Notes On Poirot Investigates

Rate: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1924

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Highlights:

Disguise, the trick of the mind and minute details are the highlights of the eleven cases of Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings’s.

In the postwar Britain, an eccentric foreigner and his war hero sidekick have never been short of jobs.  Various clients come in and out of his flat, demanding the ex-detective in the Belgian police force to take ‘little problems’ of theirs without having to involve the police.

To begin with, an American film star Mary Marvell has received threat letters concerning a diamond in her possession in The Adventure of The ‘Western Star.’ Is it true that unless the stone is reunited with its twin that the curse might fall on Marvell? A curious case over the death of a man who, a few weeks prior to his death, has insured his life for a very large sum attracts an insurance company. Did he die naturally or having committed a suicide? Poirot is then sent for establishing the nature of the death and later finds an intriguing story told during the dinner.  Nonetheless, a spell of spy in The Adventure of The Cheap Flat is quite a contrast Poirot indulges himself in renting a flat at an extortionate amount of rent just to catch a suspect.

Knightsbridge, Central London – 21st century. ‘Montagu Mansions’ off Knightsbridge is where the below-the-market flat acquired by the Robinsons.

Furthermore, a murderer plays a little game of disguise in order get away from the murder of an old man with means (The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge). What is more, a robbery is not a robbery, but merely a trick for a coverage in the front pages in The Million Dollar Bank Robbery. A woman whose fiancée is accused of having stolen the bonds determines to get to the bottom of it.  Who is one to believe: bankers at the London Scottish Bank or the man in charge of guarding the bonds with his life on board of a liner heading for New York?

The authoress does not forget to splash a  touch of superstition in The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb. Interestingly enough, the Belgian is oblidged to undergo a journey to Cairo accompanied by the faithful Hastings with a view to dispel the curse of King Men-her-Ra. Be that as it may, what makes Poirot say ‘I will put it plainly. Was any act committed by those four men which might seem to denote disrespect to the spirit of Men-her-Ra?’

A woman who comes sooner than expected to her hotel room has ruined the plan of a gang of jewel thieves. But for Poirot’s eye of a faint square mark on a table in the opposite room,  the swift act of the gang would not have been revealed. Christie’s brush with politics in The Kidnapped Prime Minister puts forward an Irish descendant Chief Inspector Detective at Scotland Yard in the hot seat. Being the driver for the PM during the kidnap, O’ Murphy is suspected to ‘have his finger in the pie’ for the kidnapping, particularly that he, along with Captain Davies, the PM secretary then disappear. Poirot is given a carte blance to find the PM in twenty-four hours.

When a well-known financier has not come back for three days after having been seen to have walked out of his house, there seems to be the possibility of a foul play. Yet, as Poirot looks at the content of his safe which have gone missing, The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim reveals the fact that he is still alive. What is the relationship between his hobby of collecting precious stone and a tramp caught of having pawned the other’s gold ring?

A chat with a neighbour is interrupted when an Italian nobleman, the neighbour’s patient dies from having been struck on the head by a marble statue. The lift attendant says that the deceased has apparently dined with two foreign gentlemen in his flat. Yet, as Poirot notices later, the food has all been consumed but three coffee cups remain untouched. A woman fortunately is not involved in The Adventure of The Italian Nobleman, although Poirot’s last client is decidedly a woman without a face of a Nymph. She presents The Case of The Missing Will in which she would obtain a late uncle’s fortunes if she can find the second will made within a year. Was it a mere treasure hunt or another exercise of the little grey cells? Most significantly, where to start? Little does Poirot realise that it is right under his nose.

The amiable Hastings – the ‘Dr. Watson’ – tries his hands on two cases to no avail. Much as he tries to the best of his ability to apply Poirot’s method, he cannot make out where his mistakes are. Needless to say, he looks a case from a wrong angle. ‘Poirot, am I quite demented?’ he asks, after the ‘Western Star’ has been returned to its rightful owner. ‘No, mon ami, but you are, as always, in a mental fog,’ replies Poirot.

The second chance emerges when the ill Belgian cannot afford to disappoint a client. Hastings goes with the client to the crime scene and reports everything. Still, it beggars belief as he receives a telegram from Poirot saying ‘Advise Japp to detain the housekeeper.’ While Hastings’ attention is drawn to the mysterious guest who comes to see the deceased earlier on the day, Poirot has a different idea in his previous telegram. ‘Of course black-bearded description of housekeeper and what clothes she wore this morning….’

The eleven cases in which Inspector Japp also appears speak volumes the dynamics between the duo or when Japp is involved, the trio. Banters on the part of the inspector and slight criticism spoken on Poirot’s peculiar remarks and gestures by Hastings are deployed brilliantly.  On the contrary, the Belgian has shown no signs of being low profile and disregards the other two’s ‘jokes’ over his preoccupation with precision and symmetry.

Personally, I believe  the contrasting and amusing Japp-Hastings-Poirot might be one of the unusual blend of characters that works extremely well in the crime genre. Poirot’s foreignness is hardly understood whilst his collaboration with Japp gives him an opportunity to establish himself as a sought-after private detective. And yet, without Hastings, a personae of quintessentially English, Poirot might not have been accepted in a certain circle.  Also, Hasting as a narrator with his choice of words and viewpoints makes Christie’s self-criticism to English stiff upper-lip attitude becomes tolerable.

St. John’s Wood, an affluent neighbourhood in Greater London, UK, which becomes the setting in ‘The Adventure of Italian Nobleman’

At this stage I still wonder why Poirot is potrayed in such a way. His being preoccupied with order and accuracy nowadays can be perceived as symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. What does Christie try to tell her readers about the little Belgian? Also, it raises the question whether a profession might be defined by personality and a different type of intelligence. For Poirot seems to have a photographic memory; he is able to remember a mere description of a suspect and his movement and then deduces its significance to the crime. On the other hand, Hastings is good at reflection and can describe an occurrence with sufficient detail. Yet, he does not sound to see something beyond facts, which he often admits.

Lastly, this is the book that should be read along with Poirot’s Early Cases, for there are some references that will only make sense when readers if both books are read side by side. I will tell you all in the next notes.

 

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

 

1.       The Adventure of The ‘Western Star’

Plot:

Mary Marvell goes to Poirot having received a threat letter about the diamond in her possession called The ‘Western Star.’  She ignored the previous letter, thinking that was a joke. Yet, when the latest one came by hand and delivered by a Chinese man, she had a change of heart. For the precious stone is a present from her husband, the American actor Greg Rolf, whom bought it from a Chinese man in San Franscisco three years ago.

After she leaves, Lady Yardly amazingly comes with a similar story; that the ‘twin’ diamond of Marvel’s –the ‘Eastern Star’- in the hands of the aristocratic woman will be taken from her during the dinner party at their residence. In the meantime, her husband has found a potential buyer to the family’s heirloom and she will have to wear it on the occasion.

On the day, as Lady Yardly appears in a long white shimmering dress for the dinner, her hand stretches out for the big light switch. Then, the incredible thing happens….

Is it true that the diamonds are cursed?

Cast:

Gregory B. Rolf (Mary’s husband, an actor)

Mary Marvell (the Hollywood actress)

Lord and Lady Yardly

The Twist: Lady Yardly and Greg Rolf had an affair while she was in the USA.

 

2. The Tragedy At Marsdon Manor

Plot: Mr. Maltravers, a client of the Northern Union, dies for some unknown reason but a kind of internal haemorrhage. Poirot is sent by the insurance company to establish the circumstances of the death and finds out whether the deceased is likely to have committed suicide. For a few weeks beforehand he has insured himself with a large sum of money with his wife as the sole beneficiary.

On Tuesday, the day before the murder, a son of the deceased’s old friend came to visit and stayed for dinner. He was scheduled to board a liner heading for East Africa the next day, but decided to cancel the passage having received a telegram about an uncle who had died in Scotland and his leaving the nephew some money. Moreover, he thought he ought to revisit Marsdon Manor to offer his condolescences to the widow.

Will Poirot believe the man’s story? How about the doctor’s verdict of the cause o death from gastric ulcer in spite of blood on the deceased’s lips?

Cast:

Captain Black (Mrs. Maltravers’s acquaintance)

Dr. Bernard (the deceased’s doctor)

Mrs. Maltravers

The Twist: Mr. Maltravers is not a Scientologist

 

3. The Adventure of The Cheap Flat

Plot: In a small gathering the newlywed Mrs. Robinson shares her delight of having just acquired a flat at an affluent London neighbourhood at an incredible price below the market rate. Further on Hastings retells the story to the Belgian sleuth, whom takes a great interest in it and makes enquiries about the flat in Montagu Mansions.

The porter says to Poirot and Hastings that the Robinsons have lived in the flat for six months nevertheless. To Hastings’s surprise, his slightly eccentric friend then decides to rent a flat next to the Robinsons.’ ‘But I make money nowadays! Why should I not indulge a whim? By the way, Hastings, have you a revolver?’

What does Poirot have in mind?

Cast:

Mr. Burt (of the US Secret Service)

Elsa Hardt (American, a concert singer)

Inspector Japp

Gerald Parker (Hastings’ s old friend)

Luigi Valdano (Italian, who follows Elsa Hardt from New York)

The Robinsons ( the American newlywed couple)

The porter at Montagu Mansions

The Twist: A stolen very confidential document belonged to the US government is sewn in the inner lining of telephone cover in the shape of a big black velvet cat.

 

4. The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge

Plot: A telegram comes concerning the untimely death of an old uncle with means. The nephew, having received the news, begs Poirot to take the case. Being ill from influenza, the sleuth sends Hastings with Roger Havering to the crime scene, Hunter’s Lodge, in the midst of Derbsyhire moors.

