Notes On They Do It With Mirrors

Rating: 4 out of 5

Year of Publication: 1952

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot:

Ruth Van Rydock has a premonition about her sister. But she can only trust Jane Marple to investigate the matter. While persuading her old school friend to take up the case, Van Rydock has written to their friends Carrie Louise about the sleuth coming to stay at Stonygates.

‘I tell you I don’t know,’ says Van Rydock to Miss Marple. ‘And that’s what worries me. I’ve just been down there- for a flying visit. And I felt all along that there was something wrong. In the atmosphere –in the house –I know I’m not mistaken…’

Miss Marple hasn’t time to put up her feet; a few days after her arrival the murderer strikes. Carrie Louise’s stepson is found dead at his desk – a revolver nearby. Two other bodies follow with their heads crushed by stage counterweights.

In the meantime, an allegation of Carrie Louise’s being poisoned is revealed. Much as the sleuth wishes not to involve her friend in the investigation, Miss Marple can’t see other way to solve the murders without Carrie Louise. And she has to be quick: before the killer strikes again.

Highlights:

‘We’re all mad, dear lady. That’s the secret of existence. We’re all a little mad.’

Dr. Maverick to Miss Marple

Borstal boys doing Physical Training in the yard. Wales, 1950s.

It’s a full house at Stonygates, Carrie Louise’s home. Not only does she live with her daughter, her granddaughter and her husband, her two stepsons, but also non-family members which consist of psychiatrists and ex-young offenders. For the Victorian Mansion is used as a rehabilitation institution running by Lewis Serrocold, Carrie’s third husband.

Carrie is the opposite of Van Rydock; the rich and glamorous Ruth versus a demure and introvert younger sister. On the one hand, Ruth believes that the other ‘has lived right out of this world’ as well as has a tendency to marry a ‘crank’ – men with ideals. On the other hand, Carrie Louise thinks highly of men with ideas of giving back to the society and a noble cause.

Things seem normal when Miss Marple arrives. Carrie Louise is the same personae the other has known for fifty years. The sleuth notes that ‘Carrie Louise seems secure, remote at the heart of a whirlpool- as she had been all her life.’

The next day brings a drastic change with the appearance of Christian Guildbrandsen, Carrie Louise’s stepson from her first husband. His presence delights Mildred his half sister, but triggers a chain of events which results in his being murdered.

In Carrie Louise Christie creates a unique protagonist. Everything revolves around her. People who live under the same roof call Carrie differently. Christie steers her readers to rely on the authority of the sleuth’s memories in understanding  Carrie.

Interestingly, Christie challenges readers to question the credence of Miss Marple’s views about the other. Is she right about Carrie Louise being in her ‘dreamy world’? The sleuth becomes fascinated towards Carrie’s opinions on certain suspects which look ambiguous and even raise doubts if her judgement is sound. Only towards the end does Miss Marple begin to realise that her perception about Carrie Louise is highly influenced by Ruth’s. Then Miss Marple admits of her knowing very little about Carrie Louise.

Meanwhile, Christie draws attention to Mildred Sete (see The Most Fascinating Character). Her simmering anger and jealousy to her attractive niece Gina Hudd makes Mildred instantly a suspect. Gina’s mother is adopted and she dies when Gina is small (along with her husband). Carrie Louise adores her only granddaughter and has taken up the responsibility of being Gina’s guardian.

In Inspector Curry,  Christie conjures up an intelligent but playful police officer. He likes saying remarks without thinking further about the impacts on others. His comment about a stage performance to Alex Restarick gives readers clues to the motive of Restarick’s being murdered shortly afterwards. ‘…The illusion is in the eye of the beholder, not in the self itself. That, as I say, is real enough, as real behind the scenes as it is in front.’

Little does Curry realise  Restarick’s having an Eureka moment because of  the above words. For it’s become clear in his mind how Christian’s murder have been cleverly done. If only he would’ve known how dangerous his knowledge had been.

The stage counterweights (left) who ends life of Alex Restarick and Ernie Gregg.

What’s more, Christie puts her sleuth in an awkward situation. She is the last person to speak to Alex Restarick before his body and Ernie Gregg’s are found. Moreover, she does nothing after Restarick tells her about Inspector Curry’s remark (See Clues).

Furthermore, it is rather unusual for Miss Marple’s being in the wrong stick of judgment about people. For at the beginning she criticises Carrie Louise ‘being up in the clouds’ about Stephen Restarick -Alex’s brother- falling head over heels to Gina. Only towards the end does Miss Marple realise her misinterpreting her host’s responses and undermining her views on some issues.

What does not alter  is the sleuth’s firm confidence to handle the investigation alone. Of which is a contrast to Ariadne Oliver when she begs –orders, to be precise- Hercule Poirot to come immediately to Nasse House (see Notes On Dead Man’s Folly).

As for the motive of the murderer, Christie gives hints at it in the first two chapters which have a touch of of The Shawshank Redemption (1993) and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1936). In my second reading I chuckle at the thought of  Ruth lays out all facts that is ample for Christie’s avid readers to guess whodunit. Mathew Prichard, should you read this, would you concur?

For it is not uncommon Mathew’s grandmother plots as she writes. In a number of her books she places the perpetrators right from the beginning. Her most famous book, the cardinal of a criminal novel, is an exemplary example.

Anyhow, I enjoy the merging of the sub-plots into a neat denouement. Edgar Lawson, Ernie Gregg and Walter Hudd play their respective parts – the supporting actors, if you like – to make the book a very good show. An incorrigible liar, an ex-con and a foreigner are perfect ingredients for  a not-too-gruesome crime story.

Last but not least, I’d like to comment Rosie Powell’s review of They Do It With Mirrors : ‘….I did not find the setting of a Victorian manor converted into a home for delinquent boys that intriguing. I suppose one has to blame Christie for creating this setting in the first place. I suspect that she was out of her league…’

I beg to differ. Christie puts forward a question on the efficiency of such an institution – ahead of her time. Yet she expresses her disagreement lightheartedly through Ruth’s comparison between charity and fashion. ‘Well, there’s a fashion in philanthropy too. It used to be education in Gulbrandsen’s day.But that’s out of date now. The State has stepped in. Everyone expects education as a matter of right – and doesn’t think much of it when they get it! Juvenile Deliquency – that’s what is the rage nowadays…’ Bearing in mind it is ‘spoken’ by the American Mrs. Van Rydock …

Nevertheless, I agree  with Powell that Christian’s murder ‘did not seem particularly complicated.’ Yet, why don’t we try to depict a moment that engage all the senses that it happens not according to our belief? Christie’s fond of plays clearly affect her inclusion of  ‘theatrical effect’ in a number of scenes in this book.

What do you think?

 

The Twists:

– Gina’s mother Pippa is the daughter of a convicted criminal

– Carrie Louise is right about Edgar Lawson and Lewis Serrocold

-Christian Gulbrandsen’s suicide letter is fake

-Gina chooses Walter Hudd over Stephen Restarick and they move back to the U.S.A.

– Ruth Van Rydock’s premonition is unjustified

 

Cast of Characters:

Alexis Restarick (Carrie Louise’s stepson from second husband)

Arthur Jenkins (the last person who sees Ernie Gregg alive)

Mr. Baumgarten

Carrie Louise Serrocold (the wife of Lewis Serrocold)

Christian Gulbrandsen (Carrie Louise’s stepson from first husband)

Inspector Curry

PC Dodgett

Edgar Lawson (who works at the institution)

Ernie Gregg (an ex-offender living in the institution)

Gina Hudd (Carrie Louise’s granddaughter, Pippa’s daughter)

Juliet Bellever (companion and secretary to Carrie Louise)

Sergeant Lake

Lewis Serrocold (Third husband of Carrie Louise)

Dr. Maverick (a live-in psychiatrist at the institution)

Mildred Strete (nee Guldbransen) ( Carrie Louise’s child from first husband)

Ruth Van Rydock  (Miss Marple’s school friend)

Stephen Restarick (Alexis’s brother)

Walter Hudd (Gina’s husband)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Mildred Srete (nee Gulbrandsen)

After her husband’s passing, the widow of Canon Srete goes back to her childhood home Stonygates.

Mildred is Carrie Louise’s only biological child. Her mother brings her into the world after a surprise pregnancy at a later age. Three years before her birth, Mildred’s parents have adopted a girl, Pippa. Attractive and extrovert, she is an opposite side of a coin to Mildred, of whom has a plain look of her father but inherits the introvert trait of Carrie Louise.  Her mother’s dotting on Pippa and her elder sister’s beauty create distance between Mildred and her mother. Mildred hates Pippa and after her death Mildred turns her dislike to her pretty niece.

Gina’s vivacity and beauty emulate her late mother and they only enrage Mildred more. She accuses her niece of trying to poison Carrie Louise and rants at Gina about the nature of Pippa’s adoption.

It is worth considering whether Mildred-Carrie Louise’s relationship mirrors Agatha-Rosalind. Christie is far from close to Rosalind Hicks, in spite of her daughter refers the other as ‘kind and loving.’ But Hick gets on with Max Mallowan, altough she has never joined the Mallowans’ excavation journeys in Syria and Irak. Moreover, Hicks pursues her own hobbies and interests in the absence of her mother’s travelling.

