Notes On They Do It With Mirrors

Rating: 4 out of 5

Year of Publication: 1952

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot:

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

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

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

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

Highlights:

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

Dr. Maverick to Miss Marple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

 

The Twists:

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

– Carrie Louise is right about Edgar Lawson and Lewis Serrocold

-Christian Gulbrandsen’s suicide letter is fake

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

– Ruth Van Rydock’s premonition is unjustified

 

Cast of Characters:

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

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

Mr. Baumgarten

Carrie Louise Serrocold (the wife of Lewis Serrocold)

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

Inspector Curry

PC Dodgett

Edgar Lawson (who works at the institution)

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

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

Juliet Bellever (companion and secretary to Carrie Louise)

Sergeant Lake

Lewis Serrocold (Third husband of Carrie Louise)

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

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

Ruth Van Rydock  (Miss Marple’s school friend)

Stephen Restarick (Alexis’s brother)

Walter Hudd (Gina’s husband)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Mildred Srete (nee Gulbrandsen)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Clues:

Ruth Van Rydock to Jane Marple:

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

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

GH:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Marple didn’t laugh.

Alex Restarick (AR) to Jane Marple:

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

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

Notes On The Body In The Library

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1942

Motive for Crimes: Wealth

Plot:

‘Is that you, Jane?’

Miss Marple was very much surprised.

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones’s The King Copethua and The Beggar Maid in 1884. Now it is in Tate Gallery Britain, London, UK.

‘Yes, it’s Jane. You’re up very early, Dolly.’ Mrs. Bantry’s voice came breathless and agitated over the wires.

‘The most awful thing has happened.’

‘Oh, my dear.’

‘We’ve just found a body in the library.’

For a moment Miss Marple thought her friend had gone mad.

‘You’ve found a what?’

‘I know. One doesn’t believe it, does one? I mean, I thought they only happened in books. I had to argue for hours with Arthur this morning before he’d even go down and see.’

Miss Marple tried to collect herself. She demanded breathlessly: ‘But whose body is it?’

‘It’s a blonde.’

‘A what?’

‘A blonde. A beautiful blonde – like books again. None of us have ever seen her before. She’s just lying in the library, dead. That’s why you’ve got to come up at once.’

‘You want me to come up?’

‘Yes, I’m sending the car down for you.’

Miss Marple said doubtfully: ‘Of course,dear, if you think I can be any of comfort to you –‘

‘Oh, I don’t want comfort. But you’re so good at bodies.’

‘Oh, no, indeed. My little successes have been mostly theoretical.’

‘But you’re very good at murders. She’s been murdered, you see, strangled. What I feel is that if one has got to have a murder actually happening in one’s house, one might as well enjoy it, if you know what I mean. That’s why I want you to come and help me find out who did it and unravel the mystery and all that. It really is rather thrilling, isn’t it?’

‘Well, of course, my dear, if I can be of any help to you.’

Highlights:

In 283 words the plot is summed up: Dolly Bantry is marching orders as an urgent matter arising: her family’s reputation is at stake. She realises what St. Mary Mead would think of the body of a young woman with somewhat tawdry and cheap appearance in their home. There is little her husband, Colonel Bantry, can do but shows his defiant silence.

Mrs. Bantry means business. Nonetheless it is unlikely that her presence nor her views would be listened to in the investigation and therefore this is where her old friend Miss Marple comes in. For the gentle spinster has a wide collection of village parallels which depict human behaviour and their reactions. She is then expected to produce a rabbit of out Mrs. Bantry’s hat, as concluded by Sir Henry Clithering who appears in the second half the story.

Furthermore, as the Chief Gossippers Miss Hartnell and Miss Wetherby set off to speculate on the suspects, Mrs. Bantry has taken her friend to stay at the Majestic Hotel no sooner than the victim is identified as a former dancer Ruby Keene.

Enter Basil Blake, the young man who lives near the Bantrys’ and is infamously associated with late night ‘wild parties’ – mind, a naked woman in the bath tub is quite shocking over seventy years ago. It seems fitting to suppose that he and Keene know each other, particularly that he’s been seen at the hotel. What is more, he later admits to have dumped the body in Gossington Hall.

The disabled but rich Conway Jefferson drives away the attention from Blake for a while. Having reported Keene for being missing ‘out of concern, Jefferson who stays in the hotel along with his son-in-law Mark Gaskell and his daughter-in-law Adelaide (see The Most Fascinating Character) is evidently besotted by Keene. He tells the police that he would have

Emma Williams as Ruby Keene in 2004’s adaptation

adopted the eighteen-year-old girl; a decision that has been met with opposition from both Mark and Adelaide owing to his father-in-law having only met her over a month ago. There is another thing, too (see The Twists below).