Harrington Pace, who made home with the Haverings for three years prior to his death, seems to make the nephew as his heir. Nonetheless, why does Havering go to the detective if he has killed Pace? Was it because his wife’s suggesting to do such in the telegram? Moreover, what makes Inspector Japp come to investigate, too?

Cast:

Harrington Pace (the deceased, Roger’s maternal uncle)

Inspector Japp

Mrs. Middleton (the housekeeper)

Roger Havering (the nephew of Harrington)

Zoe Haring (nee Carrisbrook, the wife of Roger’s)

The Twist: Mrs. Middleton, the quiet middle-aged woman who appears normal and respectable, has left the day after the murder.

 

5. The Million Dollar Bond Robbery

Plot: A million dollars’s worth of Liberty Bonds sent to an American bank in New York has been stolen on board the Olympia.  Philip Ridgeway, the trustworthy employee at London and Scottish Bank who brings the bonds with him in a trunk, is held responsible. With his career badly affected, it spurs Esmee Farquhar, his fiancée, into action. She lays all the facts to Poirot and Hastings, of whom have then agree to solve the puzzling matter.

First and foremost, the trunk is fitted with a special ‘Hubbs’ lock, meaning that each lock is unique. Ridgeway is the only one who holds the key on the ship. A thorough search bears no result. What astonishes him most is that the bonds were offered for sale within half an hour of the liner’s arrival.

‘….Remember, Mr. Ridgeway never opened it from the time it was placed in his hands in London,’ says Poirot to Hastings. What does it lead to?

Cast:

Esmee Farquhar (Philip’s fiancée, the employer at the bank)

Philip Ridgeway (Esmee’s fiancé, Mr. Vavasour’s nephew)

Inspector McNeil

Mr. Shaw  and Mr. Vavasour (the joint general managers at London and Scottish Bank)

The Twist: Mr. Shaw orders the lock himself and he also has the key besides Ridgeway and Mr. Vavasour.

 

6.       The Adventure of The Egyptian Tomb

Plot: The curse of ‘Men-her-Ra’has dawned upon the team who has found the tomb of an ancient Egypt king. Three people have died within a month of the opening of the tomb; a heart failure, acute blood poisoning and suicide. It is by the wish of one of the deceased’s widow whose son has followed his father’s step to be involved in the expedition that Poirot braces himself to undergo a journey to Cairo accompanied by Hastings.

The fourth life is claimed when they arrive in the excavation site. This time, the cause is tetanus from a septic wound. Who, among the remaining people, has the greatest interest to make the impression that a supernatural force is behind all deaths?

Cast:

Sir Guy WWaillard (Lady Willard’s son)

Mr. Harper (the secretary of the expedition)

Hassan (Sir John’s devoted native servant)

Lady Willard (the widow of Sir John Willard, who dies from a heart failure)

Dr. Robert Ames

Dr. Toswill (an official connected to the British Museum)

The Twist: Mr. Bleibner, one of the victims, shoots himself having believed himself a leper.

 

7. The Jewel Robbery At The Grand Metropolitan

Plot: Mrs. Opalsen, upon meeting Poirot at the Grand Metropolitan Hotel, wants to show him the pearls she has brought with her. She goes up to her room, where they have been kept in a jewel case, to fetch but  does not come back. Moments later Poirot and Hastings are summoned to her room and presented with the problem of the stolen pearls.

A Victorian postcard featuring Grand Metropole Hotel, Brighton, which was opened in 1890.

The suspicion lies at her maid who has been in and out of the room during the stay although the jewel case is locked. Furthermore, there is also a chambermaid who cleans the room. Yet, Poirot’s little experiment shows that there was not enough time for the chambermaid to have taken the pearls without being noticed by the maid. Be that as it may, the pearls are found presently under the maid’s bed. Does it mean that it was the maid whodunit?

 

Cast:

Celestine (Mrs. Opalsen’s French maid)

The Opalsens (the husband is a stock brocker who makes a fortune in oil boom)

The chambermaid

The valet

The Twist: Poirot’s coat sleeve is smeared by French chalk when he examines Mr. Opalsen’s room, of which has a connecting door to his wife’s.

 

8. The Kidnapped Prime Minister

Plot: The absence of Britain Prime Minister in the Allied Conference in Paris is a must to the success of the Pacifist propaganda backed by German. The PM is believed to have been kidnapped on his way to France. Prior to that, an attempt to his life was made but he managed to escape with little injury. Then he has disappeared, along with his secretary and the driver; the three of them were in the same car.

O’Murphy, the Premier’s chauffeur, becomes the suspect although he is a Chief Inspector Detective. The other is Captain Daniels, the secretary who is a fine linguist. For when the car was deviated from the main road, who had made the decision? Was O’Murphy’s doing having turned the car? Or because Davies told him so?

Poirot has twenty fours before the Conference commences at Versailles.

The aerial photograph of RAF Hendon in the World War II. Poirot and Hastings bring a mysterious man to Hendon Aerodrome where a plane is ready to take him to France.

Cast:

Bernard Dodge (a member of the War Cabinet, the Prime Minister’s friend)

Lord Estair (Leader of the House of Commons)

Inspector Japp

Major Norman (a military officer who is assigned to assist Poirot)

The Twist: Mrs. Everard, Captain Daniels’s so-called aunt, is Frau Bertha Ebenthal whom police has been looking for some time.

 

9. The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim

Plot: When a senior partner at Davenheim and Salmon, a reputable City banker and financier company disappears, Poirot is inclined to think of such as a deliberate act. As he discusses the case with Inspector Japp and Hastings, it seems clear for the Belgian that the motive can be found given all facts are laid in front of him. ‘….Bet you a fiver that you can’t lay your hand – or rather tell me where to lay my hand- on Mr. Davenheim, dead or alive, before a week is out,’ replies Japp, being slightly amused by the other’s confidence.

On Saturday, Mr. Davenheim failed to see a man who has had an appointment with him at his house. After an hour waiting in the study, the guest left. Sunday morning the police was informed while on Monday the safe in the missing man’s study had been broken into; bonds for a substantial amount of money and Mrs. Davenheim’s jewels were taken.

Furthermore, police has detained Billy Kellet, a man who tried to pawn a thick gold ring with a solitaire diamond of Mr. Davenheim’s. Kellet had been in jail for three months months before for lifting an old gentleman’s watch.

Before Japp leaves Poirot’s flat, the sleuth asks: ‘Have you any idea, my friend, whether Mr. And mrs. Davenheim occupied the same bedroom?’

Perhaps Japp should have a second thought before making a bet.

Cast:

Inspector Japp

Billy Kellet (the tramp who tells the police that he found Mr. Davenheim’s ring)

The Twist: Mr. Davenheim is in Buenos Aires around the time Billy Kellet has been in jail.

 

10. The adventure of the Italian Nobleman

Plot: The housekeeper of Dr. Hawker flies into Poirot’s flat and finds her employer chatting with the host at night.  Frantically she told the doctor about an urgent phone call she had received from Count Foscatini – something was amiss. No sooner has she finished than Poirot, Hastings and the other head for the count’s flat. The lift attendant tells them that the Count has had two gentlemen dining with him in his flat, but little did he know about the possibility of an ‘accident’ that had happened to the Italian man.

He is found dead, struck on the head by a marble statue. In the dining room Poirot sees meals for three; the food has been consumed but the coffees. According to his valet, two gentlemen of his country folks came to the flat the previous night on Tuesday and the Count then invited them to resume their discussion the next day during the dinner. The police, having acted based on this account, manage to catch one of the men before he left England. Yet he was let free as the Italian Ambassador vouches that the man had been with the Ambassador on Tuesday evening between eight and nine pm.

To Poirot the suspect says that he only came to see the Count on Tuesday morning for ‘some business.’ What kind of business which then killed him?

Cast:

Signor Ascanio (Italian)

Dr. Hawker (the doctor – Poirot’s neighbour)

Graves (the valet/butler to Count Foscatini)

Inspector

Robert – the lift attendant

The Twist: The curtain at Count Foscatini’s flat is not drawn and the coffees are left untouched on the night of the murder

 

11. The Case of The Missing Will

Plot: An orphan can acquire her late uncle’s fortune if she is able to find the missing will the uncle has written within a year. It is not actually missing but hidden in the house where the deceased used to live in Devon. For the reason, she commissions Poirot to find it.

In Crabtree Manor, the detective and Hastings are met by a husband and wife who look after the house.  They say they signed the will three years ago in which their master had stated that he would leave everything to a hospital. Afterwards Andrew Marsh went out to the village to pay tradesmen’s books.

Furthermore, Poirot’s attention is drawn to a desk stands against the wall full of papers and are labelled.  Attached to the key of the desk is a dirty envelope with words scrawled in crabby handwriting ‘key of roll-top desk.’ Interestingly, the wife mentions that two and a half years ago workmen had come to the house to do some repairs in the study. What for?

Cast:

The Bakers (the caretakers at Crabtree Manor)

Violet Marsh (the beneficiary of Andrew Marsh’s will)

The Twist: Andrew Marsh uses a special ink to write his second will, of which following its discovery should overrule the first one signed by the Bakers.

 

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Notes On While The Light Lasts

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1997

Motive: Wealth, jealousy and rage

Highlights:  This book comprises nine short stories appeared in different magazines in the UK between 1924 and 1932; two of them then became an entree and a main course in The Adventure of Christmas Pudding (1960 – see the Notes).  Twenty-one years after the authoress’s passing, HarperCollins UK decided to republish the other seven stories with their respective context and reflections on Christie’s work explained by Tony Medawar, one of her ardent fans. As a result, his insights on her work and the extent of personal life exposed in the stories provide the new readers with a flavour of Christie’s complicated plot and her writing style in plain English.

