs.

Clues:

Elspeth McKay:

[to Hercule Poirot]

‘She [Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe] came here when her health failed. She was living abroad before. She came here to be near her nephew and niece, Mr. and Mrs. Drake, and she bought the Quarry House. A big Victorian house which included a disused quarry which attracted her as having possibilities. She spent thousands of pounds on turning that quarry into a sunk garden or whatever they call the thing. Had a landscape gardener down from Wisley or one of these places to design it. Oh, I can tell you, it’s something to look at.’

Miss Emlyn:

‘…Joyce- I speak plainly to you, Monsieur Poirot, because we do not want unnecessary sentiment to cloud mental faculties- she was a rather mediocre child, neither stupid nor particularly intellectual. She was, quite frankly, a compulsive liar. And by that I do not me that she was especially deceitful. She was not trying to avoid attribution or to avoid being found out in some peccadillo. She boasted. She boasted of things that had not happened, but that would impress her friends who were listening to her. As a result, of course, they inclined not to believe the tall stories she told.’

Mrs. Goodbody:

[to Hercule Poirot]

‘Leopold?Well, he’s only nine or ten, I think, but he’s clever all right. Clever with his fingers and other ways, too. He wants to study things like physics. He’s good at mathematics, too. Quite surprised about it they were, in school. Yes, he’s clever. He’ll be one of these scientists, I expect. If you ask me, the things he does when he’s a scientist and the things he’ll think of- they’ll be nasty, like  atom bombs! He’s one of the kind that studies and are ever so clever and think up something that’ll destroy half the globe, and all us poor folk with it. You beware of Leopold. He plays tricks on people, you know, and eavesdrops. Finds out all their secrets. Where he gets all his pocket money from I’d like to know. It isn’t from his mother or his father. They can’t afford to give him much. He’s got lots of money always. Keeps it in a drawer under his socks. He buys things. Quite a lot of expensive gadgets. …’

Judith Butler:

[to Hercule Poirot]

‘I wish she wasn’t so fond of it sometimes. One gets nervous about people wandering about in isolated places, even if they are quite near people or village. One’s-oh, one’s frightened all the time nowadays. That’s why – why you’ve got to find out why this awful thing happened to Joyce, Monsieur Poirot. Because until we know who that was, we shan’t feel safe for a minute –about our children, I mean…’

Michael Garfield:

[to Hercule Poirot]

‘Go on home to your police friends and leave me here in my local paradise. Get thee beyond me, Satan.’

Miranda Butler:

[to Hercule Poirot, answering his query ‘Was Joyce a friend of yours?’]

‘Yes. She was a great friend in a way. She told me very interesting things sometimes. All about elephants and rajahs. She’d been to India once. I wish I’d been to India. Joyce and I used to tell each other all our secrets. I haven’t so much to tell as Mummy. Mummy’s been to Greece, you know. That’s where she met Aunt Ariadne, but she didn’t take me.’

Rowena Drake:

[to Hercule Poirot]

‘She [the au pair girl] was friendly with a young man who worked in a solicitor’s office in Medchester. He had been mixed up in a forgery case before. The case never came to court because the girl disappeared. She realised the Will would not be admitted to probate, and that there was going to be a court case. She left the neighbourhood and has never been heard of since.’

Notes On The Thirteen Problems

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1932

Motive for  Crimes: Jealousy, Fright, Identity and Wealth

Plot: Thirteen crimes told by different people in a group of six in the Tuesday Night Club at Miss Marple’ house and at the Bantrys’s near the village of St.Mary Mead. Then each offers their solution as to whodunit. Miss Marple scores most.

From the deadly supper at the Joneses to the superstitious Mrs. Pritchard; the creepy grove in Dartmoor to the drowning of a local girl, the elderly spinster beats a solicitor, an ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard and a doctor. Yet she gives up on one case. Why?