The domineering personality of Jefferson, which is in contrast to the tortoise-like Colonel Bantry is a deliberate droll, as well as the hurting pride of Inspector Slack (of St. Mary Mead police) shadowed by his superiors from two different counties in addition to the former Scotland Yard Inspector Sir Henry. The latter is conveniently a friend of Jefferson’s (being a millionaire) and Miss Marple ( ‘The old lady knows everything that goes on in the village, that’s true enough. But she’ll be out of her depth here,’ says Inspector Slack to Colonel Melchett).

The dynamics among the male characters is more intriguing with Raymond Starr, the tennis coach and Keene’s dancing partner, who makes a move to Adelaide for her money and the Maleficent Mark who is almost broke. Both Adelaide and Mark gather that despite their father-in-law’s life spirit, he won’t live long.

As things get tensed among the men, the second body is found in a quarry: a burnt body of a female’s in George Bartlett’s car. He is the last person to have danced with Keene before she decides to go back to her room in the night of the murder. Meanwhile, the teenage Pamela Reeves has not gone back after the Girls’ Guide Rally in the same night.

How the two murders are linked is for you, readers, to find out.

As far as I am concerned, the book often comes out in the top ten of Christie’s. I’d rather think this is unjustified, for The Moving Finger (published first in the US in July 1942) is as intriguing. Furthermore, as Gossington Hall is revisited in The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side (1962), the now widow Mrs. Bantry reunites with Miss Marple to solve the poisoning of Heather Badcock in front of a small audience at the former library (sadly it has been knocked down to make for an open plan floor when the house was sold to the actress Marina Gregg). Some similarities can be drawn from the latter book, for just as The Body… Christie dwells on the raw emotions that surge as a result of the victims who have upset the killers.

I find it fascinating that there is a sombre mood in The Body…, which is unlike its predecessor Evil Under The Sun (1941). First, whilst Poirot is confident with his grey cells to catch the perpetrators, Miss Marple has doubts and seems beside herself. Second, the setting from Jolly Rogers Hotel to St. Mary Mead pinpoints the authoress’s concerns regarding the news from the front. Christie might have written The Body… during the London Bombing and amidst the uncertainty of the situation. But she managed to carry on writing. Her observation to the era  which still upholds the Victorian values on men’s attitude towards women is hard hitting but honest.

What I like most from is the vulnerability of each character. Keene, for example, is not a nice girl full of life after all. ‘She likes butting in,’ says Peter Carmody, the son of Adelaide’s. As for Edward, Jefferson’s valet, Keene would have been quite a schemer in another five years (see Clues). Her contemporary is Elsa Greer (Five Little Pigs, 1943). Likewise, Adelaide Jefferson reveals something to Mrs. Bantry despite her looking composed and a woman with a class.

Lastly is Miss Marple’s comparing Jefferson and Keene’s relationship to the tale of King Copethua and the Beggar Maid. Jefferson is the kind-hearted ‘king’ while Keene is Penelophon the maid the king has spotted on the street and taken her to his court. The king in the tale marries her after a month, but in Christie’s world Keene is killed after a month’s dancing at the hotel.

I wonder what has inspired Christi to draw the parallels; is it her feeling fascinated by the painting or her favourite poet Lord Tennyson’s The Beggar Maid? I wonder whether it is none of those but to remind women of the seemingly delicate Penelophon but a feisty one as the king’s mistress in the court.

Moreover is Reeves’s daydreaming, which sounds like Aesop’sThe Milkmaid and Her Pail Fable (see Clues). Only for Christie the life of these women must end. And yet she has left readers to guess how both Keene and Reeves actually die.

Finally, ‘A Blonde In The Library’ would make a better title. What do you think?

The Twists:

  • Josie Turner’s face turns angry when she comes to identify Ruby Keene’s body at Gossington Hall
  • Conway Jefferson has left Ruby Keene £50,000 in a trust until she turns 25
  • Rubby Keene stops her dance with George Bartlett because of her feeling sleepy and having a subsequent headache
  • The finger nails of the body in the library are short and chipped, but not trimmed. Her dress is cheap and her make-up is tawdry.
  • Pamela Reeves has a meeting with Mark Gaskell prior to her death

 

Cast of Characters:

Adelaide Jefferson (Conway Jefferson’s daughter-in-law)

The Beggar Maid Her arms across her breast she laid; She was more fair than words can say; Barefooted came the beggar maid Before the king Cophetua. In robe and crown the king stept down, To meet and greet her on her way; ‘It is no wonder,’ said the lords, ‘She is more beautiful than day.’ As shines the moon in clouded skies, She in her poor attire was seen; One praised her ankles, one her eyes, One her dark hair and lovesome mien. So sweet a face, such angel grace, In all that land had never been. Cophetua sware a royal oath: ‘This beggar maid shall be my queen!’ Lord Alfred Tennyson