Be that as it may, Christie settles the misunderstanding between Mildred and Carrie Louise in a moving way – from one widow to another. In a letter to her aunt Mrs. Van Rydock Gina sums it up‘…And they went away together into the house, Grandam [Carrie Louise] looking so small and frail and leaning on Aunt Mildred. I never realized, until then, how fond of each other they were. It didn’t show much, you know, but it was there all the time.’

 

Clues:

Ruth Van Rydock to Jane Marple:

‘….Well, Lewis was a very suitable person for her [Carrie Louise] to marry. He was the head of a very celebrated firm of chartered accountants. I think he met her first over some questions of the finances of the Gulbrandsen Trust and the College. He was well off, just about her own age, and a man of absolutely upright life. But he was a crank. He was absolutely rabid on the subject of the redemption of young criminals.’

Conversation between Gina Hudd (GH) and Jane Marple (JM):

GH:

JM: ‘No, never. I’ve heard a great deal about it, of course.’

GH: ‘A short of Gothic monstrosity. What Steve [her husband] calls Best Victorian Lavatory Period. But it’s fun, too in a way. Only of course everything’s madly earnest, and you tumble over psychiatrists everywhere underfoot. Enjoying themselves madly. Rather like Scout-masters, only worse. The young criminals are rather pets, some of them. One showed me how to diddle locks with a bit of a wire and one angelic-faced boy gave me a lot of points about coshing people.

It’s the thugs I like best. I don’t fancy the queers so much. Of course Lewis and Dr. Maverick think they’re all queer – I mean they think it’s repressed desires and disordered home life and their mothers getting off with soldiers and all that. I don’t really see it myself because some people have had awful home lives and yet have managed to turn out quite all right.’

JM : ‘I’m sure it is all a very difficult problem.’

GH : ‘It doesn’t worry me much. I suppose some people have these sort of urges to make the world a better place. Lewis is quite dippy about it all – he’s going to Aberdeen next week because there’s a case coming up in the police court – a  boy with five previous convictions.’

JM : ‘The young man who met me at the station? Mr. Lawson. He helps Mr Serrocold, he told me. Is he his secretary?’

GH: ‘Oh, Edgar hasn’t brains enough to be a secretary. He’s a case, really. He used to stay at hotels and pretend he was a V.C. [Victorian Cross] or a fighter pilot and borrow money and then do a flit. I think he’s just rotter. But Lewis goes through  a routine with them all. Makes them feel one of the family and gives them jobs to do and all that to encourage their sense of responsibility. I daresay we shall be murdered by one of them these days.’

Miss Marple didn’t laugh.

Alex Restarick (AR) to Jane Marple:

AR: ‘I must say that that was a very penetrating remark of the Inspector’s [Curry]. About a stage set being real. Made of wood and cardboard and stuck together with glue and as real on the unpainted as on the painted side. The illusion is in the eyes of the audience.’

JM: ‘Like conjurers. They do it with mirrors, I believe, the slang phrase.’

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Notes On Passenger From Frankfurt

Sigfried’s Horn Call

Rating : 2.5 out of fiveDate of Publication: 1970

Motive for Crimes: World Power

Plot:

Two different cars try to run over Sir Stafford Nye in twenty hours. Prior to the first incident his bedroom is searched.

Two days beforehand at Frankfurt airport his drink was spiked his travel cloak was taken. As a result he missed the flight to London and somebody used his passport to enter Britain. Somebody whom looked like him and had a similar built.

Furthermore, he does not come home after the dinner at the U.S. Embassy. He is seen for the last time having gone into a car. Who is in the car? What makes him go into the car? And where does it take him? Within days the U.S. ambassador is reported to have been assassinated at the steps of the Embassy by a person unknown.

In Bavaria, Lady Matilda Cleckheaton goes to see ‘Big Charlotte,’ an old school friend with vast wealth. Sir Stafford’s great aunt listens to the German Countess while she is deliberating her ideas about the New World Order. The Ring. The youth army. The Young Sigfried.

In the mean time the German Chancellor flies to Britain for an ‘unofficial visit’ to discuss a pressing matter with the Prime Minister. Herr Spiess is accompanied by Dr. Reichardt, an eminent psychiatrist, whom will share his discovery concerning a certain patient in the mental institution where he works. For the information may shed light behind the student protests occurred all over Europe and the US.

 

Highlights:

‘Most of the things that happen in it are happening, or giving promise of happening in the world today. It is not an impossible story – it is only a fantastic one’

Christie’s Foreword in Fontana Paper Back

 

One aspect Christie marvels at is her blend of romance and adventure in the plot. On the one hand, from Anne Beddingfield to Tuppence Beresford, Christie’s heroines are framed and captured, have a brush with death, but in the end they are vindicated. They learn to adapt amidst the dangerous situations they are in and face their respective sleeping enemies in a surprising ending. On the other, there is a particular conspiracy theme the authoress cares about more which revolves round the German Invasion to Britain.

In her books published after the War the theme seems to fade away – if only just for a while. When all her reflections on the impacts of the War in 1950s’ books, such as Mrs. Mc Ginty’s Dead, Dead Man’s Folly and 4.50 From Paddington are done and dusted, Christie resumes her interest. Passenger from Frankfurt, released to coincide with her eightieth birthday, is an exemplary example. After the Beresford’s last adventure in Postern of Fate, she makes the threat of Neo-Nazism clear.

What intrigues me is her association between Richard Wagner and Adolf Hitler. Christie’s take on the Cold War politics corroborates her favourite three-act opera Sigfried, which is part of Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen.

In the first act of the opera, Mime the dwarf raises the human Sigfried as the dwarf has wished for the Nibelungs’ treasures guarded by a dragon called Fafner. The plan is for Sigfried to kill it with a sword the dwarf has forged for the purpose. But Sigfried, who has no fear, breaks the sword and leaves in despair when he could not mend the metal.

Sigfried blows his horn by A.Rackham (1911)

The book opens with the accident at Frankfurt airport. Sir Stafford Nye, of whom according to his esteemed colleagues has not taken things seriously, is suspected to have a part in the stolen passport of his. As for Lady Matilda, it is to do with ‘Brunnhilde’; a woman ‘Sigfried’ comes to see in the mountains (see Clues part for more details).

In the second act of the opera, Sigfried attempts to imitate the singing of a bird in a reed pipe. Far from success, he instead produces a horn call. It awakens Fafner and the battle between them ensues. By the time they face each other Sigfried has been able to repair Nothung, a fragment of his late father’s sword, of which Mime has given. In Sigfried’s absence a Wotan approaches Mime with the riddles. He could answer all but one: who will repair Nothung?

In its dying words Fafner warns Sigfried the damaging power of the treasures. Mime then offers Sigfried the (poisonous) potion to drink up, but no sooner does Sigfried realise than Mime has intended to do Sigfried stabs the dwarf to death with Nothung.

Sigfried’s Horn Call is a Wagnerian motif which Christie uses in the book as a clue to the intelligence mission Sir Stafford has been involved with by accident. He has saved the life of ‘Mary Ann’ whom has brought with her the required evidence to end ‘The Ring’ in which ‘Big Charlotte’ is part of it.

Lady Matilda’s playing the roles of ‘Fafner’ and ‘the bird’ is most interesting. Her wits would remind readers of Jane Marple and Tuppence (see The Most Fascinating Character). Her curiousity has been aroused by her great nephew’s story in Frankfurt and moreover when he turns up in ‘Big Charlotte’s castle in Bavaria with ‘Mary Ann.’

Suspicions thrown at ‘Mary Ann’ later. To begin with, she has been spotted to have been in troubled places. Next is her personal relationship to ‘Big Charlotte.’ Third, her background as the descendent of the English Hanoverian Monarch.

Brunnhilde, from whom Sigfried finally learns to fear.

As the plot goes right and left, the European leaders and everybody who matters would have to join arms against a few powerful people in ‘The Ring’ whom like to establish the New World Order. Consequently the list of Cast of Characters grows longer and the new minor characters make the plot meander. In the first reading I skipped pages as some conversations had turned into speeches and a rambling, which is unlike Christie’s in her 1930’s and 1940’s books at all. Then small details jumped out in the second reading, which made me feel ill at ease.

Personally it is the less exciting book of Christie’s when the expectation is the thrills and pace in Anne’s Adventure (see Notes On The Man In The Brown Suit). Nevertheless my respect goes to her wide knowledge of world politics and her deep understanding of the tangled mess of it.

By the same token is her understanding about Wagner’s monumental operas. Much has been said about Christie’s fondness of plays and her having been inspired by Macbeth and Othello. Little has been touched on the subject of the influence of Wagner’s music and characters on Christie nevertheless. In the book there is a touch of Tannhauser in which ‘Juanita’ the super spy that is part of ‘The Ring’ is depicted as the overpowering Venus. Who she really is as good as everybody’s guessing.

What I have found slightly uncomforting is the association between Wagner and Hitler. He is a fan, yes, but Wagner’s works have been much appreciated by many others too. Take the example of the Prelude to Lohengrin, Act 1 in The Globe Scene In The Great Dictator (1940). And how about the prelude in Tristan and Isolde for a scene in Alfred Hitchock’s Murder (1930)?

What is more, it fascinates me that Christie might suggest in the book that the Bayreuth Festival could be soon a history. Hands up here who has been able to get a ticket to it?