The thirteen problems (according to the book chapter):

  1. The Tuesday Night Club: Three people had a supper and one of them died.
  2. The Idol House of Astarte: A fancy dress party at a grove of trees in Dartmoor turned to be a murder scene (he was stabbed)
  3.  Ingots of Gold: The disappearance of Raymond West’s friend on a Whit Monday in Cornwall
  4. The Bloodstained Pavement:  an artist read the news about the drowning of a woman she met on holiday in a little village in Cornwall
  5. Motive vs Opportunity: A man with considerable wealth wished to leave money in his will for the American husband and wife psychic and therefore disinherited his next of kin
  6. The Thumb Mark of St. Peter: Rumour had it that Mabel Denman poisoned his husband.
  7. The Blue Geranium: Mrs. Pritchard allegedly died from fright after she received a letter saying that the Blue Geranium means Death.
  8. The Companion: the death of Amy Durrant, Mary Barton’s companion,  in Canary Islands
  9. The Four Suspects: An elderly German who sought political asylum in Britain was pushed off the stairs and killed in his home. Four people were around the house on that day: his niece Greta, Dobbs the gardener, his assistant Gertrud and his secretary Charles Templeton(police cover)
  10. A Christmas Tragedy: Miss Marple read a husband’s face who planned a plot to kill his wife for insurance money  in a Spa
  11. The Herb of Death: Foxgloves leaves, planned near to Sage, was picked and mixed with the herb in a Turkey filling for dinner. A girl dies as a result.

    Sage leaves; planted next to Foxgloves and both can be picked and mixed up.

  12. The Affair At The Bungalow: A burglary in an actress’s house revealed her scandal with a high-profile married man
  13. Death By Drowning: Emmot’s Daughter was drowned

Clues:

  1. Hundreds and thousands on a trifle at the supper
  2. One of the fancy dress participants wears a brigand chief costum
  3. A gardener does not work on a Whit Monday
  4. The tale of the landlord of Polharwith Arms killed by a Spanish captain’s sword and that the landlord’s bloodstain on the pavement cannot be washed out for a hundred years
  5. Miss Marple said, “It is a catch!And so is Mr. Petherick’s story a catch. So like a lawyer!”
  6. Geoffrey Denman was heard saying “something about fish or a heap of fish” by the cook and the housemaid before he died
  7. The appearance of Zarida, a psychic for Mrs. Pritchard who warned her client of “evil and danger in the house”
  8. Mary Barton appeared to grow fatter in a fortnight (before seeing leaving the island)
  9. The German man was seen throwing a letter with a foreign stamp he received in the morning
  10. Mrs. Sanders’s hat was on the side of her head when the police came on the murder scene whereas before it was on her head when her body was found for the first time by her husband and Miss Marple.
  11. Sir Ambrose had a heart problem and therefore has been prescribed with digitalin (Foxgloves also contains digitalin)
  12. Miss Marple: “I can’t help feeling that there was some- well, what I must describe as personal feeling about the whole thing.”
  13. Emmot’s daughter was expecting and she went out with Sandfrod, an architect

The Twists:

  1. “Hundreds and thousands” written in a letter and a trifle in the supper
  2. The tale of Astarte
  3. A crime gang scheme to bury bars of gold
  4. Blood dripping from the red dress hung over a balcony, which the artist saw as bloodstains on the pavement
  5. Evanescent ink used to write the will
  6. Geoffrey Denman’s father eyedrops containing atropine sulphate
  7. The pink primrose in the garden-theme wallpaper in Mrs. Pritchard’s room turned blue
  8. Mary Barton’s body was never found in Cornwall
  9. honesty was written with capital “H” in the letter
  10. The housemaid’s body was laid to rest in her room two doors away from the Sanders’s
  11. An old man’s jealousy towards the engagement of his ward
  12. Miss Marple failed to give the correct answer in front of everyone
  13. Jimmy Brown, a twelve-year-old boy, saw two men with a wheelbarrow on the river path amidst the mist and being in the dusk

Highlights:

Imagine Christie was smiling to herself as she tweaked some parts in the manner of a good cook who had agreed to the taste of a dish and yet adding a splash of olive oil or a sprinkle of sugar to enliven it.