Christmas Adventure and The Mystery of Baghdad Chest are the original versions of The Adventure of Christmas Pudding and The Mystery of Spanish Chest the above mentioned 1960’s book. For they have the same plot in which the Belgian detective solves a delicate matter of jewel theft and the framing of Major Rich for the stabbing of his best friend. Although the details are not altered, in The Mystery of Baghdad Chest Arthur Hastings accompanies Poirot in the investigation and therefore it is written in a first-person account style.

Moreover, in Christmas Adventure, central heating system is not invented yet; Poirot seems to be contented with the sound of crackling fire amidst the cold in December. He needs no persuasion to spend Christmas among strangers while catching a gang of thieves; he gets a generous commission after all. All the same, it is the tradition of a homemade Christmas pudding and the joy of solving a dilemma in love; the latter is a touch on the part of the authoress known by many of her fans.

In The Mystery of Baghdad Chest, Hastings’s thoughts and accounts set the tone of the story. For instance, his little frustration concerning the Belgian’s pride about his reputation and the way he responds to the English stiff upper-lip attitude. And how about Poirot’s remarks of his missing the other dearly in Christmas Adventure?  ‘….Sometimes, when we were together, this friend made me impertinent, his stupidity enraged me; but now he has gone, I can remember only his good qualities….’ he says to Evelyn Haworth.

What fascinates me is Christie’s decision to change  ‘Baghdad’ to ‘Spanish’. On the one hand, the former is a cradle of civilisation, which also speaks volumes about her interest in archaeology and her long-standing appreciation to its study immortalised in Come, Tell Me How You Live (see the Notes) . Why Spanish then, I wonder? Was it because of her travelling to the country?

Isle of Man, UK

In The Edge, The Lonely God and While The Light Lasts romance and crime blend, which make a good contrast to a blackmailing case in The Actress and the ghostly feeling in The House of Dreams. What is more is Christie’s aptness capturing substantial changes in English society and various moral dilemma that emerge in the aftermath of the Great War. While The Light Lasts tells readers about a woman having to face a husband she thought had died, The Edge pinpoints the practicality of adultery as an excuse for the bleak economy of Great Britain that hit both the Upper Class and the Lower one. Likewise, Jake Levitt sees an opportunity having come across a famous personality in The Actress.  In a nutshell, the respective protagonists in these stories find themselves in catch twenty-two; whichever option they choose bear their distinctive consequences.

The least favourite story is The House of Dreams. I cannot understand what the recurring dream of a man’s means and later how it relates to his being unlucky in love. To many he is perceived as a failure despite coming from an old family background with dwindling wealth.  Be that as it may, I respect him sticking to his principle.

Among the stories, Manx Gold becomes my most favourite one. Myles Mylecharane, the dead protagonist, intrigues me most and therefore my choice as The Most Fascinating Character. Juan and Fenella must go on a treasure hunt in Isle of Man to prove their worthy of inheriting their eccentric uncle’s four chests of gold.

Within Wall perhaps Medawar’s least favourite story, owing to its ‘somewhat ambiguous’ plot and the symbols Christie has used in the story. ‘”The golden apple within their hands” – whose hands, and what does the ‘golden apple’ symbolize?”’ he writes in the afterword.

To my mind, rather than imagining a far-fetched thing, I believe that first of all, the answer is in the riddle. Second of all, if he had understood the legend of The Apple of Hesperides he would have learnt what the ‘golden apple’ signifies. Third of all, had he pondered the last paragraph in the story, he would have realised the extent of Christie’s subtleness on love.

‘Within a wall as white as milk, within a curtain soft as silk, bathed in a sea of crystal clear, a golden apple doth appear’

The riddle for Alan Everald from his daughter

Be that as it may, I cannot help feel a sympathy towards Jane Haworth – her love to someone else’s husband. A love not consummated but manifested in a way whereby the struggling painter can work as he wishes and supports his family. Frankly speaking, perhaps only a few men who can understand Haworth’s stand on the matter.

Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson is Agatha Christie’s favourite

Lastly, the use of the title from a line in Tennyson’s war poem in the closing story is undoubtedly clever. If anything, it serves as a bitter reminder of the war shadowing the lives of ordinary people. When a man is found dead from gunshots in a dark shed at a tobacco estate in South Africa, it is quickly dismissed as a suicide. For it has been perceived that his state of mind is imbalanced filled with memories of the war. That is disturbing; the fact that society becomes judgmental instead of helping the men who served their country.  The question is: will a troubled head make someone want to take their life? Most significantly is the realisation that the crimes people can get away having targeted the right victims. It recurs in ABC Murders (see the Notes) in which the killer is almost successful to have blamed an innocent man for the dead bodies found with an ABC railway map near them.

To conclude, this collection of short stories is the window to Christie’s world. It is highly recommended to anyone who wishes to study the authoress’s writing style and the significance an era can add to story.

 ‘While the light lasts I shall remember, and in the darkness I shall not forget.’

Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson

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

  1. The House of Dreams (published in Sovereign magazine in January 1926)

Plot:

John Segrave is attracted to Allegra Kerr, having met her through Maisie Wetterman, his boss’s daughter.  Nonetheless, he understands Maisie’s feelings for him; it seems to be being the son-in-law of a City financier is a plausible option regarding his financial difficulty. Yet his heart has set for Kerr, of whom then refuses his proposal on the grounds of insanity in her family.

Meanwhile, he has had unusual recurring dreams of a white house standing on a high ground. A strangely beautiful place he wants to enter.

What is the relationship between Segrave’s dream and his love to Kerr? What becomes of them?

Cast:

Allegra Kerr (Maisie’s  friend)

John Sergrave (the son of Sir Edward Segrave, an old family who has lost its wealth)

Maisie Wetterman (Rudolf’s daughter)

Rudolf Watterman (a City financier, John’s boss)

The unnamed doctor in West Africa

The Twist: John Segrave dies in West Africa

2. The Actress (published in the Novel magazine in May 1923)

Plot: Olga Stormer, a well-known actress, reads a blackmail letter and thinks of a plan to rid of the sender.  She asks her manager to phone a junior actress who wants to be Stormer’s understudy. She also replies the letter, in which she agrees for the blackmailer to come over to her flat at one night.

As planned, Jake Levitt enters her flat, thinking of his having had Stormer in his hands. What he does not expect in the least is to find a body of a woman beneath the black velvet curtains hanging at the window. ‘Oh, my Gord! You’ve killed her!’ cries Stormer’s maid later.

What will Levitt do next?

Cast:

Jake Levitt (the blackmailer)

Miss Jones (Olga’s secretary)

Olga Stormer (the actress, a.k.a. Nancy Taylor)

Syd Danahan (Olga’s manager)

The Twist: the body is Margaret Ryan, the would-be understudy, who has the same colour of hair and style like Stormer’s

3. The Edge (published in the Pearson’s Magazine in February 1927)

Plot:

When a woman comes across the handwriting of a woman’s with a different name in an inn, her suspicion of the other’s character is vindicated. More importantly, she realises it is the way to win over the heart of the other’s husband, of whom she dearly loves. An affair is something he cannot tolerate –if she chooses to speak about it.

Yet she lets the other know of such knowledge and the two women meet to establish an understanding of the situation. She holds her tongue for a while, but when the news of their going abroad reaches her later she changes. ‘I advise you to tell your husband yourself….otherwise, I shall,’ she says to the other while they have a walk at The Edge – the cliff beneath them.

As they part, the other turns her head and waves a hand gaily to her, then she runs on gaily, lightly, as a child might run, out of sight….

Cast:

Clare Halliwell (an orphan, Gerald’s childhood friend)

Sir Gerald Lee (the owner of the Grange, a mile away from Halliwell’s cottage)

Nurse Lariston (a nurse at a mental ward)

Vivien Lee (nee Harper, Gerald’s wife)

The Vicar

A hotel receptionist at County Arms in Skippington

The Twist: Clare Halliwell survives

4. Christmas Adventure (published as The Adventure of Christmas Pudding on The Sketch on 12th December 1923)

Plot: A murder hunt is initiated following the appearance of a great detective. Nancy Cardell is to die and Poirot will find her in the snow. Oscar Levering agrees to be ‘the murderer’ and leaves his boot prints for the detective to see.

Meanwhile, Poirot opens a note for him written by an illiterate hand: ‘Do not eat any plumpudding.’ Be that as it may, he eats a slice of it during the Christmas dinner. That before Rogers Endicott roars: ‘Confound it, Emily! Why do you cook put glass in the puddings?’

It is an extraordinary glass: a ruby stone.

Cast:

Annie (the maid)

Daisy, the kitchen maid in Downtown Abbey Series, which reminds me of Annie the maid.

Charles Pease (Eric and Johnnie’s school friend)

Emily Endicott (the elderly aunt)

Eric Endicott (Nancy’s younger brother)

Evelyn Haworth (Emily’s older niece, who is engaged to Oscar)

Granges (the butler)

Jean Endicott (Emily’s niece)

Johnnie Endicott (Nancy and Eric’s sibling)

Nancy Cardell (Emily’s niece)

Oscar Levering (Evelyn’s fiancé)

Roger Endicott (the eldest nephew of Emily’s)

The cook 

The Twist: The note Poirot has received was written by Annie

5. The Lonely God (published in the Royal Magazine in July 1926)

Plot:

In the British Museum the statue of a little ‘lonely god’ has two ‘worshippers’; a man and a woman who meets one another at the spot and fall in love. He, the moment he has seen her looking at the god in her black skirt and she, when he shows her a handkerchief that is not hers. Then he manages to take her for tea and proposes.