Albert Briggs (a labourer at Venn’s quarry where a body in a burnt car is found)

The Bantrys (Colonel Arthur and Dolly)

Basil Blake (the Bantrys’s neighbour)

Conway Jefferson (a magnate and disabled man)

Dinah Lee (Basil’s wife)

Edward (Jefferson’s valet)

Florence Small (Pamela’s friend)

George Bartlett (a hotel guest who dances the last with Keene)

Miss Hartnell (a resident at St. Mary Mead)

Superintendent Harper (of Radfordshire Police)

Dr. Haydock (the forensic doctor who examines the body in the library)

Sir Henry Clithering (the ‘jobbing gardener’ who attends the case in a personal capacity)

Hugo McLean (Adelaide’s man – with whom she wants to marry)

Josephine Turner (Ruby Keene’s cousin)

Lorrimer (the Bantrys’s butler)

Mark Gaskell (Jefferson’s son-in-law)

Colonel Melchett (the Chief Constable of Glenshire)

Dr. Meltcaff (the forensic doctor who examines the burnt body at the quarry)

Peter Carmody (Adelaide’s son)

Raymond Starr (Josie’s dancing partner at the hotel and a tennis coach)

Constable Palk (St. Mary Mead’s police constable)

Mr. Prestcott (the hotel manager)

The Reeves (Pamela’s parents)

Inspector Slack (Palk’s superior)

Miss Wetherby (a resident at St. Mary Mead)

The Most Fascinating Character: Adelaide Jefferson

‘I’ve never been Frank’s widow to him- I’ve been Frank’s wife’

Mrs. Jefferson to Dolly Bantry

Tara Fitzgerald, actress and director, as Addie in 2004’s TV adaptation of the book. She is playing in BBC’s The Musketeers Series.

The loyal and obedient daughter-in-law of Conway Jefferson, Adelaide is a widow when Jefferson’s late son Frank marries her. Hence the presence of Peter, a bright ten-year-old boy who provides Miss Marple with a crucial evidence.

A fatal accident extinguishes Frank’s life and Mark’s wife Rosamund but spares the old Jefferson – now is disabled from waist down.

Adelaide depends on her father-in-law financially. For he has no idea that his son has left Adelaide and Peter little money due to the bad investment. Because of Peter she puts up with Jefferson’s domineering personality and continues to do so until the Summer.

For a few years she has known Hugo Mc Lean, of whom has proposed her. But then she has made up her mind to tell Jefferson that she would accept his proposal and that means she would leave him. In the meantime, Raymond Starr has made advances to her although little does he know that she is not as rich as he has thought.

Ruby Keene’s getting closer to Jefferson worries Adelaide. She does not like her for what she has been after; to Mrs. Bantry she concludes Keene as ‘a decided little gold digger.’ Furthermore she reveals her thinking of killing Keene to secure her son’s future. ‘Peter’s whole future depends on Jeff. Jeff practically looked on him as a grandson, or so I thought, but of course, he wasn’t a grandson. He was no relation at all. And to think that he was going to be – disinherited!’

When Mrs. Bantry tells Miss Marple about Adelaide’s relationship with Mc Lean and the fact that he is being devoted to the widow, here is Miss Marple’s response: ‘I know. Like Major Bury. He hang around an Anglo-Indian widow for quite ten years. A joke among her friends! In the end she gave in – but unfortunately ten days before they were married she ran away with the chauffeur! Such a nice woman, too and usually so well balanced.’

Did Miss Marple compare Adelaide to the Anglo-Indian widow? Did Adelaide know something else she wouldn’t tell?

Clues:

  • The victims in the words of the witnesses:
  • Ruby Keene

Josephine Turner to Colonel Melchett:

‘Her name was Ruby Keene – her professional name, that is. Her real name was Rosy Legge. Her mother was my mother’s cousin. I’ve known her all my life, but not particularly well, if you know what I mean. I’ve got a lot of cousins – some in business, some on the stage. Ruby was more or less training for a dancer. She had some good engagements last year in panto and that of sort of thing. Not really classy, but good provincial companies. Since then she’s been engaged as one of the dancing partners at the Palais de Danse in Brixwell – South London. It’s a nice respectable place and they look after the girls well, but there isn’t much money in it.

Now this is where I come in. I’ve been dance and bridge hostess at the Majestic in Danemouth for three years. It’s a good job, well paid and pleasant to do. You look after people when they arrive – size them up , of course- some like to be left alone and others are lonely and want to get into the swings of things….