But perhaps Christie, like her protagonist Sir Stafford Nye, has a message to bring up the theory of Hitler’s double in the bunker in Berlin as the city fell to the Soviets in Summer 1945. Did she intend to rest the case once for all? Funnily enough, forty-four years later the suggestion that Hitler might have died an old age in South America still exists.

By the same token, Bavaria as the setting serves as a reminder to the bygone the House of Saxo-Coburg-Gotha, of which Queen Victoria is a descendant. Moreover is Prince Albert’s ambition to the preservation of monarchy in Europe; that by having married his English cousin he would be able to ward off the advance of Republicans. The 1848 revolutions proves him wrong nevertheless.

Alas, it is not an easy book to read. For what her characters say might be the authoress’ reflections to the political happenings. It is her worries and fears as to the future of scientific projects, religions and art.

I wonder if Christie has endorsed Wagner’s ideas concerning on the significance of art to balance and make the world a kinder place to live in. In the book Professor Robert Shoreham destroys his revolutionary ‘Project Benvo’ in fear of misuse if it gets to the wrong hands. Art for Wagner is a solution to the overpowering science and serves as a mirror towards religion.

Nonetheless art is not a one solution for all to my mind. Likewise, science would not thrive without people’s faith in God. Despite religion being said as the source of conflicts and political upheavals, it is not dead yet. Besides, there is ample evidence that science and art have flourished under the ruling of religious leaders.

Overall, I recommend the book with some reservations given the expectations many readers may have on Christie’s crime stories.

What do you think?

The Twists:

  • Sam Cortman the US Ambassador to Britain is not shot by an unknown anarchist
  • Lord Edward Altamount is not killed by a bullet
  • ‘Juanita’ turns up at Professor Shoreham’s home during Lord Altamount’s visit
  • ‘Panda’ is to be Sir Stafford Nye’s best man

The Most Fascinating Character: Lady Matilda Cleckheaton

‘It’s so frightening, this same idea that always recurs. History repeating itself. The young hero, the golden superman that all must follow.’

Lord Edward Altamount, Admiral Philip Blunt and Professor Robert Shoreham are among her list of friends, so is Countess Charlotte von Waldsausen. Not only is Lady Matilda is a well-connected woman, but also one of the Victorian tours de forces Lord Altamount’s words.

Her past is shrouded in mystery, for she might have been a trained agent herself and was involved in the intelligence missions that her views are respected.

Neuschwanstein Schloss in Bavaria, the fairy castle built by Ludwig II of Bavaria is inspired by Wagner’s Opera.

She persuades Lord Altamount to take her great nephew on board after the ‘accident’ at Frankfurt airport. With this she underlines the fact that as Sir Stafford’s guardian his role in the high-profile mission is not a reward, but merely a nod to his undermined skills and capabilities in the White Hall circle.

As Miss Marple minus a tweet skirt and knitting needles Lady Matilda is not generous on saying ‘my dear’ and subtle remarks. She bullies Sir Stafford to admit his being besotted to ‘Mary Ann’ (see Clues). But once she sets her mind she is quite determined. Like Miss Marple she asks her doctor to justify a treatment she is going to have in Bavaria, a pretext to visit the German Countess’s abode.

In dealing with different people Lady Matilda knows how to adjust herself. To ‘Big Charlotte’ she appears as a penniless aristocrat. Her approach results in a positive response from the other woman and to have accomplished her goal in seeking certain confirmation from the countess. When asked by her nurse Amy Leatheran how the reunion was, she replies: ‘if you could have heard all the nonsense I talked, you wouldn’t believe it.’

Furthermore, to Admiral Blunt she amuses herself by telling him to have been a muse to Professor Shoreham, the founder of Project Benvo. Their conversation speaks volumes of her wits and a Victorian man who must admit that he has been outsmarted by a woman (see Clues).

‘Once a spy always a spy’ fits her well. While her great nephew is on the mission she is doing her bit, too. She seems to know who ‘Juanita’ is before anyone else and shares this with him in passing. Still, Christie puts her at the back seat and plays down her significant role. But only when Lady Matilda has passed the information she has got from ‘Big Charlotte’ to the Intelligence do the climax of the story begin to take shape.

 

Cast of Characters:

The Circle of Lady Matilda Cleckheaton (nee Balden-White):

Amy Leatheran (Lady Matilda’s nurse)

Dr. Donaldson (Lady Matilda’s doctor)

Professor Robert Soreham (a brain surgeon, the founder of Project Benvo, an old friend)

Sir Stafford Nye (great nephew)

Sybil (great great niece)

Mrs. Worrit ( cleaning woman)

Act Three in Sigfried Opera: Sigfried finds a beautiful woman (Brunnhilde) sleeping in the mountains.

The British Intelligence Circle:

Squadron Leader Andrew

Cedric Lazenby (Prime Minister of Britain)

Lord Edward Altamount (Lady Matilda’s old acquaintance)

Eric Pugh (Sir Stafford’s acquaintance/school friend)

Sir George Packham (the ‘Minister’)

Gordon Chetwynd (Sir Stafford’s acquaintance)

Henry Hosam (of the ‘Security’)

Sir James Kleek (Lord Altamount’s right hand man)

Air Marshall Kenwood

Colonel Munro

Admiral Philip Blunt

Colonel Pikeaway ( retired, a former agent)

Mr. Robinson (the financier, appears in ‘Postern of Fate’ and ‘N or M’)

The French:

M.Coin (the Minister for Home Affairs)

M. Grosjean (the president)

M. Poissonier

The Marshall

The U.S. Embassy Dinner:

The Cortmans ( Mildred a.k.a. Milly Jean, the U.S. Ambassador’s wife and Sam her husband)

Countess Renata Zerkowski

The Germans:

Countess Charlotte von Waldsausen (Lady Matilda’s school friend)

Franz Joseph

Professor John Gottlieb (lives in Austin, US)

Herr Heinrich Spiess (the West German Chancellor)

Dr. Reichardt (the psychiatrist at a mental institution in Karlsruhe)

The portrayal of Valkyrie, who chooses who dies in a battle and who may live. In the book ‘Juanita’ is a cross between a Valkyrie and Venus.

Others:

Professor Eckstein (a British scientist)

Lisa Neumann (Professor Shoreham’s secretary)

Dr. McCulloch (doctor at present after shots of gun at Professor Shoreham’s house)

Signor Vitelly (Italy Prime Minister)

Sir Stafford Nye’s guests:

Clifford Brent

Jim Brewster

Roderick Kettely

 

Clues:

Lady Matilda Cleckheaton (MC) and Sir Stafford Nye (SN):

MC: ‘….So you’re mixed up in a romance of some kind, are you?’

SN: ‘What on earth makes you say that?’

MC: ‘Well, there aren’t so many patterns in life, you know. One recognises patterns as they come up. It’s like a book on knitting. About sixty-five different fancy stitches. Well, you know a particular stitch when you see it. Your stitch, at the moment, I should say, is the romantic adventure. But you won’t tell me about it, I suppose.’

SN: ‘There’s nothing to tell.’

MC: ‘You always were quite an accomplished liar. Well, never mind. You bring her to see me some time. That’s all I’d like, before the doctors succeeded in killing me with yet another type of antibiotic that they’ve just discovered.The different coloured pills I’ve had to take by this time! You wouldn’t believe it.’

SN: ‘I don’t know why you say “she” ad “her” –‘

MC: ‘Don’t you? Oh, well, I know a she when I come across a she. There’s a she somewhere dodging about in your life. What beats me is how you found her… Ships coming home? No, you don’t use ships nowadays. Plane perhaps.’

SN: ‘You are getting slightly nearer.’

MC: ‘Ah! Air hostess?’

SN shook his head.

Countess Renata Zerkowski to Sir Stanfford Nye:

‘I had a friend once in the Diplomatic Service who told me how she had said to a German woman how moved she herself had been at the performance of the Passion Play at Oberammergau. But the German woman said scornfully: “You do not understand. We Germans have no need of a Jesus Christ! We have our Adolf Hitler here with us. He is greater than any Jesus that ever lived.” She was quite a nice ordinary woman. But that is how she felt. Masses of people felt it. Hitler was a spell-binder. He spoke and they listened – and accepted the sadism, the gas chambers, the tortures of the Gestapo.’

Admiral Philip Blunt (PB) and Lady Matilda Cleckheaton (MC):

PB: ‘Well, I want to her a little more what Robbie (Professor Shoreham) said about Project B.’

MC: ‘He said – well, it’s very difficult to remember now. He mentioned it after talking about some operation that they used to do on people’s brains. You know, the people who were terribly melancholic and who were thinking of suicide and who were so worried and neurasthenic that they had awful anxiety complexes. Stuff like that, the sort of thing people used to talk of in connection with Freud. And he said that the side effects were impossible. I mean, the people were quite happy and meek and docile and didn’t worry any more, or want to kill themselves, but they – well I mean they didn’t worry enough and therefore they used to get run over and all sorts of things like that because they weren’t thinking of any danger and didn’t notice it. I’m putting it badly but you do understand what I mean. And anyway, he said, that was going to be the trouble, he thought, with Project B.’

PB: ‘ Did he describe it at all more closely than that?’

MC: ‘He said I’d put it into his head.’

PB: ‘What? Do you mean to say a scientist – a top-flight scientist like Robbie actually said to you that you had put something into his scientific brain? You don’t know the first thing about science.’