Miss Marple appears for the second time after Christie introduced her in The Murder At The Vicarage (1930).She is acquainted with Sir Henry Clithering, the ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard, who is not in the least impressed at first with her referring various cases happen in her small village. Interestingly, his godson’s path crosses with the woman much later on in 4.50 From Paddington- twenty five years later to be precise. And therefore it is worth noticing the interaction between the two whereby in the end they establish mutual respect to one another.

Furthermore, there is Raymond West, Miss Marple’s nephew, who starts the Tuesday Night Club. In Thirteen Problems he is a writer who falls into a trap of a crime gang plot, whereas in 4.50 From Paddington his collection of maps helps her aunt locate a woman’s body who is seen strangled on the train by Elspeth GilliMcCuddy.

Miss Marple’s reference of having “a mind like a sink” in both novels is amusing. Indeed it gives her a voice, as well as her wearing black lace mittens and bringing her knitting bag everywhere.

Just as an experienced cook, the authoress uses some basic ingredients in a cuisine to prepare different meals. First, in one of the “problems” an unscrupulous nurse may remind readers to Sad Cypress. Second, the actress Jane Helier has a touch of Jane Wilkinson’s manner (Lord Edgware Dies), of whom most everyone –but Miss Marple- thinks her a no brainer. Thirdly, the Bloodstained Pavement case is quite similar to a clever plot the murderers have in Evil Under The Sun (1941) although the circumstances of the murders are quite  different. In the former novel the victim is murdered beforehand whereas in the latter it is the opposite. Besides, there is a “red” reference. In Evil Under The Sun is a scarlet woman Arlene Marshall whilst in The Thirteen Problems Joyce Lempriere thinks she has a hallucination when she sees drips of blood on the pavement while painting. For it turns out to be a red dress with the victim’s blood on it hung in the balcony by the murderer! Lastly, there is Mary, the housemaid at the Hydro Spa who dies from a septic finger -albeit undeliberate. Add a cat’s wound and somebody is also killed from his septic wound in Murder Is Easy.

Honesty with capital “H”; a clue in the Four Suspects Case.

My most favourite case is The Four Suspects (the ninth one) owing to the letters received by the suspects and the victim. For one of them is a death warrant concealed in a language of flowers. Not only is it a touch of genius on Christie’s part but also  makes readers realise to whom a letter will appeal to – if a certain sex is associated with their knowledge on plants.

Another letter is written with common grammatical errors made by German speakers of English. Christie’s accuracy in highlighting them is outstanding, such as the habit of adding “s” after an infinitive and wrong word orders.

An illustration for a passport photograph of an English woman. On the right  is Virginia Woolf’s, stamped by Foreign Office in 1923. Does she look like any other English woman in their early forties?

In The Companion’s case, Miss Marple hints that an English woman’s look of a certain age is so like another. ‘I don’t suppose the different photograph on her passport was ever noticed – you know what passports are…’ she said. Is it? It is fascinating then should a woman, having altered her hair style or make-up,  could travel abroad with another woman’s identity.  Lucky? Because of the doubt I have decided to lower my rating to four out of five. It does bother me because the murderer then goes scot free.

What I enjoy most is the banters among the characters and the dynamics shown in the groups are marvellous. I also appreciate the gradual change in the characters along the way. Still, there is the twist in the end. Miss Marple knows who the murderer is no sooner has a girl in the village died from drowning. Having no proof, she makes a plea to Sir Henry Clithering to bring someone to justice.  Will he believe her?

Finally, is it just me or does anyone here wonder as to why the parish priest is Dr. Pender, not Mr. Clement? Did he resign the post after ColonelProtheroe’s death at his study?