There is no more from her but a letter of apologies saying that she would never be able to marry him.  Feeling dejected, he channels his despair onto a canvas after reading a fairy story in a magazine by chance. A great painting of a Princess surrounded by her court, her reclining in a divan with the face turns away. Yet her eyes fix at a little grey stone idol in a dark and shadowy corner. A Lonely Princess looking at a Lonely Little God is hung in the Academy and the mysterious side of it draws more attention from the public.

Will she ever see the painter again?

The British Museum where Frank Oliver and the Princess in disguise meet.

Cast: Frank Oliver (the man) and the unnamed Princess

The Twist: the lonely princess wishes the little god to help her

6. Manx Gold (published in the Daily Dispatch in May 1930 as five instalments of stories)

Plot:

Myles Mylecharane’s grandfather has made a fortune from smuggling; four chests of gold hidden in Isle of Man. His grandson writes to his great nephew Juan and niece Fenella before his death, stating that he has left them the gold as long as they can find them. Meanwhile, there are two other relatives who also have been informed about the treasure by the lawyers and therefore have the same chance.

With the clues given, how fast the duo can find all of the treasure before the other two?

 

Cast:

Ewan Corjeag (Fenella’s distant relative – the competitor)

Fenella Mylecharane

Juan Farakar

Dr Richard Fayll (Fenella’s other distant relative – the competitor)

Mrs. Skillicorn (Myles’s housekeeper)

The Twist: Ewan Corjeag has fallen off the ladder outside Myles’s house and dies as a result of his head having hit a stone.

7. Within A Wall (published in the Royal Magazine in October 1925)

Plot: A struggling portrait artist, Alan Everard is a genius and he will be reluctant to carry out a commission for a rich people’s resemblance on canvas.  When he finds out that his daughter’s godmother gives his wife, Isobel, a cheque of £100 for the child, it enrages him. For he knows Jane Haworth is poor.

Then she dies. It even astounds him to realise that for the last four years Haworth has given money to his family. Why?

Cast:

Alan Everard (the portrait artist)

George  (the narrator, Alan’s friend)

Jane Haworth (Alan’s daughter’s godmother, of whom he make a sketch)

Isobel Loring (Alan’s wife)

Mrs. Lempriere (a reputable art critic, a friend of Alan’s)

Winnie Everard (Alan and Isobel’s child)

The Twist: Jane Haworth dies from influenza and pneumonia a month after she gives the last cheque

8. The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest (published in the Strand Magazine in January 1932)

Plot:

A small dinner party at Major Rich turns as a murder investigation the next day when the body of his friend, Clayton, is found the Baghdad Chest, a piece of furniture the major brought back from the East. Marguerita Clayton, the deceased’s wife, makes a plea to Poirot to prove the major’s innocence. ‘You mean – why I’m so sure? Well, but I know. I know Major Rich so well,’ she replies in response to the sleuth’s question ‘why did Major Rich not kill Mr. Clayton?’

Will Poirot want to believe the woman’s instinct?

Cast:

Lady Alice Chatterton (Poirot’s acquaintance who introduces him to Mrs. Clayton)

Burgoyne (Major Rich’s valet/manservant)

Mr. Clayton (Marguerita’s husband)

Major Jack Curtiss (Clayton’s friend)

Marguerita Clayton

Major Rich (the Claytons’s friend)

The Spences (Major Rich’s friends)

The Twist: Burgoyne notices that the screen that cuts off the draught in Major Rich’s bedroom door has been moved to the left and obscured the chest. The door opens to the room where the party took place.

9. While The Light Lasts (published in the Novel Magazine in April 1924)

The 1909 stamp of Rhodesia while it is still under the British Empire

Plot: It is hot and humid at a tobacco estate outside Rhodesia, South Africa. Deidre Corzier accompanies her husband on a tour around the plantations. Of all places, she thinks of her first husband who was killed in the War.

In a shed where the dry leaves are hung, the pungent smell is overpowering. She is about to leave the shed when a voice calls out her name. She stops dead because there is only one who would have said it in such a way.

Tim Nugent, her first husband, has not died after all.

Cast:

Deidre Corzier (George’s wife)

George Corzier (Deidre’s second husband)

Tim Nugent (Deidre’s first husband)

Mr. Walters (the manager of the tobacco estate)

The Twist: Tim Nugent seems to have committed suicide at the tobacco estate

The Most Fascinating Character: Myles Mylecharane

Eccentric but ingenious, Mylecharane is an uncle Fenella has only seen on two occasions. As one of his four remaining relatives he has instructed his lawyer to give her a letter after his death. It reads as follows:

My dear Fenella and Juan (for I take it that where one of you is the other will not be far away! Or so gossip has whispered),

You may remember having heard me say that anyone displaying a little intelligence could easily find the treasure concealed by my amiable scoundrel of a grandfather. I displayed that intelligence  and my reward was four chests of solid gold – quite like a fairy story, is it not?

Of living relations I have only four, you two, my nephew, Ewan Corjeag, whom I have always heard is a thoroughly bad lot, and a cousin, a Doctor Fayll, of whom I have heard very little, and that little not always good.

My estate proper I am leaving to you and Fenella, but I feel a certain obligation laid upon me with regard to this ‘terasure’ which has fallen to my lot solely through my own ingenuity. My amiable ancestor would not, I feel, be satisfied for me to pass it on tamely by inheritance. So I, in my turn, have devised a little problem.

There are still four ‘chests’ of treasure (though in a more modern form than gold ingots or coins) and there are to be four competitors- my four living relations. It would be fairest to assign one’chest’ to each – but the world, my children, is not fair. The race is on the swiftest – and often the most unscrupulous!

Who am I to go against Nature? You must pit your wit against the other two. There will be, I fear, very little chance for you. Goodness and innocence are seldom rewarded in this world. So strongly do I fel this that I have deliberately cheated (unfairness again, you notice!). This letter goes to you twenty-four hours in advance of the letters to the other two. Thus you will have a very good chance of securing the first “treasure” – twenty-four hours’ start, if you have any brains at all, ought to be sufficient.

The clues for finding this treasure are to be found at my house in Douglas. The clues for the second “treasure” will not be released till the first treasure is found. In the second and succeeding cases, therefore, you will all start even. You have my good wishes for success, and nothing would please me better than for you to acquire all four “chests,” but for the reasons which I have already stated I think that most unlikely. Remember that no scruples will stand in dear Ewan’s way. Do not make the mistake of trusting him in any respect. As to Dr Richard Fyall, I know little about him, but he is, I fancy a dark horse.

Good luck to you both, but with little hopes of your success,

Your affectionate Uncle,

Myles Mylecharane’     

Those lines, long they appear to be, tells readers a lot about this enigmatic character. I love the letter.

Notes On The Unexpected Guest

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1999 (as a novel)

Motive for Murder: Revenge

Plot:

Richard Warwick is a horrible man. He has been acquitted twice; one for mocking a woman with his gun and the other for running over a boy. He pays people to give their accounts of events in his favour. Furthermore, he drinks a lot and keeps a gun by his side. Every night he shoots animals from an open window while sitting in his wheelchair – out of fun.

Little did he realise that when he had been acquitted for the death of the boy,  the father was brewing a plan to kill him, .

One night in November, Michael Starkwedder stumbles into the Warwicks’s home due to his car going into the ditch outside the house. As he enters the study through the unlocked French windows, the lifeless body of Richard’s is in sight. What surprises him most nonetheless is the presence of a woman in the room. She tells the stranger that she has shot her husband dead. In Laura Warwick’s hand is her late husband’s gun. When she asks Starkwedder  to phone the police, his remarks: ‘Not yet. In a moment,  perhaps. Can you tell me why you shot him?’ Be that as it may, Mrs. Warwick cannot give him the satisfying answer.

Later he manages to get the truth out of her: that she heard a shot and steps out of the house. Clearly, she did not kill the deceased and moreover appear to protect the person who has done it. Why?

‘Excuse me putting this bluntly, Mrs. Warwick, but are you confessing to murder?’ Michael Starkwadder, the unexpected guest, asks Mrs. Warwick – the deceased’s mother.

Highlights:

Richard Warwick is a murder victim no one in the household would have missed – a good riddance in the words of his own mother who lives in the house along with her other son from the second marriage. Laura has suffered for years because of his temperament and disability and his half brother Jan hates him because Richard used to threaten sending the other to an asylum. There is one person who does not benefit from Richard’s death: Henry Angell, his valet/manservant who suddenly has lost his job.

The circumstances raises the motive of his killing and its method, ie. was it a pre-meditated act or done on the spur of the moment?

Michael Starkwedder comes into the scene as stranger who happens to be in the thick of it; it has been less than an hour since the murder occurred when he finds the body. More importantly, to notice a company. Quickly, he plots to free Laura from suspicion.

Starkwedder reminds me of Arthur Calgary (Ordeal By Innocence – see the Notes); a mere stranger who invites themselves into a family matter in the least expected circumstances. Their character, an enigmatic one it might seem, recurs in Christie’s books. Similarly, Dr. Peter Lord (Sad Cypress – see the Notes) persuades Hercule Poirot to take a case at the start of a trial, having been adamant that the beautiful Elinor Carlisle did not murder Marry Gerrard.

It is most interesting how Starkwedder calmly asks Laura Warwick to describe the people who live in the house. He appears to be in control of the situation and resourceful; just as Mr. Quinn when he turns up at in the New Year’s Eve and helps Mr. Satterthwaite solve the mysterious death of Derek Cappel ( The Mysterious Mr. Quin – see the Notes).

The name MacGregor is mentioned as the father of the boy whom the late Richard ran over. It is the housekeeper, Miss Bennet, who for the first time establishes the association between the murder of her master and Macgregor’s revenge. I like the fact that it is not Laura who remembers the name, for she already describes the plausible motive of retaliation to Starkwedder. Nonetheless, it makes me wonder who this spinster actually. For much later in the book it turns out that she can handle guns well.