MC: ‘Of course not. But I used to try and put a little common sense into people’s brains. The cleverer they are, the less common sense they have. I mean, really, the people who matter are the people who thought of simple things like perforations on postage stamps, or like somebody Adam….

Scientists can only think of things for destroying you. Well, that’s the sort of thing I said to Robbie. Quite nicely, of course, as a kind of joke. He’d been just telling me that some splendid things had been done in the scientific world about germ warfare and experiments with biology and what you can do to unborn babies if you get at them early enough…..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

And so I said it’d be much more to the point if Robbie, or someone like Robbie, could think of something really sensible. And he looked at me with that, you know, little twinkle he has in his eyes sometimes and said,”Well, what do you consider sensible?” And I said, ”Well, instead of inventing all these germ warfares and these nasty gases, and all the rest of it, why don’t you just invent something that makes people happy?…’

Notes On One, Two Buckle My Shoe

Rating: 4.3 out of five

Year of Publication: 1940

Motive for Murder: Identity

Plot:

First scenario:

Miss Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, who lived abroad for many years, has come back to London and spots her old friend’s husband. He does not recognise her, thinking that she has mistakened him another man.

A woman’s body is found inside a fur chest in her flat – her face dismembered. She wears a green dress, a pair of cheap stockings and the buckle on one of her black patent leather shoes. She is Sylvia Chapman according to her dental record and the flat belongs to her. Nonetheless, the porter identifies her as Miss Sainsbury Seale, whom visited the other woman a month ago.

1930’s buckle black leather shoes for women. Are they worn by Miss Sainsbury Seale?

One morning, outside Mr. Morley’s practice Poirot stands and a black cab pulls over. A woman wearing a brand new black patent leather shoes gets off. One of the buckles is caught on the door and fell onto the pavement. He picks it up, having noticed a pair of good quality stockings which does not seem to match with the provincial-looking green dress and the yellow hair.

A few hours later Inspector Japp phoned to ask about Poirot’s dentist. For Henry Morley has committed suicide after the sleuth left.  In the afternoon they interview Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, of whom Poirot has met outside the deceased’s home. Two days afterwards, she is reported missing.

A bullet is believed to be intended for Alistair Blunt.  On the grounds of his country home a newly-employed gardener is allegedly to have fired at Blunt but missed.  Frank Carter denies the allegation. Ballistic result shows that the bullet in Mr. Morley’s head is the same as the one fired at Blunt.

Moreover, Blunt was seen by Mr. Motley as well. A distinguished City banker, he is a low-profile figure despite his great influence in Britain’s economy.  As one of the richest men in England, he is used to when some people are keen to talk to him on the pretext of having acquainted with his late wife, a Jewess heiress.

The last patient seen on that day dies from overdose of anaesthetic, which might explain the motive of suicide.

Second Scenario:

Poirot is very happy; he does not have to see his dentist for another six months. Standing outside Henry Morley’s practice, he sees a black cab stops nearby. A woman’s ankle protrudes, wearing a pair of good quality stockings and new black patent leather shoes. As she gets off, the buckle of her shoe caught on the door and falls onto the pavement. Poirot picks it up and gives it to her with a bow.

A few hours later he is notified about Mr. Morley’s shooting himself in his room. After visiting the crime scene, the sleuth and Inspector Japp interviews Mabelle Sainsbury Seale in her hotel. Just like Poirot, she thinks that the suicide is unfortunate. Yet, with a sigh he also notices that the buckle has not been sewn.

Two days later she has been reported to have disappeared in the evening after the interview. Another patient, Mr. Amberiotis, has died from the overdose of local anaesthetic. Hence the explanation of the dentist’s death.

A decomposed woman’s body found inside a fur chest in a flat draws Poirot’s attention. For she wears the same dress as Miss Sainsbury Seale’s the day he met her and the same type of shoes. But they are well worn and the buckle is not missing.   Nonetheless, the dental record says the body was Slyvia Chapman, one of Mr. Morley’s patients. How has she been dressed as the other woman? Poirot thought.

Alistair Blunt has a near miss when a bullet was aimed at him. At that time, he was walking with Poirot in the garden of his country home. The detective recognises the shooter as the fiance of Mr. Morley’s secretary. Frank Carter has a grudge against the dentist. Interestingly, a witness saw him enter the dentist’s room on the day of the murder around the estimated time of death. More importantly, the bullet fired at Blunt and the one lodged inside Mr. Morley’s head come from the same pistol. Nevertheless Carter denies having intended to kill Blunt nor murdered Morley.

When the late dentist attended Poirot he mentioned about a big banker whom he would see next. Quiet and unassuming, Blunt’s name in the City bears huge reputation. He plays a great role in keeping Britain solvent. He attracts the public when he married a heiress twenty years his senior. It was a happy marriage and she died naturally a few years ago.

What connects Mr. Morley’s patients with the dentist’s suicide? Is it true that Blunt has been actually the target?

Highlights:

Head or tail? I present two ways of looking at the case, depending on the angle a reader might choose. How does it begin? The moment Mr. Morley is found dead or the day Poirot picks up a buckle of a woman’s shoe outside the dentist’s home?

This is the book in which the plot is carefully arranged to conceal the murderer as much as possible. The unrelated occurrences, the victims’ characters, the witnesses’ statements and the small important clues are interwoven to create a certain impression about the mere suicide of a senior dentist.

In Harry Brown (2009), the death of an old friend in the hands of rough kids in a London Estate triggers an ex-marine man to take matters into his own hands. Mr. Morley’s death, however, is neither the beginning nor the climax; his murder is a must as part of another killing plot.

Nevertheless, I could not help to wonder as to why the murderer having mentioned to Poirot about meeting Miss Sainsbury Seale one day outside his home. Had he not stated the fact, her disappearance and Mr. Amberiotis’s killing would not have been linked to the dentist’s.

His character bears a touch of Dr. James Sheppard; a middle-aged bachelor who lives with a sharp-witted spinster sister. He was criticised to have employed an Irish man as a partner (more is in The Most Fascinating Character). Besides, he made an enemy in Frank Carter, having interfered with the secretary’s personal life after she lent some money to the fiancé who had been on the dole.  Is he a nice man whose bite is nothing compared to his bark or a ruthless, selfish person?

Yet, Poirot knows better about Mr. Morley. Most significantly, the sleuth is always right. As Japp is in doubt whether it would have been wise to have suggested murder when it is not conclusive, the Belgian responds with a shrug. ‘I think so – yes. Anything suggestive that he [Alfred, the page boy who found the body] may have seen or heard will come back to him under the stimulus, and he will be keenly alert to everything that goes on here.’

Unfortunately, the lad is not the same vigilant and sharp Alfred Tuppence Beresford has engaged in The Secret Adversary. Then Poirot has been led to believe that the target was the banker, not the dentist. The mysterious Mr. Barnes, an ex-handler, suggests him that the murder attempt at the dentist’s is perfect because anyone will be powerless in the hands of a dentist.

Fashionable forties – women shoes with no buckles! Clearly, a large gleaming buckle on Miss Sainsbury Seale’s shoe is not Poirot’s cup of tea.

The confusion about the identity of the body in a fur chest is a clever subplot. Poirot’s method of identification might differ from the police, but nonetheless at that stage he still sees that Miss Sainsbury Seale is just a ‘collateral damage;’ someone at the place and at the wrong time.

Here we have the killer who is cruel, selfish and heartless. His crime has been unknown for many years, which can be jeopardised by a chance meeting with someone from the past. Personally, as a cold-blooded killer he is on the league with his equals in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Three-Act Tragedy, And Then There Were None, Murder Is Easy and Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. For they might be the least likely person despite their money and power. And yet in Poirot’s books all killers do the same mistake: to challenge the detective to catch themselves.

Be that as it may, it amazes me that the solution comes from a passing remark by a minor character, Jane Olivera (see Clues). Of which the element of coincidence is pinpointed and amplified while the sleuth attending a Sunday mass.

What is apparent to me from Olivera’s words are the likeliness to a villain’s in Sherlock Holmes’s A Case of Identity (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes). For both Christie’s and Conan Doyle’s have a great greediness in them. Also, an able accomplice who makes the plot successful.

It intrigues me most that this is the first book in which Poirot starts to question his little grey cells. ‘Is it possible that I’m growing old?’ he asks himself. His hesitation towards the path he has taken makes him once, humane and softer. In the end, he says to the killer, ‘…because not once, but many times, that idea had been suggested to me, had been forced upon me like a forced car.’ Has the War changed him?

Lastly, although the book was published in the bleakest year Britain had in the War, there are not any hints about it at all, ie. the bombing and the suffering of the ordinary people . Instead, Christie still discusses about the threat of fascism (the ‘Reds’) and I.R.A. I wonder if the authoress might have missed a number of irretraceable crimes occurred, which neither have been detected nor investigated properly. Or, might it have been the case that she had known some but had not decided to put them as one of her crimes?

 

The Twists:

-Hercule Poirot never actually meets Miss Sainsbury Seale

Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) in the dentist chair in 1992’s adaptation into television series.

-Mr. Amberiotis is a new patient of Henry Morley

-Slyvia Chapman’s shoes are well-worn whereas a search in Miss Sainsbury Seale’s room in the hotel does not show her having a pair of black patent leather shoes with buckles on them

– The murder weapon is foreign made from a certain part of Europe. The murderer is then known to have travelled once there.