Cast of Characters:

1. The Tuesday Night Club at Miss Marple’s house:

-Sir Henry Clithering (ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard)

-Jane Marple (the host)

-Joyce Lempriere (an artist)

-Mr. Petherick (a lawyer)

-Dr. Pender (the clergyman at St. Mary Mead parish church)

-Raymond West (Miss Marple’s nephew and a writer)

2. At the Bantrys’s:

-Colonel Arthur Bantry (the host)

-Dolly Bantry (Colonel Arthur’s wife)

-Sir Henry Clithering (ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard)

-Jane Helier (an actress)

-Jane Marple

-Dr. Llyod (a doctor at St. Mary Mead)

The Most Fascinating Character: Jane Helier

She appears halfway when another group at Colonel Arthur Bantry’s home is formed a year after the previous one in Miss Marple’s house. Described as “the beautiful and popular actress”, she is somehow vague and makes unintelligent remarks to every case uttered. She does not offer her solution and admits she has not got any. Nonetheless, she is polite and hardly speaks ill to anyone. As a result, others tend to treat her kindly; an unreliable voice who is out of place.

It is not clear whether her presence is due her being a friend of the Bantrys or invited by Sir Henry Clithering. When it comes to her turn telling a most strange case, everyone knows that it is not about someone she knows but what does really happen to the actress herself.

At the end of it, when Helier stops and the five of them then gazes at Miss Marple for the answer, she surprisingly says that she has had no idea in the least. The group is dismissed and Jane Helier’s case is declared as the winner.

But before Miss Marple leaves, she approaches Helier and whispers to her: ‘I shouldn’t do it if I were you, my dear. Never put yourself too much in another woman’s power, even if you do think she’s your friend at the moment.’

Readers, do you remember what Miss Marple means? (please, do not shout your answer in the comment).

Notes On Death Comes As The End

Rating: Four out of five

Year of Publication: 1945

Motive for Murder: Hatred

Plot: The West Bank of the Nile, Egypt. 2000 BC. In Imhotep’s household, all is well when he goes away. His elderly mother Esa listens to everything happening in her son’s home; her widow granddaughter has returned home with her young child and her grandsons attend to their father’s orders obligingly.  In the background she hears her granddaughters-in-law continually bicker over small matters.

All is well until a beautiful concubine is brought home from the North. As the reality sinks in, the the three sons now realise to whom the crop profits have gone while their wives learn that they have to live with an enemy in their quarters.

As Imhotep has to return to the North over a crisis, she leaves the woman behind against Elsa’ wish. Then comes the news of the woman’s death; her falling from the Tomb is an accident. Nonetheless, is it an accident too when the eldest son’s wife dies at the same spot? Deaths that follow shock the family; Imhotep is speechless and he becomes weaker. Moreover, he believes that those are the concubine’s revenge from the Underworld but Esa thinks the opposite. For she is convinced that a living human is responsible for the murders. Is she right?

Time is running out as the family is almost wiped out. Who will be the next victim?

Highlights:

Crimes are as old as the human civilisation itself. They may not be recorded but the fact that those occurred exist. Christie understood it well and the result was a story plot which involves family politics in a noble household, supposing a mortuary priest four thousand years ago was highly respected profession. Furthermore, her experience travelling to the Levantine and Irak as her husband’s companion during various expeditions must have inspired the setting in Thebes.

I can imagine the excitement of her readers when she finally wrote crimes with a totally different approach. Such may have been a welcoming change from her usual Devonshire and Dartmoor locations as in her two previous published books Five Little Pigs (1943) and Evil Under The Sun (1941). There was neither police nor a conspiracy theory to invade Britain. A little man with his egg-shaped head and grey cells retires from the scene.  Yet, how was crimes solved before the age of sleuths and constables?

First and foremost, there is the heroine Renisenb as a major character; a naive young widow who returns to her childhood home following her husband’s demise. Still very young and beautiful, she is transformed into a woman who is matured by deaths. It is as if her grief is not enough, for her aim for going back is to find peace and a semblance to normality – not more deaths. After eight years away everything seems the same to her mind.  Or she thought it was as her views are gradually altered by the turns of the events.