From a curious stranger Christie shifts the focus to Jan, the half brother the deceased used to bully. Feeling indignant, Jan hates the other for the bad treatment he has received. Due to his learning difficulties, he feels ‘excited’ that Richard has died from a gunshot through his skull – considering the deceased was a remarkable shooter. As a minor character, Jan is the shadow of the authoress’s having an epilepsy. In ABC Murder, the suspect Alexander Bonaparte Crust is also epileptic. The question is the extent of Jan’s hatred to Richard. Will it make Jan a murderer?

Concerning Osborne’s touch to the play, personally I believe it is the best compared to Spider’s Web and Black Coffee (see their respective Notes).  The description is succinct and the language is very similar to Christie’s; in plain English that most people understand. Needless to say, it might have been the authoress herself who had written the book version of the play.

My criticism is the less subtle approach Osborne has pursued in some parts, which is least likely to occur in Christie’s books. Take the example of the conversation between Starkwedder and the deceased’s mother. On the one hand, Osborne captures the old Mrs. Warwick’s feelings very well and I could recall Mrs. Rogers (Endless Night –see the Notes) telling about her wayward son. It arouses the sympathy to a mother who feels hopeless and knows that something is bound to happen. On the other hand, as Starkwedder queries the reason Mrs. Warwick having opened up about Richard to him, her reply is: ‘Because you are a stranger. These loves and hates and tribulations mean nothing to you, so you can hear about them unmoved.’ I am not quite sure if Christie would have given a frank response like that and I do wonder whether the lines are written in the play script.

My argument is based on a similar scene between Hercule Poirot and Amy Folliat in Dead Man’s Folly (see the Notes). She elaborates her past and the history of the much beloved place she calls home, Nasse House. Poirot seems to accept that this old woman has felt comfortable to tell her stories  owing to his being an outsider. There is no a statement, however, about her pointing out his being a stranger nor a word about  his reputation. Instead, Folliat intriguingly quotes from Spenser: sleep after toyle, port after stormie seas, ease after war, death after life, doth greatly please…     

Speaking of poetry, some quotes from different poems are highlighted. I do not know whether they are originally in the play; yet at least they enlighten the somewhat bleak atmosphere in the house. The young Sergeant Cadwallader jovially utters lines from Keats and T.S. Elliot. He remind me ofArthur Hastings in Black Coffee (see the Notes), who enters the crime scene and remarks on it (without knowing that a murder has just been discovered): ‘          ‘

Towards the end it was rather disappointing when Miss Bennet leads Jan to confess of having taken the life of his half brother. She is very persuasive and it is obvious that Jan is under her control. It amazes me in particular that she has been in the Resistance and does have sound knowledge about the guns. (further about her is in The Most Fascinating Character).

More importantly, it almost falls flat after Laura Warwick and Julian Farrar’s attempt to protect one another in the name of love.  Thus, I was glad when it was not over yet. Although I feel that Jan’s accidental death is unnecessary. It indeed makes the murderer feel unease afterward. He did not see it coming and I suppose he is troubled by it. As a result, he confesses everything. To whom? Readers, have a guess.

 

The Twists:

A dead threat letter is found on Richard Warwick’s chest

-Julian Farrar’s lighter is found in the crime scene and Laura Warwick tells the police it belongs to Michael Starkwedder

– Farrar admits that the fingerprints on the table at the crime scene are his

-Farrar tells the police that when he sees Richard Warwick the deceased was still alive

-Henry Angell tries to blackmail Farrar as Angell has seen the other leaving the house from the pantry window hurriedly

-John MacGregor dies not long after he comes back to Canada, the country of his origin, after the inquest into his son’s death two years prior to the murder .

-Michael Starkwedder does not know about the shooting incident at Norfolk (see Clues)

Cast of Characters:

Miss Bennett (the Warwicks’s housekeeper)

Hubert Bregg directed the first showing of the play in 1958 at a West End theatre in London, UK.

Sergeant Cadwallader

Henry Angell (Richard’s manservant/valet)

Jan Warwick (Richard’s half brother)

Laura Warwick (Richard’s wife)

Michael Starkwedder (who finds the body)

Richard Warwick

Inspector Thomas

Mrs. Warwick (Richard’s mother)

The Most Fascinating Character: Miss Bennet

She is the capable housekeeper and secretary to Richard Warwick who runs the house smoothly like Lady Camilla‘s companion Mary Aldin (Towards Zero – see the Notes). Being a long standing employer, her loyalty lies entirely with her boss. She knows everything and every person in the house well but is secretive about most things. Her appearance might not be a match to the attractive Lucy Wheelbarrow (4.50 From Paddington) but Bennet’s brain just works the same.

As a choice for the Most Fascinating Character, there is a number of details about her that have been left unexplained. To begin with, she is an ex-hospital nurse. Yet there is no a statement whether she is in charge with Jan’s medication or her explaining what ‘learning difficulties’ Jan has. Was it Asperger’s Syndrome –given the high level of intelligence of Jan’s?

No sooner has Bennet seen the writing on the paper found on Richard’s chest than she exclaims: ‘Good Lord! MacGregor!’ Beforehand, she rejects the idea that Richard’s death was a murder but has changed her mind because of the words on the paper: May-fifteen-paid in full.

I am fascinated that she, like everyone else, is inclined to regard John MacGregor as the murderer. I suppose she might have known if Warwick had received a death threat. Moreover, the deceased is someone who likes telling boastful things and therefore it is surprising that he did not say anything about such a letter. To my mind, it is strange that she duly accepts the scenario.

Furthermore, it is likely that the police and her coaxing Jan into confessing the murder and establishing the motive as manslaughter with diminished responsibility. Personally, it contradicts Bennet as I feel that her fondness to Jan is sincere and she used to protect him from further bullying by the deceased.

What makes her arrange the confession? Has she agreed with the police that it was the best way to ferret out the killer? Hence, has she made Jan as a bait? Besides, does she think that Jan is better to be kept in an asylum? Most significantly, who has she been suspected after all?

The cleverness of hers does not stop in the above matter She realises later Starkwedder having helped Laura. Interestingly, his noticing Bennet having fallen in love with the late Richard Warwick. Perhaps she has found out that it was Starkwedder who had created the false clue; the death threat letter. Probably, she also has been  worried that the person she has suspected is really the killer.

At the end of the day, what a lonely world she must have been. She has been in the Resistance during the War and might have just spoken her experience to Jan for the first time. To my mind hers mirrors to Kirsty Lindstorm’s dedication to the Argyles (Ordeal By Innocence).

Above all, I am fascinated that it is Starkwedder who sums up Bennet’s character to Laura :’Your Miss Bennet, she seems very positive she knows all the answers.’

I wonder if she has an iota of guilt about Jan’s passing.

 

Clues:

Laura Warwick to Michael Starkwedder:

‘The main trouble in Norfolk was really because a woman came to call at the house one day, collecting subscriptions for the village fete. Richard sent shots to the right and left of her as she was going away, walking down the drive. She bolted like a hare, he said. He roared with laughter when he told us about it. I remember him saying her fat backside was quivering like a jelly. But she went to the police about it, and there was a terrible row.’

‘I can imagine that.’

‘But Richard got away with it all right. He had a permit for all his firearms, of course, and he assured the police that he only used to shoot rabbits. He explained away poor Miss Butterfield by claiming that she was just a nervous old maid who imagined he was shooting at her, which he swore he would neve have done. Richard was always plausible. He had no trouble making the police believe him.’

A while afterwards… (about the accident)

‘ Well, there was the child’s father. He saw it happen. But there was also a hospital nurse – Nurse Warburton- who was in the car with Richard. She gave evidence, of course. And according to her, the car was going under thirty miles an hour and Richard had had only one glass of sherry. She said that the accident was quite unavoidable. – the little boy just suddenly rushed out, straight in front of the car. They believed her, and not the child’s father who said that the car was being driven eratically and at a very high speed. I understand the poor man was – rather over-violent in expressing his feelings. You see, anyone would believe Nurse Warburton. She seemed the very essence of honesty and reliability and accuracy and careful understatement and all that.’

Mrs. Warwick to Inspector Thomas and Sergeant Cadwallader:

‘That poor little boy. The one Richard ran over, I mean. I suppose it must have unhinged the father’s brain. I know they told me he was very violent and abusive at the time. Perhaps that was only natural. But after two years! It seems incredible.’

‘Yes, it seems a long time to wait.’

‘But he was a Scot, of course. A MacGregor. A patient, dodged people, the Scots.’

‘Indeed they are,’ exclaimed Sergeant Cadwallader, forgetting himself and thinking out loud. ‘There are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scotsman on the make.’

Notes On Peril At End House

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1932

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot:

Nick Buckley has missed a bullet going into her head. When Hercule Poirot points a hole in her hat,  she laughs at the sleuth’s suggesting an attempt at her life. Further on, she tells him and Arthur Hastings three curious accidents occurred recently.

At the same time, the news of the missing aviator, Michael Seton, makes the headlines. Besides public excitement towards his around-the-world mission, Seton is an heir to the richest man in Britain, Sir Matthew Seton. The media speculate as to whether the young Seton would die intestate or has there been a will made to whom he has left the wealth.  Rumours have it that he has been secretly engaged before commencing the intrepid journey.

Meanwhile, as Poirot senses the impending murder attempt to Buckley, he then takes all reasonable precautions. On Guy Fawkes’s night celebrated at Nick’s home, End House, in spite of his and Hastings being on their guard, a murder happens.  Maggie Buckley, a distant cousin of Nick, is shot dead. She only arrived the day before.