-Albert Chapman is a pseudo name of Q.X. 612 and he has no wife

-Mabelle Sainsbury Seale has not met any of her old friends in the last seven days of her life

‘I’m afraid one does usually mentions the important people. We’re all such snobs at heart.’

Mrs. Adams to M.Poirot

Cast of Characters:

Mrs. Adams (Mabelle’s friend)

Agnes Fletcher (the housemaid at the Morleys)

Alfred (the page boy)

Alistair Blunt (the financier)

Mr. Amberiotis (who meets Mabelle on the ship leaving from India)

Mr. Barnes (also known as Albert Chapman, QX 912)

Frank Carter (Gladys’s fiancé)

Georgina Morley (Mr. Morley’s sister)

Gladys Nevill (Mr. Morley’s secretary)

Helen Montressor (Alistair’s second cousin)

Henry Morley (the dentist)

Howard Raikes (Jane’s boyfriend)

Jane Olivera (Alistair’s niece by marriage)

Mrs. Julia Olivera (Jane’s mother, Alistair’s niece by marriage)

Hercule Poirot

Mabelle Sainsbury Seale (who meets Mr. Amberiotis on the ship)

Mrs. Merton (Sylvia Chapman’s friend)

Mr. O’Reilly (Henry’s partner)

Mr. Selby (Alistair’s secretary)

The Most Fascinating Character: Mr. O’Reilly

An Irish man, he is first mentioned by Gladys Nevill and described as ‘a talk, dark young man, with a plume of hair that fell untidily over his forehead. He had an attractive voice and a very shrewd eye.’

O’Reilly respects his senior partner Henry Morley but is not fond of Georgina. In fact, they mutually dislikes one another; O’Reilly for Miss Morley’s patronising attitude whilst her suspecting the other of drinking due to his shaking hands while attending the patients. Nonetheless, her brother thought of the other man as an esteemed partner; a capable man in his line of work.

It is natural that he is first suspected of having killed Morley. For his death means the deceased’s patients become his and it is already a well-established practice which O’Reilly only maintains in future. As for Poirot, he suspects him due to a mark on the carpet in the deceased’s room. It is as if the body would have been dragged along it. Yet, had O’Reilly done it, he would have shot his partner in the room and there would not have been the need to remove the body.

Furthermore, it is suggested that he could have been an I.R.A member; an undercover agent who is sent to murder Alistair Blunt. Fortunately such is unfounded although his somewhat restless behaviour arouses suspicion. Towards the end of the book he meets Poirot in a liner company, during which he explains his mounting debts that are impossible to be settled. The choice is to leave the country and turns a new leaf in the USA.

Clues:

Sainsbury’s, a supermarket chain in the UK which was found in 1869. An inspiration for a character’s surname?

Conversation between Mrs. Adams(A) and Poirot(HP):

HP: Did Mrs. Adams know if Miss Sainsbury Seale had met Mr or Mrs Alistair Blunt at any time out there?

A: ‘Oh, I don’t think so, M. Poirot. You mean the big banker? They were out some years ago staying with the Viceroy, but I’m sure if Mabelle had met them all, she would have talked about it or mentioned them. I’m afraid one does usually mentions the important people. We’re all such snobs at heart.’

HP: ‘She never did mention the Blunts- Mrs. Blunt in particular?’

A: ‘Never.’

HP: ‘If she had been a close friend of Mrs.Blunt’s probably you would have known?’

A: ‘Oh, yes. I don’t believe she knew anyone like that. Mabelle’s friends were all very ordinary people – like us.’

Agnes Fletcher to Poirot:

‘And it was then I saw him – that Frank Carter, I mean. Halfway up the stairs he was – our stairs, I mean, above the master’s floor. And he was standing there waiting and looking down – and I’ve come to feel more and more as though there was something queer about it. He seemed to be listening very intent, if you know what I mean?’

‘What time was this?’

‘it must have been getting on for half-past twelve, sir. And just as I was thinking: There now, it’s Fran Carter, and Miss Nevill’s away for the day won’t he be disappointed…’

Conversation between Jane Olivera(JO) and Poirot(HP):

JO: ‘Howard wants me to marry him. At once. Without letting anyone know. He says – he says it’s the only way I’ll ever do it – that I’m weak – What shall I do about it, M. Poirot?’

HP: ‘Why ask me to advise you? There are those who are nearer!’

JO: ‘Mother? She’d scream the house down at the bare idea! Uncle Alistair? He’d be cautious and prosy. Plenty of time, my dear. Got to make sure, you know. Bit of an old fish – this young man of yours. No sense in rushing things

HP: ‘Your friends?’

JO: ‘I haven’t got any friends. Only a silly crowd I drink and dance and talk inane catchwords with! Howard’s the only real person I’ve ever come up against.’

Notes On Death On The Nile

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1937

Motive for Murder: Wealth and Identity

Plot:

On a Nile steamer a honeymoon couple are among other passengers; she is The Girl Who Has Everything and he simply the luckiest man. As a matter of fact, their marriage has become a sensation in the media. For everybody thought she would have married a suitor.  Not even her best friend, Jacqueline Bellefort, who introduced Linnet to her ex-fiancee, Simon Doyle. As far as Bellefort is concerned, Linnet has taken away Doyle from her.

Furthermore, Bellefort appears to have followed them since they started from England, turning up at every place. Needless to say, Mrs. Doyle is infuriated, particularly when the other is spotted on the boat despite her husband’s attempt to have registered them for the cruise under an assumed name.

One night, a row breaks between Bellefort and Doyle. Minutes to midnight, a shot is fired. Simon’s leg is injured. The next day Linnet’s maid finds the lifeless body of her mistress in the cabin. She has died from a bullet in the head. The doctor estimates that the time of death is between midnight and two am.

No doubt either Bellefort nor Linnet’s husband could have murdered her. Nonetheless, Bellefort shot him before midnight and afterwards was sedated and attended by a nurse. As for Doyle, he would not have been able to walk with a wounded leg to the deceased’s cabin and killed her. Thus, is there anyone else who has the motive to kill the deceased?

On the night before the cruise, she tells Poirot about Bellefort’s threat to finish her and Simon off. On the other hand, the sleuth asks Bellefort to stop her act. ‘Go home, Mademoiselle. You are young; you have brains, the world is before you.’

A few days afterwards the second body is found: the maid has been strangled and there are bundles of Franc notes on her body.

Would there be the third one before the boat berth at Wadi Halfa?

Highlights:

Aswan, South Egypt

The characters: An alcoholic, a communist and sinister young man, a woman who plots a murder to the minute details, a doctor, a haughty but kleptomaniac aristocrat, an heiress, a greedy maid, an archaeologist, an Austrian doctor, a haughty American woman, a young lord in disguise, another young man who steals for fun, a witty elderly woman and an accomplice to the murderer. Do I list them all?

The subplots: a jewellery forgery, the mystery of the missing velvet scarf of Van Schuyler’s and the deceased’s diamond, the unmasking of a provocateur, the blackmailing, the embezzlement of trust funds and the other triangle of romance to match the claim of ‘a very elaborately worked out plot.’ I see.

Perhaps it is only me who feel inundated by the sheer number of them – not to mention the other details of the ancient Egypt sites along the way.

To begin with, the characters remind me of their resemblances in the other Christie’s novels.  The mother and son Allertons remind me of the Chesters (Problem At Pollensa Bay). Mrs. Allerton is Mr. Satterthwaite in dress, Poirot’s female sidekick whom is as composed as Jane Plenderdeith (Murder In The Mews) but with an agreeable sense of fashion. The protagonist Linnet Doyle (nee Ridgeway) has a touch of Arlene Marshall about her attitude while her husband Simon and Jacqueline Bellefort can be likened to the Redferns (Evil Under The Sun). Miss Van Schuyler is Mrs. Upward (Mrs. McGinty’s Dead) and her cousin Cornelia Robson is as kind and as vague as Mrs. Summerhayes. Mr. Ferguson is the spiteful young scientist Alec Legge (Dead Man’s Folly) and Oliver Manders (Three-Act Tragedy). Signor Guido Richetti is Father Lavigny (Murder In Mesopotamia). Please tell me if this is not confusing enough.

Furthermore, the subplots are tangled affairs, which two or three of them could have been omitted without making the whole plot less satisfactory. The reunion between Colonel Race and Poirot trigger my asking if there was a need for these men to have been in another collaboration again (as they have been in the previous Cards On The Table). For Mrs. Allerton is sufficient as another brain to the case. In addition of her worrying about her son being attracted to a wrong girl, she is inevitably involved in the matter of the alcoholic Mrs. Otterbourne. And, if there was not a

Abu Simbel Temples was built by Pharaoh Ramses II in 1257 BCE; two temples carved out of solid rocks. It is on the west bank of the Nile in Aswan.

In the later book of Christie’s published a few years afterwards, much similarities are noticed in spite of different setting, names and the making of a convincing alibi. The victim is carefully chosen, the killers have a sound alibi and Poirot is also featured. The only difference is that the killer and her accomplice have run the plot before and succeeded. On the other hand, Linnet Doyle’s killer is a first-time plotter and bound for mistakes.

What makes the plot exciting is the witness accounts of having heard two different shots. Besides, the assumption that the murder weapon was thrown into the sea afterwards.  Yet, during the search Poirot finds a small revolver in Rosalie Otterbourne’s handbag, which is the same type of the murder weapon but later on it disappears.