To begin with, a handsome Kameni, apparently a distant relative, comes with the priest and Nofret the concubine. The man’s presence tickles Nofret’s memory of her husband and she is later puzzled by her feeling towards him. In the meantime, she sees the change of  dynamics as Nofret settles down in the house, particularly in the women’s quarters. Nofret is expected to be respected but she is as cunning as a fox. Besides, little does the priest’s daughter realise that Nofret hates her out of jealousy.

Next, Henet, the old servant; the one who sees the advantages of siding with Nofret. But for Imhotep everyone wants her to go. She hates Renisenb for no apparent reason.

Interestingly, it takes Satipy’s sharp tongue to set the wheel in motion. Then in his anger to Nofret Sobek, the priest’s middle son, kills a cobra in front of Renisenb’s eyes. A few days later, still reeling from the shock, Renisenb finds Nofret’s body at the Tomb. Satipy meets the same fate afterwards.  At this point her demise seems to fulfil Renisenb’s suspicion that Satipy killed Nofret and died from her guilty feeling. How wrong she was, for after her funeral Sobek is poisoned.

Speechless Renisend might seem to be, it  dawns at her that there is a killer in the midst; someone she thought she had known all her life.

I must applaud Christie’s way of introducing her heroine to the harsh reality of life; gradual but matter-in-fact. As a heroine, Renisenb is rather unreliable and she is unsure about herself.  Halfway readers will see her becoming stronger, smarter and braver. I guess it is deliberate on the authoress’s part having to show her vulnerable side as a young widow and a woman at a crossroads in life. Esa’s guidance and Hori -Imhotep’s right hand man-‘s wisdom play a significant part to get her grip with the tragedies.

The subplots are trickier. There are quite a few scenes created to distract readers from finding the murderer – as Christie usually does. Henet, the wicked servant, has a motive; she feels she has been undermined for many years. Ipy the youngest son is strong and full of rage towards Nofret. Hori appears to be level headed and poised but who knows?

In the story there are some similar subplots of which they are also used in other novels. Take the example of Esa’s gathering all family members is a resemblance to Poirot’s sherry party in Three-Act Tragedy. Then Yahmose’s recovery from poison will jog readers’ memory to Nurse Hopkins’s sick face in Sad Cypress (1940).

What intrigues me is the term “physician” used for a healer. Priest Mersu is summoned to attend Imhotep’s sons after they fell ill. I wonder because as far as I am concerned a “physician” cannot be a priest although it is possible. More significantly, a physician is not likely to embrace supernatural beliefs and will decline to take part in a plan to plea to a dead person to intervene to the world affair. Most importantly, the authoress usually is specific about the type of poison, be it strychnine or morphine and yet there is nothing mentioned about it. These may sound minor points but they bother me all the same.

Concerning the characters, Christie as usual blended well some that readers might come across in other novels. The indomitable Esa could be the shrewd Aunt Ada (By The Pricking Of My Thumb) or Laura Welman(Sad Cypress); Nofret is the scarlet woman in Evil Under The Sun and her icy smile is like Elsa Greer (Five Little Pigs) and Renisenb is a cross between Elinor Carlisle (Sad Cypress) and  Mary Cavendish (Mysterious Affair At Styles).  Imhotep bears traces of Captain Kenneth Marshall’s personality and Hori is Captain Hastings, who is lucky in love.

On the whole, in Death Comes AsThe End Christie is able to strike a good balance between crime and passion, jealousy and hatred as well as sibling rivalries. Is it me or the crime itself is less important than the happiness of a woman?

 The Twists:

–          A slave boy witnessed a woman dressed in a dyed linen dress wearing Nofret’s necklace.

–          The gold necklace was found in Renisenb’s jewellery box.