Why would someone want to kill an orphan penniless girl? Who is the lucky woman to whom Seton has engaged? How come are Seton’s letters to his fiancée found at End House?

A scene in which Poirot and Hastings interview Nick Buckley at End House warning her about the murder attempts. The image is taken from Moby Games.

 

Highlights:

‘So much depends on how you look at a thing’ –

James Warburton in Dead Man’s Folly

 

Poirot, high in self-esteem, sees the case from Nick Buckley’s viewpoint – the target. On the day he met her at the Majestic Hotel, the young woman appeared to have not realised that her life had been in danger. No sooner had Poirot realised the hole in the hat than he decided to engage himself in the investigation.

To begin with, his client is a woman with little means; her killing does not benefit anyone apart from her cousin, Charles Vyse, to whom she will leave End House, the run-down mansion and nothing  else. Vyse himself is a successful lawyer and therefore he is financially secure.

Next, the death of Maggie Buckley.  Her killer seems to have mistakened the poor cousin as Nick. Poirot then transfers Nick to a nursing home as safety precaution only to find out later that she is poisoned by a box of chocolate sent with a card signed by the Belgian.

 

It is a Tom and Jerry game;  the murderer is ‘Tom’ and Poirot  the ‘Jerry’. ‘Tom’ is an uncanny personality who has studied carefully ‘Jerry’’s movements and his way of thinking. More importantly, ‘Tom’ is not alone; just as Poirot he has a sidekick who helps plant false clues. As a result, ‘Tom’ outsmarts ‘Jerry,’ scoring more and luring ‘Jerry’ to pay attention to different things.  ‘Jerry’ is left baffled with the turns of the events; not until he reads the Maggie’s letter to her mother does he learn the identity of Michael Seton’s fiancee (see The Twists).

Where does the story of the missing aviator fit in, you might ask? Apparently, he has made a will in which he left everything to his fiancée. Hence, a clear motive to the woman’s death. Nonetheless, who is ‘Maggie,’ to whom Seton has written? Was it Maggie Buckley, the daughter of a parson or the other one, Magdala, ie. Nick Buckley, the orphan? For she told Poirot that her real name is Magdala and Nick is simply her nickname after her grandfather.

Nick’s background is another intriguing aspect. She is the last in the family, just as Amanda Folliat (Dead Man’s Folly – see the Notes). What is more, opinions are divided about Nick. Frederica Rice, her old friend, regards her as a “little liar.”  Furthermore, Hastings makes a point when he and Poirot do their search around End House. On the table they see St. Loo Weekly Herald lying open with the news of the detective’s presence at the Majestic Hotel. To Poirot, it means little, for he believes that Nick only reads paper to know about the tides. ‘But why do you think that somebody read that paragraph other than Miss Buckley?’ remarks Hastings.

The Crofts, who rent the lodge, is unlike the Legges in Dead Man’s Folly. The husband and wife Bert and Mildred seem to be excited to meet the famous sleuth whilst Alec and Sally Legge are indifferent. They do not think that the man with an egg-shaped head requires a celebrity treatment. On the other hand, Mildred Croft has  sound knowledge on Poirot (see Clues). What makes them follow the sleuth’s career? Are they really what they say they are – having emigrated from Australia and are settled down in St. Loo because  Mildred’s relatives are Cornish? Poirot’s background check about them shows nothing suspicious . Yet, did the detective seek the information correctly?

Be that as it may, I already had a guess as to whodunit but was hardly able to explain the reasons. There is very little in the sub-plots which enable me to find the right clues. In the second reading, as I skimmed for details, it was dawning at me that they were  been in a sentence or a gesture that opened to interpretation. Thus I suppose it is up to readers to judge statements from a number of minor characters. Personally, it was like playing a  guessing game about the extent of truth in someone’s words; having to sieve facts that bear  half-truth, home truth or the whole truth.

As Warburton pinpoints above, it depends on how something is perceived; hence the mistake on Poirot’s part. Fortunately, he makes it even in the end; the good old Jap helps him spot a cat among the pigeons.

For the closing of the curtain, it is a play at End House directed by none other than Monsieur Poirot.  In three acts the murderer is revealed.

Act One: Nick’s passing from cocaine poisoning

Act Two: an invitation to a séance held at the house whereby all suspects attend.

Act Three: Nick’s making a comeback to the Good Earth and the murderer is unmasked.

Who is it going to be?

To sum up, Peril At End House is Poirot’s admitting of having looked at things from the wrong angle. It only makes him human, doesn’t it?

Salcombe, South Devon is the imaginary St. Loo, Cornwall for the book adaptation into Poirot’s series.

 

Cast of Characters:

Captain Arthur Hastings

Charles Vyse (Buckley’s cousin, a lawyer)

The Crofts (Australians; Bert the husband and Mildred the wife is disabled)

Frederica Rice (Buckley’s oldest friend)

Commander George Challenger (Buckley’s friend and a secret admirer)

Giles Buckley (Maggie’s father, a clergyman)

Hercule Poirot

Inspector Japp

Polly Walker as Nick Buckley in the 1990’s adaptation into Poirot series.

Jean  Buckley (Maggie’s mother, a parson’s wife)

Jim Lazarus (Buckley’s other friend, an Art dealer)

Maggie Buckley (a distant cousin of Nick’s, a Clergyman’s daughter)

Nick Buckley

Mr. Whitfield (Sir Matthew Seton’s lawyer)

 

The Twists:

-Frederica Rice’s telling Hastings that there is nothing wrong with the brakes of Nick Buckley’s car.

-Maggie Buckley’s letter to her mother after she arrives at End House. This is the fascinating part: ‘It is lovely weather here. Nick seems very well and gay – a little restless, perhaps, but I cannot see why she should have telegraphed for me in the way she did. Tuesday would have done just well…’

-Jim Lazarus’s offering an oil painting of Nick Buckley’s grandfather for fifty pounds, which is thirty pounds more than its value

-Rice receives a phone call from Buckley asking her to send a box of chocolate to the nursing home

-Rice is an cocaine addict.

The Most Fascinating Character: Jean Buckley

Maggie Buckley’s mother holds a crucial clue to the death of her daughter. She has no idea in the least that a line in the letter in her late daughter’s handwriting put things in perspective. As for Poirot, he recalls Nick’s saying to him that she would wire Maggie to come to accompany her.’ Please refer to the letter (see The Twists).

Mrs. Buckley, the wife of a parson, fascinates me most due to her being philosophical about Maggie’s death. There is not a hint of resentment towards the murderer but acceptance of the untimely death of one of her five children. She does not sob nor complain and remains poised throughout the Poirot and Hastings. Giles Buckley, who accompanies her, sums up her personality: ‘My wife is wonderful. Her faith and courage are better than mine…’

The husband and wife meets the men after the inquest.  Her feeling dislike about End House is important. ‘I don’t like it. I never have. There’s something all wrong about that house. I disliked Sir Nicholas (Nick Buckley’s grandfather) intensely. He made me shiver.’ What is she afraid of – the house itself or the inhabitants? Is she superstitious or simply bearing any grudge to the old Nick? Most importantly, how well does she know about him?

Moreover, she mentions a letter she has received from Nick after Maggie died. It expressed the guilt of having asked Maggie to come down to End House – as if she had gone to meet her fate.  To which Mrs. Buckley dismisses it as most pathetic on Nick’s part.

Readers, I am speechless. This woman is a tower of strength and has a generous heart. There is nothing but my admiration to her. Readers, you will know why.

Clues:

Frederica Rice to Arthur Hastings (in the presence of Jim Lazarus):

‘Oh! Well – I’m glad to hear Nick didn’t invent the whole thing. She’s the most heaven-sent little liar that ever existed, you know. Amazing – it’s quite a gift.’

I [Hastings] hardly knew what to say. My discomfiture seemed to amuse her.

‘She’s one of my oldest friends and I always think loyalty’s such a tiresome virtue, don’t you? Principally practised by the Scots – like thrift and keeping the Sabbath. But Nick is a liar, isn’t she, Jim? That marvellous story about the brakes of the car – and Jim says there was nothing in it at all.’

The fair man said in a soft rich voice: ‘I know something about cars.’

Hercule Poirot to Arthur Hastings about the murderer (after visiting End House):

‘What I am afraid of is – that he is a very clever man. And I am not easy in my mind. No, I am not easy at all.’

‘Poirot, you’re making me feel quite nervous.’

‘So I am nervous. Listen, my friend, that paper, the St. Loo Weekly Herald. It was open and folded back at – where do you think? A little paragraph which said, “Among the guests staying at the Majestic Hotel are M. Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings.” Supposing – just supposing that someone had read that paragraph. They know my name – everyone knows my name – ‘

‘Miss Buckley didn’t.’

‘She is a scatterbrain – she does not count. A serious man – a criminal – would know my name. And he would be afraid! He would wonder!He would ask himself questions. Three times he has attempted the life of Mademoiselle and now Hercule Poirot arrives in the neighbourhood. “Is that coincidence?” he would ask himself. And he would fear that it might not be coincidence. What would he do then?’

‘Lie low and cover his tracks.’

‘Yes-yes-or else-if he had real audacity, he would strike quickly – without loss of time. Before I had time to make inquiries- pouf, Mademoiselle is dead. That is a man with audacity would do.’

‘But why do you think that somebody read that paragraph other than Miss Buckley?’

‘It was not Miss Buckley who read that paragraph. When I mentioned my name it meant nothing to her. It was not even familiar. Her face did not change. Besides she told us – she opened the paper to look at the tides – nothing else. Well, there was no tide table on that page.’

‘You think someone in the house-‘

‘Someone in the house or who has access to it. And that last is easy – the window stands open. Without doubt Miss Buckley’s friends pass in and out.’