Be that as it may, Christie marvels at her depiction of Linnet Doyle (see Clues for her profile). There is so much about her, just like Simeon Lee (see Notes On Hercule Poirot’s Christmas) expressed by a number of minor characters of admiration, jealousy and concerns about her confidence and ruthlessness. On the one hand, she is used to the idea of getting everything she wants, which includes a man in particular. On the other, despite the envy, there is little about an orphan lonely girl who has ruined the live of the only friend she had. Thus, what punishment can it be than an ‘execution’ to redeem her sin of ‘taking a poor man’s one ewe lamb’ as Poirot put it?

Moreover is the authoress’s deliberation on the part of the other two protagonists Jacqueline Bellefort and Simon Doyle. The dynamics among the three of them are well executed and the triangle of love is stronger than Triangle at Rhodesia (see Notes On Murder In The Mews) and Sad Cypress.

The most fascinating thing discussed here is the authoress’s notion that genes may play part in making someone a murderer. For studies show that emotions such as fear can be passed down to children and grandchildren in the genes rather than simply by witnessing and copying behaviour. Nonetheless, can the thesis also be applied for a ‘crime gene’?

Anyhow, it seems to me that she has delivered her promise for readers to ‘escape to sunny skies and blue water as well as to crimes in the confines of an armchair.’ In this not so-winter-wonderland weather in the UK I dream of the smell of warm air, the sun glinting on the Nile, the bobbing of the boat on the calm river and an excursion to Abu Simbel Temples and Temple of Kom Ombo. I would not have minded the heat in the least!

Hercule Poirot visit Elephantine island before going on the cruise heading for Wadi Halfa.

The Twists:

–         The small revolver Jacqueline Bellefort used for shooting Simon Doyle has gone missing

–         Linnet Doyle mistakenly reads a telegram for Signor Richetti with some vegetable words in it.

–         Mrs. Otterbourne recognises the person who came into Louise Borgeout’s cabin

–         Borgeout happens to have woken up on the night of the murder and looked out of the cabin, during which she saw the person who entered her mistress’s cabin and left shortly afterwards

–         Rosalie Otterbourne denies having had a .22 mm revolver.

Cast of Characters:

Mrs. Allerton (Timothy’s mother)

Andrew Pennington (Linnet’s US lawyer)

Dr. Bessner (an Austrian doctor, a bachelor who attends Simon after being shot)

Miss Bowers (Miss Van Schuyler’s nurse)

Mr. Burnaby (the landlord of Three Crowns, a local who observes about an heiress’s appearance Linnet Ridgeway in Malton-under-Wode).

Charles Windesham (a suitor for Linnet)

Cornelia Robson (Miss Van Schuyler’s poor cousin)

Monsieur Gaston Blondin (the proprietor of Chez Ma Tante, where Poirot sees Jacqueline and Simon together as they sit at the next table)

Mr. Ferguson (a.k.a. Lord Dawlish)

Fleetwood (the ex-boyfriend of Linnet’s former maid, who is prevented from having married the maid. He happens to be one of the crews in the boat)

Hercule Poirot

The 1978’s film starring Peter Ustinov as the Belgian sleuth, sitting between Colonel Race (David Niven) and Maria Van Schuyler (Bette Davis).

Jacqueline de Bellefort (Linnet’s old friend and the ex-fiancee of Simon)

James Fanthorp (the lawyer who is assigned to shadow Linnet on board of the steamer)

The Honorary Joanna Southwood (Linnet’s friend)

Signor Guido Richetti (an Italian archaeologist)

Linnet Doyle (nee Ridgeway, half American who has inherited huge wealth from her mother)

Louise Borgeout (Linnet’s French maid)

Marie Van Schuyler (Cornelia’s rich and snob cousin who takes her to a trip to Europe and Egypt)

Mrs. Salome Otterbourne (Rosalie’s mother, a ‘chick-lit’ novel author)

Simon Doyle (Linnet’s husband, Jacqueline’s ex-fiance)

Sterndale Rockford (Pennington’s partner at the solicitor office)

Timothy Allerton (Joanna’s cousin)

Colonel Race (Poirot’s sidekick, who appears in Cards On The table and The Man In The Brown Suit)

Rosalie Otterbourne (the daughter of Mrs. Otterbourne)

William Carmichael (James’s uncle who orders him to take a trip to Egypt to keep an eye on Linnet Doyle)

The Most Fascinating Character: Mr. Ferguson/Lord Dawlish

Alastair Mackenzie stars as Ferguson in 2004’s adaptation of the novel. Ferguson character does not appear in 1978’s film nonetheless.

First noticed by Poirot, he is described as ‘ a tall, dark-haired young man, with a thin face and a pugnacious chin. He was wearing an extremely dirty pair of grey flannel trousers and a high-necked polo jumper singularly unsuited to the climate.’ To Mrs. Allerton he is ‘our anti-capitalist friend.’

When he talks, his remarks are quite cynical to some people. Linnet Doyle is a person ought to be shot and Dr. Bessner is an old pompous bore. Yet, he is genuinely frustrated towards Cornelia Robson’s submission to her domineering cousin growing fondness to the doctor.

Not until a search by Poirot and Colonel Race into each passenger cabin does his true identity come into light. The young Lord Dawlish sounds to be on a mission to be a commoner. Although he fails in his attempt to be one with Poirot’s wincing at his sartorial choice and a signet ring found in his drawer. An Oxford graduate, he is drawn to communism. It is suggestive that he might have been one of the idealistic young people who joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in the thirties. Needless to say, he is a symbol of rebellion.

As any other young man, he finds love unexpectedly in a seemingly meek woman, Robson. She is riled by his criticism to the doctor, which actually means well. Soon he understands that the other is a competitor to win her heart and it confuses him a lot. Just like Mrs. Doyle, he believes that his way of thinking is better than others. This kind of arrogance does not recognise failure.

Towards the end of the book, he knows he is losing the battle and therefore is resigned to ask her hand in marriage to Maria Van Schuyler. Yet he has neither strategy nor tactic to make the haughty woman accept him. Her response to his proposal is a foregone conclusion. ‘There is such a thing as social position, Mr. Ferguson.’

Robson’s sudden presence in the scene puts things into perspective. ‘If-if I liked you, I’d marry you no matter who you were,’ she says to Ferguson. ‘But you don’t like me?’ he replies. ‘I-I think you’re just outrageous. The way you say things…The things you say…I-I’ve never met anyone the least like you. I –‘

(Readers, this is one of my favourite scenes in the book. Robson stands up to him and her cousin, showing the courage that she never thought she had).

Poor Ferguson. I hope he has learnt that the old doctor has a sporting spirit in him; a man of experience who understands the game he is in.

Nevertheless, I wonder if Van Schuyler would have changed her mind about Ferguson after Poirot had told tells her about his vast fortune and upbringing.

 

Clues:

On Jacqueline Bellefort:

Linnet Ridgeway (to Joanna Southwood):

‘…We were together at a convent in Paris. She’s had the most terrible bad luck Her father was a French Count, her mother was American – a Southerner. The father went off with some woman, and her mother lost all her money in the Wall Street crash. Jackie was left absolutely broke. I don’t know how she’s managed to get along the last two years.’

Hercule Poirot:

‘…You have chosen, Mademoiselle, the dangerous course… As we here in this boat have embarked on a journey, so you too have embarked on your own private journey – a journey on a swift moving river, between dangerous rocks, and heading for who knows what currents of disaster…’

On Linnet Doyle:

Simon MacCorkindale as Simon Doyle and Lois Chiles as Linnet Doyle in the 1978’s film.

A local man (to Mr. Burnaby):

‘It seems all wrong to me – her looking like that. Money and looks –it’s too much!If a girl’s as rich as that she’s no right to be a good-looker as well. And she is a good-looker….Got everything, that girl has. Doesn’t seem fair…’

Mrs. Allerton (in response to Poirot’s remark: ‘That would be like the Queen in your Alice in Wonderland, “Off with her head.”’)

‘Of course. The divine right of monarchy! Just a little bit of the Naboth’s vineyard touch…’

Jacqueline Bellefort:

‘But you are a queen, Linnet! You always were. Sa Majeste, la reine Linnette. Linette la blonde! And I-I’m the Queen’s confidante! The trusted Maid of Honour.’

to Poirot: ‘…I loved Linnet…I trusted her. She was my best friend. All her life Linnet has been able to buy everything she wanted. She’s never denied herself anything. When she saw Simon she wanted him- and she just took him.’

Joanna Southwood:

‘You know, Linnet, I really do envy you. You’ve simply got everything. Here you are at twenty, your own mistress, with any amount of money, looks, superb health. You’ve even got brains!…’

Rosalie Otterbourne (to Poirot):

‘I’m odious. I’m quite odious. I’m just a beast through and through. I’d like to tear the clothes off her back and stamp on her lovely, arrogant, self-confident face. I’m just a jealous cat- but that’s what I feel like. She’s so horribly successful and poised and assured.’

Simon Doyle (to Poirot):

‘My dear Monsieur Poirot, how can I put it? It’s like the moon when the sun comes out. You don’t know it’s there any more. When once I’d met Linnet – Jackie didn’t exist.’