Cast of Characters:

Esa (Imhotep’s elderly mother)

Henet (a long-standing servant who came with the late wife of Imhotep’s after they were married)

Hori (Imhotep’s right hand man)

Imhotep (the Mortuary Priest, the head of the family)

Ipy (Imhotep’s youngest son)

Kameni (a scribe from the North, a man who loved Renisenb)

Nofret (the concubine)

Renisenb (Imhotep’s only daughter)

Satipy (Yahmose’s wife and Imhotep’s daughter-in-law)

Sobek (Imhotep’s middle son)

Yahmose (Imhotep’s eldest son)

The Most Fascinating Character: Henet

The servant who everybody in the family ignores; least of her ugliness but her tendency to either stir or amplify  matters – many are trivial things- which then lead to arguments and rows. For many years she lives under Imhotep’s protection and hates his children, his mother and his daughters-in-law for different reasons. To him she continually complains about the others.

The only person that can put her back in her place and she is afraid of is none other than Esa the grandmother, for she is forthright and seems to know whatever in Henet’s mind.

As a  minor character, Henet is someone that many can relate to. A woman in the shadow that has great knowledge to her environment. I straightaway associate her with Mrs. O’Brien, the Lady’s maid  in Downtown Abbey series; a woman who creates divisions in the family.  Like Mrs. O’Brien, Henet has no real friend. Both spiteful words bring about misunderstanding and prejudice.  Furthermore, having known the priest’s offspring since they were small, she comes to understand who among them that is most dangerous. Nonetheless, her narrow mindedness prevents her from knowing of the danger it may cause. Later, when Esa tried to help her, Henet thought the other is having another go at her. ‘Be very sure of what you are saying, Henet. Knowledge is dangerous,’ said Esa. Henet should have listened her.

Henet is the choice of the most fascinating character because of her hatred bottled up and also there is little written about her. She came with Renisenb’s late mother after her marriage to Imhotep. Prior to that her husband had left her and her child died at birth. When she meets Nofret, she finally finds a friend in her and vice versa. Nofret is generous to her by giving her a gold necklace and an amethyst clasp among others. Nonetheless, as far as her loyalty is concerned, Henet still sides with the family member. At the end of the day Nofret’s concubine status to her is less than the people who do not think much about her. Amazing.

Above all, she reminds me of Celia Austin (Hickory Dickory Dock). Both possess crucial information without their realising it and have to die as a result.

Clues:

Esa:

‘A tongue, Henet, may sometimes be a weapon. A tongue may cause a death – may cause more than one death, I hope your tongue, Henet, has not caused a death.’

‘That phrase has remained in my mind – something behind – something that wasn’t there. Henet said,” He should have looked at me.” And she went on to speak of Satipy –yes, of Satipy- and of how Satipy was clever, but where Satip now?… ‘Does that mean nothing to any of you? Think of Satipy – Satipy who is dead…And remember one should look at a person – not something that isn’t there….’

Hori: [to Renisenb]

‘I remember when we were all small children – Sobek attacked Yahmose. Yahmose was a year older, but Sobek was the bigger and stronger. He had a stone and he was banging Yahmose’s head with it. Your mother came running and tore them apart. I remember how she stood looking down at Yahmose – and how she cried out: “You must not do things like that, Sobek – it is dangerous! I tell you, it is dangerous!”

Renisenb:

[her exchange of words with Satipy after Nofret died]

‘Satipy,’ said REnisenb. ‘What is the matter? Won’t you tell me? Yahmose is worried about you and- ‘

‘Yahmose?What – what did he say?’

‘He is anxious. You have been calling out in your sleep – ‘

‘Renisenb! Did I say – What did I say? Does Yahmose think – what did he tell you?’

‘We both think that you are ill – or – or unhappy.’

‘Unhappy?’

‘’Are you unhappy, Satipy?’

‘Perhaps…I don’t know. It is not that.’

‘No. You are frightened, aren’t you?’

‘Why should you say that? Why should I be frightened? What is there to frighten me?’

‘I don’t know. But it’s true, isn’t it?’

[to Esa]:

‘Yahmose is dear. He is kind to everybody – and as gentle as a woman – if women are gentle.’