Poirot and Hastings while visiting the Crofts in the lodge:

‘Who do you think this is, mother?’ said Mr. Croft. ‘The extra-special, world-celebrated detective, Mr. Hercule Poirot. I brought him right along to have a chat with you.’

‘If that isn’t too exciting for words,’ cried Mrs. Croft. ‘ Read about that Blue Train Business, I did, and you just happening to be on it, and a lot about your other cases. Since this trouble with my back, I’ve read all the detective stories that ever were, I should think. Nothing else seems to pass the time away so dear….’

Notes On The Mysterious Mr. Quin

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1930

Motive for Murder: Jealousy and Wealth

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

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

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

 

Highlights:

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

Figurines from Harlequinade

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

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

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

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

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

Commedia dell’Arte characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

  1. The Coming of Mr. Quin:

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

The New Year Party guests at Royston:

-Lady Laura Keene

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

-Sir Richard Conway

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

 

2. The Shadow On The Glass:

The guests at the Unkertons’ party:

–         Lady Cynthia Drage

–         Mrs. Iris Staverton

–         Captain Jimmy Allenson (Moira’s lover)

–         Major John Porter

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

–         Richard Scott (Iris’s ex-lover)

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

–         Inspector Winkfield

 

3.At The ‘Bells and Motley’:

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

–         Mary Jones (William’s daughter)

–         Masters (Mr. Satterthwaite’s driver)

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

 

4. The Sign In The Sky

-Mr. Denman

– Louisa Bullard ( a maid at the Barnabys)

– Sylvia Dale (the defendant’s girlfriend)

 

5. The Soul of The Cropier

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

–   Elizabeth Martin (American, Franklin’s friend)

–   Franklin Rudge (American, Elizabeth’s friend)

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

 

6. The Man From The Sea

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

-The English woman

 

7. The Voice In The Dark

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

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

-Margery Gale (Lady Barbara’s daughter)

-Marcia Keane (the Lady maid)

-Roley Vavasour (Margery’s cousin)

 

8. The Face of Helen

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

– Charles Burns (Gillian’s fiancé)

-Gillian West (an amateur singer)

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

 

9. The Dead Harlequin:

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

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

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

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

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

 

10. The Bird With The Broken Wing

The party at Laidell:

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

–         Gerald Annesley (Mabelle’s husband)

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

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

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

–         Roger Graham (Madge’s Mr. Right)

 

11. The World’s End:

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

-Helen Judd (Rosina’s husband)

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

-Rosina Nunn (an actress)

-Mr. Tomlinson

-Mr. Vyse (a producer)

 

12.Harlequin’s Lane:

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

-Claude Wickam (a music composer)

– John Denman (the host)

– Molly Stanwell (John’s lover)

-Sergius Ivanovitch (Kharsanova’s ex-lover)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Mr. Quin

Readers, I suppose it is obvious from the title.

 

Clues:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

[the first part of the story of her life]

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

[about Anna Derman and Sergius Ivanovitch]

 

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

Notes On And Then There Were None

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1939

Motive for Murder: Justice (?)

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

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

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

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

 

Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parts of ‘Ten Little Niggers’ Nursery Rhyme

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Twists:

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

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

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

 

Cast of Characters:

 

 

‘Ten Little Soldiers’:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Emily Brent

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six little soldier boys playing with a hive;

A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.

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

Nonetheless, i the justice done this way?

 

Clues:

 

Ten little soldier boys went out to dine;

One choked his little self and then there were Nine.

Nine little soldier boys sat up very late;

One overslept himself and then there were Eight.

Eight little soldier boys travelling in Devon;

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

Seven little soldier boys chopping up sticks;

One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.

Six little soldier boys playing with a hive;

A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.

Five little soldier boys going in for law;

One got in Chancery and then there were Four.

Four little soldier boys going out to sea;

A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.

Three little soldier boys walking in the Zoo;

A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.

Two little soldier boys sitting in the sun;

One got frizzled up and then there was One.

One little soldier boy left all alone;

He went and hanged himself and then there were None.

 

Notes On The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Years of Publication: 1960

Motive for Murder: Wealth, Hatred, Obsession

Plots:                     

‘Don’t Eat None of The Plum Pudding. One As Wishes You Well’

On the Christmas Eve, Hercule Poirot finds a note on his bed with the above words scribbled on it. He is a guest of the Laceys, of whom are neither friends nor acquaintance. For there is a mission: to reveal the identity of a Jewel thief and find the historic ruby of a nation.  A heavenly Christmas Pudding of  the family’s cook presented for the Christmas dinner and a parlourmaid, who ruined one of the puddings are all it takes to solve the ruby whereabouts.

Mrs. Margharita Clayton is introduced by Lady Chatterton, a friend of Poirot’s, for Clayton has been in ‘trouble.’ Her husband was found dead in a Spanish Chest at the home of the Claytons’ friend, Major Charles Rich. In the previous night the husband and wife were supposed to come to the Major’s party but Arnold Clayton declined in the last minute. Furthermore, Margharita had a motive to have wanted her husband die: she and Major Rich are in love. She intends to find the murderer nevertheless to clear up Major Rich’s name, driven by her firm belief that he could not have done it. As for Poirot, Mrs. Clayton is like Desdemona; attracting men and driving them mad at the same time. What is more, there is a third person he has not considered before as a suspect.

A Lady’s companion sees Poirot concerning the dead of her employer’s husband, Sir Reuben. She was sent in order to persuade him to take on the case. For Lady Astwell vaguely believes that her late husband was hit on the back of his head by his efficient secretary, Owen Trefusis. With no proof nor evidence backs up her idea, will Poirot proceed?

North Gate – a block of luxurious flats overlooking Regent’s Park in St. John’s Wood, NW8 London. An inspiration to Northway, W8 – the home of Benedict Farley?

A phone call from Dr. Stillingfleet about the death of an eccentric millionaire refreshes Poirot’s mind to his having seen Benedict Farley a week beforehand.  He told the sleuth about the recurring  dream he’d had: that he would shoot himself at 3.28pm. Poirot’ asking to inspect the room at that time was refused. Before he left, Farley wanted the typed letter sent for the appointment to be returned. Poirot’s mistake in handing in the wrong letter is the beginning of his unmasking a near-perfect plot for murder. Had it not been for his laundress, Farley’s murder would have been easily perceived as a suicide:  a dream fulfilled.

During a dinner in a Chelsea restaurant, Mr. Bonnington draws Poirot’s attention to a regular customer who is referred as the ‘Old Father Time.’ When a few weeks later Henry Gascoigne is reported died in his home, the cause of death sounds natural. Nobody benefits from his death, for his being a penniless pensioner and had no children. Not until the will of Arthur’s, his  estranged twin brother’s emerge does it interest Poirot.  Henry would have had inherited Arthur’s fortune, for hours prior to Henry’s death Arthur had died. Poirot’s meeting with the twins’ nephew, Dr. George Lorrimer, sheds further light upon the inheritance issue.

Lastly, a recluse woman is shot with an arrow at the back of her neck.  Jane Marple’s nephew’s wife’s cousin is a witness; from the window she saw the other ask for help while felt hopeless, having been locked in her room.  Meanwhile, on the other room, Mrs. Creswell, the housekeeper, was also being locked in. Miss Marple’s curiosity is aroused due to the appearance of a police constable whom helped the women get out of their respective rooms. And also because Marple remembers his nephew saying about the deceased’s remark about police.’ If you want to know the time, ask a policeman,’ she said. There is something nagging about ‘police’ that set out the female sleuth to solve the mystery.

Highlights:

Six plots, six bite-sized crimes for readers to enjoy. Christie is the cook.

Christmas Pudding, a sumptuous desert consumed in the Christmas Dinner

A main course, the Adventure of the Christmas Pudding story, is put at the front to coincide with the festive mood. The good old traditional English Christmas; a home-made Christmas pudding by the Laceys’ cook that retains a custom of everyone in the house coming out to stir the pudding and make their wish. Everyone did, except Poirot, for it was done a day before he came.

Furthermore, two other stories, the Mystery of the Spanish Chest and Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds are related to food. The three others interestingly touch about subconscious mind. In The Dream, did a repeated nightmare seal someone’s fate? Can a woman’s instinct be trusted in The Under Dog?

More importantly, can a woman’s appearance be mistakened by another? As often the case in Christie’s books, the crimes are all intime – they were carried out by an insider.

An 18th century Spanish Chest

In the Mystery of the Spanish Chest, “Othello” reappears (see also Notes On Cat Among The Pigeons); in the story Christie focuses on Desdemona. Othello’s wife is a fascinating character; she is devoted to her husband and perceives Cassio as a platonic friend. On the other hand, Cassio adores her and will pander to her wish. It is most interesting how Poirot tells Mrs. Clayton about herself by referring to Desdemona on the telephone,’….She (Desdemona) loved her husband with the romantic fervour of hero worship, she loved her friend Cassio, quite innocently, as a close companion…I think that because of her immunity to passion, she herself drove men mad….’ For he has achieved to tell Margharita what she was like without her feeling offended about it. At any rate she did not understand him in the least.

The Under Dog takes longer to solve. Unlike the others, it is not premeditated and the murderer is someone that is as normal as others. Yet anger might be a lethal weapon and obedience has its limit. Discussing matters, the crime undertaken is a chilling one. To begin with, Lily Margrave, Lady Astwell’s companion, is reluctant to describe the circumstances of Sir Reuben’s killing –knocked out by a green baize tuber. Next, she is somehow uneasy and Poirot comes to realise her clever ways in  persuading him not to investigate the case. As Poirot eventually finds out the reason, Margrave has a motive and opportunity for murder. Nonetheless, does she have the criminal temperament?