On Simon Doyle:

Jacqueline Bellefort:

To Miss Ridgeway: ‘…He’s big and square an incredibly simple and boyish ad utterly adorable! He’s poor – got no money. He’s what you call “county” all right –but very impoverished county- a younger son and all that. His people come from Devonshire. He loves the country and country things. And for the last five years he’s been in the City in a stuffy office. And now they’re cutting down and he’s out of a job. Linnet, I shall die if I can’t marry him! I shall die! I shall die! I shall die…’

To Poirot: ‘Simon didn’t care a damn about her (Linnet)! I talked a lot to you about glamour, but of course that wasn’t true. He didn’t want Linnet. He thought of her good-looking but terribly bossy, and he hated bossy women! The whole thing embarrassed him frightfully. But he did like the thought of her money.’

Notes On At Bertram’s Hotel

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1965

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Motive for Crime: ‘Adventure’

Plot:

Canon Pennyfather has missed his flight to Lucerne on November 19th, having mixed up the date. He decides to go back to Bertram’s where he still keeps a room at the hotel. As he opens the door past midnight, it astounds him to see something very strange but familiar. Two days later he is reported missing by his housekeeper.

A cover of Time featuring London, the Swinging City in the sixties.

Miss Marple notices that a fellow guest has developed a habit of greeting a number of guests wrongly; either she thinks she has known a face but they do not recognise her or she hardly makes of their presence in the Old World Charm of the hotel. The latter is the case of Lady Bess Sedgwick, of whom the guest has known since she was a girl. Lady Sedgwick’s staying is extraordinary, given as a celebrity she would have been anywhere but Bertram’s.

Ladislaus Malinowski’s flamboyant appearance but moreover is his enquiring about the aforementioned famous woman.  Miss Marple feels uncomfortable when she happens to spot Malinowski on separate occasions with Lady Sedgwick and a young pretty girl, Elvira Blake. It makes her wonder.

The Irish Mail Train Robbery in the early hours of 20th makes a big headline on the papers and brings Chief-Inspector Davy attention to Bertram’s. For a witness has described a man whose appearance seems to have matched with the missing canon. Meanwhile, at 3 am the female sleuth sees Pennyfather’s back as he leaves his room and goes down the stairs. ‘Why haven’t you told anyone this before?’ asks Davy. ‘Nobody asked me,’ she replies.

What connects a respectable London hotel, Malinowski, the clergyman with a robbery at a grand scale?

Highlights:

The Roadmaster in the sixties – a London icon.

In the swing sixties’ Britain, London is a different world. To Miss Marple the capital, as busy as ever, has changed. Yet the memories of her having come with her aunt as a young girl fill her with great excitement. Is Bertram’s still there? It comforts her to realise that time seems to stand still within the walls of the hotel – a short walk away from Piccadilly Circus. Quite miraculously so, in her view, that things remain the same.

Christie was in her mid-seventies when the book was published. Her character might have been much older than her yet a keen observer to her surroundings.  Furthermore, she appears to take a back seat from crime during her fortnight stay. There is not much about sleuthing until a day before she checks out; not until she is approached by Chief Inspector Davy (whom will be referred as ‘Father’) about the disappearance of Canon Pennyfather.

Nonetheless, it is the creation of Lady Bess Sedgwick (see her history in Clues) that is intriguing. Her portrayal as a ‘modern woman’ distinguishes her from the authoress’s previous female characters first and foremost. She is rebellious and her adventure with men (three times married) is not to be found in Anne Beddingfield, Tuppence Beresford, Bundle     and Lady Francesca Derwent. Besides, Lady Segwick has a daughter whose custody is with her late ex-husband Lord Coniston.

Be that as it may, she is envied by many and could have been a symbol of women liberation. I wonder if she might have been a ‘hot-headed feminist’ as Ariadne Oliver although politics does not seem to interest Sedgwick. When her path is crossed with an ‘old pussy’ Miss Marple in the hotel lift, little did I realise where it would have led to.

‘Father,’ a soon-to-be-retired Scotland Yard man in the last leg of his career reminds me of detective Len Harper who investigates the murder of Melissa Young in the BBC’s drama What Remains. There is unfortunately very little about the Inspector’s private life but his investigating a missing clergyman. Sounds a next-to-nothing task, does it? Just like Harper who comes back to the flat a number of times, ‘Father’ turns up with his enquiries which eventually puts a very efficient hotel receptionist Miss Gorringe (see The Most Fascinating Character) not at ease. His insistence to dig into the finance and the actual owner of the hotel brings him to Mr. Robinson, of whom he helps Thomas Beresford to clarify the identity of a murdered British agent (see Notes On Postern of Fate).

Ladislaus Malinowski might have been inspired by Gold Finger (1964) in which Sean Connery plays at 007 driving an Aston Martin.

Bearing in mind that the book was written before the Second Wave of Feminism at the end of sixties, it occurs to me a similar ‘liberating’ character to  Lady Sedgwick in Anna Wulf, Dorris Lessing’s protagonist in The Golden Notebook (1962). Is it appropriate to compare the two, given the difference in genre and the respective authoress’ style of writing?

I believe so. Putting aside both factors, age and personality and readers might see that both Christie and Lessing wrote about progressive women. More significantly is their worries, insecurities and being unhappy. Arguably, both Wulf and Lady Sedgwick also share those issues.

Wulf’s writer block and her disillusion towards Communism sound to mirror Lady Sedgwick’s want for different adventure. She more or less is her forties like Lessing’s. Christie’s character has a daughter she hardly knows while Lessing’s daughter, Jean, was looked after by her father after Lessing running away in fear of motherhood. Such is also the case with Sedgwick, who believes that it is for the best that her daughter Elvira Blake should know very little about her mother.

The above details can simply be coincidences; yet both Sedgwick and Wulf, regardless their social standing and free-spirited mind, still have to deal with the fact that they are mothers after all.

The subtleties of language Christie has deployed in comparison to Lessing’s lively and ‘brave’ descriptions on women are intriguing. Lessing was born in the same year with Christie’s only child and therefore the softer and wiser Christie about the expanding roles of women in the society. Lessing’s ‘fiery’ tone might have attracted a band of young women in their search of identity nevertheless.  By the same token, readers might notice equivalent sparks in the novels Christie wrote in the thirties’ and forties’ era. Yet, it fascinates me to think of whether Christie read Lessing’s novel and vice versa.

Lastly, this is the last book of Miss Marple Christie wrote. Hence the reminiscences and the clash between the new and old world order. To her loyal fans whom have grown old with the authoress, the topic of change would have been a sentiment shared by many. On the other hand, the younger generation may perceive the lengthy depictions of places and people as arduous, if not boring. And therefore the ball is over to you, readers, as to which side you prefer. Mind, it has nothing to do with age.

 

The Twists:

– Miss Marple mistakens someone else as Canon Pennyfather

– Elvira Blake finds out what happened between Lady Bess Sedgwick and Michael Gorman in Ballygowlan

– Elvira Blake says to ‘Father’ and her mother about the first attempt of her life in Italy

-Lady Sedgwick has a change of heart about her relationship with her estranged daughter

Cast of Characters:

Superintendent Andrews (of Scotland Yard)

Lady Bess Sedgwick (Elvira’s estranged mother)

Mr. Bollard (a jeweller at Bond Street where Elvira goes to repair her watch)

Polly Walker stars as Lady Bess Sedgwick in 2007’s Miss Marple series for the novel adaptation onto television.

Bridget (Elvira’s friend)

Colonel Derek Luscombe (Elvira Blake’s guardian)

Dr. Edmund Whittaker (a scholar at SOAS, Canon Pennyfather’s acquaintance)

Elvira Blake (Lady Sedgwick’s daughter)

Chief Inspector Fred Davy (of Scotland Yard, known as ‘Father’)

Miss Gorringe (the hotel receptionist)

Henry (the hotel butler)

Mr. Humfries (the hotel manager)

Jane Marple

Ladislaus Malinowski (a motor car racer, Lady Sedgwick’s accomplice and Elvira’s lover)

Inspector McNeill (of Scotland Yard)

Mrs. McRae (the canon’s housekeeper)

Michael Gowan (Lady Sedgwick’s first husband)

Canon Pennyfather (a hotel guest, who misses a Biblical conference in Lucerne)

Archdeacon Simmons (the canon’s missing)

Richard Egerton (Elvira’s lawyer)

Robert Hoffman (a financier, with his brother Willhem own Bertram’s hotel)

Mr. Robinson (who gives the chief inspector the names of the owner of the hotel)

Sir Ronald Graves (Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard)

Rose Sheldon (the hotel chambermaid)

Lady Selina Hazy (Miss Marple’s acquaintance, a hotel guest)

Dr. Stokes (an ex-medical doctor, who examines the canon at Milton St. John)

Mrs. Wheeling (who finds the canon having been dumped at Mill St.John)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Miss Gorringe

Years of experience at Bertram’s make Miss Gorringe know all the clientele by heart, particularly the regulars. She greets every guest with the manner that suits each and every one’s social standing and distances herself from them. Needless to say, she does her role extremely well.

Her look is described as ‘frumpy but respectable; frizzled yellowish hair (old-fashioned tongs, it suggested), black silk dress, a high bosom on which reposed a large gold locket and a cameo brooch.

This efficient quiet woman understands the hotel like the back of her hands. Bertram’s is her life and doubtless she stays as her salary is more than satisfactory.