Personally, the most fascinating thing in the book is a suspect’s name: Owen Trefusis. Readers, do you remember the mysterious Mr. Owen who bought Soldier Island (And Then There Were None, 1939)? Further on, Emily Trefusis, the driving force behind the unmasking of an unassuming killer? (see Notes on Why Didn’t They Ask Evans).  If you recall about the details, you will find the solution faster.

 As I finished reading, I could not decide which story I liked best. Each of them is unique and seems to jog readers’ mind towards previous cases seen from a different angle. The downside of this book  is there is only a Miss Marple’s case.  

Miss Marple’s first image when appeared as Christie’s short story in ‘Tuesday’s Night Club Murder’ on a paper in 1927 (later on compiled in he Thirteen Problems).

When I start this ‘Christie In A Year’challenge I did not know Jane Marple very much. Her image mostly came from the ITV series of Marple’s. Nonetheless, the more I read about her, the more I understand her ways of the world. In Greenshaw’s Folly, she knows that Joan West’s niece, Louisa Oxley, has never met Miss Greenshaw. How? Just by looking at Miss Greenshaw’s rockery garden. For a gardener’s eyes understands better: that there is a difference between someone who does weeding and someone who cannot differentiate between alpine plants and weeds. Likewise, in Sleeping Murder he likens the murderer to binweed – a weed that overtakes a plant and extremely hard to rid of. 

Christie’s succinct style and the red herrings she drops sometimes make a story more difficult to read. She has no problem in pacing the story but a post-reading feeling that a few words –important clues they are- are overlooked easily. Take the example of a simple object that holds a clue as to how the killing is done. In The Dream Poirot explained, ‘After all, if this object (a black stuffed cat) were found what would anyone think– that some child had wandered round here had dropped it.’ In an another book, published much earlier, a villain describes a suicide to appear like a murder. ‘My hand, protected with a handkerchief, will press the trigger. My hand will fall to my side, the revolver, pulled by the elastic, will recoil to the door, jarred by the door-handle it will detach itself from the elastic and fall. The elastic, released, will hang down innocently from the eyeglasses on which my body is lying. A handkerchief lying on the floor will cause no comment whatever.’ Can you see what I mean?

Well, I suppose the best thing is just to ‘enjoy’ the crimes as they are. It is worthwhile to read them after all.

The Twists:

The precious Ruby stone determines the future of a prince in an imaginary rich country of Christie’s

-The ruby is found in the Christmas pudding for the New Year’s one

-Poirot receives a warning letter in his bedroom on the Christmas Eve

-Arnold Clayton hides himself in the Spanish Chest and creates a hole at one of the corners for air

-Arnold Clayton receives a telegram of high importance that he must leave for Scotland

-Lily Margrave comes out after midnight to see her brother, Humphrey Naylor

-Victor Astwell sits in his room with the door open and does not see Charles Levenson pass after ten minutes to midnight

-Old Father Time comes to dine in the restaurant on a Monday night, instead of his usual Tuesdays and Thursdays

-On a Monday night he orders food that is out of his habit (he dislikes blackberry tart and thick soup)

-Poirot finds a black stuffed cat below the window of Bernard Farley’s room

-Bernard Farley was short-sighted and hated cats

-Miss Greenshaw’s will does not state Mrs. Cresswell as the beneficiary but Alfred – the gardener

-Alfred Pollock leaves for lunch at 12.25

Cast of Characters:

  1. The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding:

Annie  (the housemaid)

Bridget (Emmeline’s great niece)

Colin (the Laceys’s grandson)

David Welwyn (the Laceys’s old friend)

Desmond Lee-Wortley (Sarah’s boyfriend)

Diana Middleton (Emmeline’s cousin)

Emmeline Lacey (Sarah’s grandmother)

Horace Lacey (Emmeline’s husband)

Mr. Jesmond (a mediator for a future ruler of a country in the Far East)

Michael (Collin’s friend, who stays with the Laceys for Christmas)

Sarah Lacey (the Laceys’s granddaughter)

2. The Mystery of The Spanish Chest:

Arnold Clayton (the deceased, Margharita’s husband)

Major Charles Rich (the host of the party)

Lady Chatterton (Margharita’s and Poirot’s friend)

Hercule Poirot

Jeremy Spence (Linda’s husband)

Jock McLaren (the Claytons’ oldfriend)

Linda Spence (Jeremy’s wife, Margharita’s friend)

Margharita Clayton (Arnold’s wife)

Inspector Miller (taking charge in the case)

William Burgess (Major Rich’s manservant)

3. The Under Dog:

Lady Astwell (Sir Reuben’s wife)

Dr. Cazalet (the hypnotist)

Charles Leverson (Sir Reuben’s nephew)

Miss Cole (the manageress at the Mitre)

George (Poirot’s manservant)

Gladys (the maid)

Miss Langdon (the manageress at the Golf Hotel)

Lily Margrave (Lady Astwell’s companion)

Detective-Inspector Miller (of Abbots Cross police)

Owen Trefusis (Sir Reuben’s secretary)

Parsons (the butler)

Sir Reuben Astwell (Lady Astwell’s husband)

Victor Astwell (Sir Reuben’s brother)

4. The Dream

Inspector Barnett (of local police)

Benedict Farley (the eccentric London millionaire who had the same dream)

Mr. Conworthy (Benedict’s secretary)

Joanna Farley (Bernard’s only daughter)

Dr. Stillingfleet (Poirot’s friend, who contacts the sleuth about his appointment with the deceased)

5. Four-And-Twenty Blackbirds

Dr. George Lorrimer (Anthony and Henry’s nephew)

Henry Bonnington (Poirot’s friend, who dines with him at the Chelsea restaurant)

Henry Gascoigne  (a.k.a. Old Father Time, Anthony’s twin brother)

Hercule Poirot

Dr. MacAndrew (Henry’s doctor)

6. Greenshaw’s Folly

Alfred Pollock (Miss Greenshaw’s gardener)

Mrs. Cresswell (Katherine Greenshaw’s housekeeper, Nat Fletcher’s mother)

Horace Bindler (an Art collector, Raymond West’s acquaintance)

Jane Marple (Raymond’s aunt)

Joan West (Raymond’s wife)

Katherine Greenshaw (Mrs. Cresswell’s and Louisa’s employer)

Louisa Axley (Joan’s niece, employed by Miss Greenshaw to edit her grandfather’s diaries)

Raymond West

Inspector Welch (of a local police)

The Most Fascinating Character: N/A

Clues:

1. The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding

Emmeline Lacey:

‘..But you see she (Sarah Lacey) has taken up with this Desmond Lee-Wortley and he really has a very unsavoury reputation. He lives more or less on well-to-do girls. They seem to go quite mad about him. He very nearly married the Hope girl, but her people got her made a ward in court or something. And of course that’s what Horace wants to do. He says he must do it for her protection. But I don’t think it’s really a good idea, M. Poirot. I mean, they’ll just run away together and got to Scotland or Ireland or the Argentine or somewhere and either get married or else live together without getting married. And although it may contempt of court and all that – well, it isn’t really an answer, is it, in the end?…..’

2. The Mystery of the Spanish Chest

Linda Spence (to Hercule Poirot):

‘Arnold was an extraordinary person. He was bottled up, if you know what I mean. I think he did know. But he was the kind of man who would never have let on. Anyone would think he was a dry stick with no feelings at all. But I’m sure he wasn’t like that underneath. The queer thing is that I should have been much less surprised if Arnold had stabbed Charles than the other way about. I’ve an idea Arnold was really an insanely jealous person.’

‘Jock? Old faithful? He’s a pet. Born to be the friend of the family. He and Arnold were really close friends. I think Arnold unbent to him than to anyone else. And of course he was Margharita’s tame cat. He’d been devoted to her for years.’

3. The Under Dog

Lady Astwell (under hypnotist):

‘…Lily keeps looking out of the window, I don’t know why. Now Reuben comes into the room; he is in one of his worst moods to-night, and bursts out with a perfect flood of abuse to poor Mr. Trefusis. Mr. Trefusis has his hand round the paper knife, the big one with the sharp blade like a knife. How hard he is grasping it; his knuckles are quite white. Look, he has dug it so hard in the table that the point snaps. He holds it just as you would hold a dagger you were going to stick into someone. There, they have gone out together now. Lily has got her green evening dress on….’

4. The Dream

Hercule Poirot (to Dr. Stillingfleet):

‘My laundress was very important. That miserable woman who ruins my collars, was, for the first time, in her life, useful to somebody. Surely you see-it is so obvious. Mr. Farley glanced at that communication –one glance would have told him that it was the wrong letter – and yet he knew nothing. Why? Because he could not see it properly!’

5. Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds

Dr. MacAndrew (to Hercule Poirot):

‘If it’s the nephew, Lorrimer, you suspect, I don’t mind telling you here and now that you are barking up the wrong tree. Lorrimer was playing bridge in Wimbledon from eight-thirty until midnight. That came out at the inquest.’

6. Greenshaw’s Folly

Conversations between Louisa Axley (LA) and Mrs. Cresswell(C):

C: ‘Come and let me out, Mrs. Oxley. I’m locked in.’

LA: ‘So am I.’

C: ‘Oh dear, isn’t it awful? I’ve telephoned the police. There’s an extension in this room, but what I can’t understand, Mrs. Oxley, is our being locked in. I never heard a key turn, did you?’

LA: ‘No, I didn’t hear anything at all. Oh dear, what shall we do? Perhaps Alfred might hear us.’

C: ‘Gone to his dinner as likely as not. What time is it?’

LA: ‘Twenty-five past twelve.’

C: ’He’s not supposed to go until half past, but he sneaks off earlier whenever he can.’

LA:’Do you think-do you think-‘