Nevertheless, there is not much about her details; age, forename, nationality and her life before Bertram’s. Did she start after the hotel’s refurbishment in 1955, which then has rendered it to its old glory? Did she come to Britain as a refugee? Was she Austrian, German or Swiss? Was she Jew or half English? Does she always have a blameless life, not having, for instance an illegitimate child or involved in a robbery?  Be that as it may, her English sounds natural without a tinge of foreign accent in it.

Initially, Canon Pennyfather’s missing does not bother her.  She answers ‘Father’’s enquiries promptly and tactfully. To the younger Detective-Inspector Campbell she even scolds him like a school mistress when the other has expressed  his hesitation about a small matter, albeit having implied that she might not have done her job properly.

It is of interest that she seems to have a soft spot to Henry the butler. I guess she falls for him. ‘I don’t know what we should do without Henry,’ she says to ‘Father’ with feeling. ‘He really is wonderful. He sets the tone of the place, you know.’

Then it is not quite the same when ‘Father’ returns a week afterwards after the canon has been found. She is beside herself and the police disconcert her. To what extent has she realised what has become of Bertram’s?

What fascinates me is that her demeanour does not suggest that she has been involved with the crime dealings at the hotel. Nonetheless, I believe she knows quite a few things. Or perhaps she is so ignorant and shields Henry and Mr. Humfries as any loyal subordinates would have done.

The shooting of Michael Gorman in front of the hotel eventually rattles her. Does it disturb her as she might have lost her job or because of her ‘little’ part in the gang?

It is difficult to say whether she is an accessory to crime. For her fate is not discussed nor is the hotel. Again, over to you, readers.

 

Clues:

Lady Selina Hazy to Jane Marple:

‘Extraordinary girl. Known her ever since she was a child. Nobody could do anything with her. Ran away with an Irish groom when she was sixteen. They managed to get her back in time – or perhaps not in time. Anyway they bought him off and got her safely married to old Coniston – thirty years older than she was, awful old rip, quite dotty about her. That didn’t last long. She went off with Johnnie Sedgwick. That might have stuck if he hadn’t broken his neck steeplechasing. After that she married Ridgway Becker, the American yacht owner. He divorced her three years ago and I hear she’s taken up with some Racing Motor Driver – a Pole or something. I don’t know whether she’s actually married or not. After the American divorce she went back to calling herself Sedgwick. She goes about with the most extraordinary people. They say she takes drugs…I don’t know, I’m sure.’

Chief Inspector Davy (CID)’s conversation with Lady Bess Sedgwick (BS), in the presence of Miss Marple:

CID: ‘…I mean how much did the death of Michael Gorman upset you?’

BS: ‘I was very sorry about it. He was a brave man.’

CID: ‘Is that all?’

BS: ‘What more would you expect me to say?’

CID: ‘You knew him, didn’t you?’

BS: ‘Of course. He worked here.’

CID: ‘You knew him a little better than that, though, didn’t you?’

BS: ‘What do you mean?’

CID: ‘Come, Lady Sedgwick. He was your husband, wasn’t he?’

BS: ‘You know a good deal, don’t you, Chief Inspector? I hadn’t seen him for –let me see – a great many years. Twenty – more than twenty. And then I looked out of the window one day, and suddenly recognised Micky.’

CID: ‘And he recognized you?’

BS: ‘Quite surprising that we did recognize each other. We were only together for about a week. Then my family caught up with us, paid Micky off, and took me home in disgrace. I was very young when I ran away with him. I knew very little. Just a fool of a girl with a head full of romantic notions. He was a hero to me, mainly because of the way he rode a horse. He didn’t know what fear was. And he was handsome and gay with an Irishman’s tongue. I suppose I really I ran away with him! I doubt if he’d have thought of it himself. But I was wild and headstrong and madly in love. It didn’t last long….The first twenty-four hours were enough to disillusion me. He drank and he was coarse and brutal. When my family turned up and took me back with them, I was thankful. I never wanted or hear from him again.

CID: ‘Did your family know that you were married to him?’

BS: ‘No’

CID: ‘You didn’t tell them?’

BS: ‘I didn’t think I was married.’

Notes On Cards On The Table

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1936

Motive for Murder: Fear (of identification)

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

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

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

How much do they need before the murderer strikes again?

 

Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of the Amazon in South America from above.

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

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

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

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

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

The Twists:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 Cast of Characters:

Anne Meredith (suspect 1)

Ariadne Oliver

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

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

Miss Burges (Dr. Roberts’s secretary)

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

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

Hercule Poirot

Major John Despard (suspect 2)

Mrs. Lorrimer (suspect 3)

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

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

Colonel Race

Rhoda Dawes (Anne’s housemate)

Dr. Roberts (suspect 4)

Mr. Shaitana (the host)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Mrs. Lorrimer

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

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

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

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

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

 

Clues:

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

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

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

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

‘The best being – ?’ asked Poirot.

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

 

The profiles of the suspects:

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

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

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

 

Suspect B:

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

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

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

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

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

Suspect C:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Notes On Poirot’s Early Cases

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1974

Motive for Murder: Wealth / Woman / Identity

Highlights:

 ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ –

in The King of Clubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ghost I have seen

Maybe the devil: and the devil hath power

To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps

Out of my weakness and my melancholy,

As he is very potent with such spirits.

Abuses me to damn me

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

1.     The Affair At The Victory Ball

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

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

Commedia dell’ Arte masks

Cast:

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

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

Inspector Japp

Mrs. Mallaby (dressed as Pulcinella)

The Twist:

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

 

2.     The Adventure of The Clapham Cook

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

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

Cast:

Annie (the maid at the Todds‘s house)

Eliza Dunn (the missing cook)

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

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

The Twist:

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

 

3.The Cornish Mystery

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

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

Cast:

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

Mrs. Pengelley

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

The Twist:

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

 

4.     The Adventure of Johnnie Weaverly

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

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

What does Poirot mean in his last sentence?

Cast:

The Waverlys (the parents of the kidnapped boy)

The Twist:

Marcus Waverly knows that his wife never likes the butler

5.     The Double Clue

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

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

Cast:

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

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

Lady Runcorn

Countess Vera Rossakoff (one of the guests)

The Twist:

Countess Rossakoff does not intend to drop her cigarette case

 

6.     The King of Clubs

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

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

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

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

Will Poirot find the murderer?

Cast:

Count Paul Feodor (Valerie’s fiancé)

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

Valerie Saintclair (a famous dancer)

The Twist:

The Oglanders play the bridge without the king of clubs

 

7.     The Lemesurier Inheritance

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

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

Cast:

Gerald Lemesurier (Hugo’s younger son)

Hugo Lemesurier (Ronald’s father)

John Gardiner (Hugo’s secretary)

Mrs. Lemesurier (Ronald’s mother)

Roger Lemesurier (Vincent’s cousin)

Ronald Lemesurier (Hugo’s elder son)

The Twist:

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

 

8.     The Lost Mine

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

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

Does it make Lester a murderer nevertheless?

Cast:

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

Inspector Miller

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

The Twist:

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

 

9.     The Plymouth Express

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

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

Who has lied to Poirot?

Cast:

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

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

Inspector Japp

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

The Honorable Rupert Carrington (Flossie’s estranged husband)

The Twist:

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

 

10.                        The Chocolate Box

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

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Francois (the old servant)

Mrs. Deroulard (the deceased’s mother)

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

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

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

The doctor

The Twist: Mrs. Deroulard has cataract in both eyes

 

11.                        The Submarine Plans

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

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

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

Who has told the truth?

Cast:

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

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

Fitzroy (Lord Alloway’s secretary)

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

Leonard Weardale (Sir Harry’s son)

Leonie (Mrs. Conrad’s French maid)

Lady Juliet Weardale (Sir Harry’s wife)

The Twist:

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

 

12.                        The Third-Floor Flat

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

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

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

Cast:

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

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

Mildred Hope (Pat’s other friend)

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

The Twist:

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

 

13.                        Double Sin

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

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

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

Cast:

J. Baker Wood (the buyer)

Mary Durrant (the woman who loses the miniature)

The Twist:

Elizabeth Penn’s business is in a bad state

 

14.                        The Market Basing Mystery

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Miss Clegg (the deceased’s housekeeper)

Dr. Giles (the doctor who examines Walter Protheroe)

Inspector Japp

Constable Pollard (of Market Basing police)

The Twist:

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

 

15.                        Wasps’ Nest

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

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

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

Cast:

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

John Harrison (Poirot’s old acquaintance)

The Twist:

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

 

16.                        The Veiled Lady

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

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

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

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

Who is actually the woman?

Cast:

Lady Milicent Castle Vaughan (the client)

The Twist:

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

 

17.                        Problem At Sea

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

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

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

Cast:

Passengers on board the ship:

Ellison Henderson

General Forbes

Colonel John Clapperton (Adeline’s husband)

Kitty and Pam (two young girls)

The Twist:

John Clapperton before the war was a ventriloquist.

 

 

18.                        How Does Your Garden Grow?

Plot:

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

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

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

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

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

Mistress Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With cockle-shells, and silver bells,

And pretty maids in a row

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

Cast:

Amelia Barrowby (the client)

The Delafontaines (Henry the husband and Mary the wife

Katrina Rieger (Russian, Barrowby’s nurse attendant)

Inspector Sims (of Rosebank police)

Miss Lemon (Poirot’s secretary)

The Twist:

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