I do a couple of exhibition dances every evening with Raymond. Raymond Starr – he’s the tennis and dancing pro. Well, as it happens, this summer I slipped on the rocks bathing one day and gave my ankle a nasty turn.’

Peter Carmody (PC) to Colonel Melchett and Superintendent Harper (SH):

PC: ‘Well, I didn’t like her much. I think she was rather a stupid sort of girl. Mum and Uncle Mark didn’t like her much either. Only Grandfather. Grandfather wants to see you, by the way. Edward is looking for you.’

SH: ‘So your mother and your Uncle Mark didn’t like Ruby Keene much? Why was that?’

PC: ‘Oh, I don’t know. She was always butting in. And they didn’t like Grandfather making such a fuss of her. I expect,’ said Peter cheerfully,’ that they’re glad she’s dead.’

SH: ‘Did you hear them – er- say so?’

PC: ‘Well, not exactly. Uncle Mark said: “Well, it’s one way out, anyway,” and Mum said: “Yes, but such a horrible one,” and Uncle Mark said it was no good being hypocritical.’

Edward the Valet to Sir Henry:

SH: ‘So you think Ruby Keene was a schemer?’

E: ‘She was quite inexperienced, being so young, but she had the making of a very fine schemer indeed when she’d once got well into her swings, so to speak! In another five years she’d have been an expert at the game!’

– Pamela Reeves

Florence Small(FS) to Miss Marple (MM):

MM: ‘What did Pam tell you?’

FS: ‘It was as we were walking up the lane to the bus – on the way to the rally. She asked me if I could keep a secret and I said “Yes,” and she made me swear not to tell. She was going t Danemouth for a film test after the rally! She’d met a film producer – just back from Hollywood, he was. He wanted a certain type, and he told Pam she was just what he was looking for. He warned her, though. Not to build on it. You couldn’t tell, he said, not until you saw a person photographed. It might be no good at all. It was a kind of Bergner part, he said. You had to have someone quite young for it. A schoolgirl, it was, who changes places with a revue artist and has a wonderful career. Pam’s acted in plays at school and she’s awfully good….’

‘So it was all arranged. Pam was to go into Danemouth after the rally and meet him at his hotel and he’d take her along to the studios (they’d got a small testing studio in Danemouth, he told her). She’d have her test and she could catch the bus home afterwards. She could say she’d been shopping, and he’d let her know the result of the test in a few days, and if it was favourable Mr. Harmsteiter, the boss, would come along and talk to her parents.

II. About The Copethua Complex :

Conway Jefferson to Superintendent Harper and Colonel Melchett:

‘So you must understand that, essentially, I’m a lonely man. I like young people. I enjoy them. Once or twice I’ve played with the idea of adopting some girl or boy. During this last month I got very friendly with the child who’s been killed. She was absolutely natural – completely naive. She chattered on about her life and her experiences – in pantomime, with touring companies, with Mum and Dad as a child in cheap lodgings. Such a different life from any I’ve known! Never complaining, never seeing it as sordid. Just a natural, uncomplaining, hard-working child, unspoilt and charming. Not a lady, perhaps, but thank God, neither vulgar nor – abominable word- ‘lady’like.’

I got more and more fond of Ruby. I decided, gentlemen, to adopt her legally. She would become –by law- my daughter. That, I hope, explains my concern for her and the steps I took when I heard of her unaccountable disappearance.’

III. A Crucial Clue

Peter Carmory to Miss Marple, Dolly Bantry and Sir Henry Clithering:

PC: ‘See, it’s a finger-nail. Her finger-nail! I’m going to label it Finger-nail Of The Murdered Woman and take it back to school. It’s a good souvenir, don’t you think?’

MM: ‘Where did you get it?’

PC: ‘Well, it was a bit of luck, really. Because, of course, I didn’t know she was going to be murdered then. It was before dinner last night. Ruby caught her nail in Josie’s shawl and it tore it. Mum cut it off for her and gave it to me and said put it in the wastepaper basket, and I meant to, but I put it in my pocket instead, and this morning I remembered and looked to see if it was still there and it was, so now I’ve got it as a souvenir.

DB: ‘Disgusting.’

PC: ‘Oh, do you think so?’

Notes On Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

I wish Mrs. McGinty as attractive as this woman!

Rating: 4 out of five

Year of Publication: 1952

Motive for Murder: Identity

Plot:

‘Mrs. McGinty’s dead. How did she die?

Down on her knees just like I.

Poirot’s splendid evening is interrupted by the presence of Superintendent Spence. He begs the detective to save the neck of a man whom the policeman has believed did not give his landlady a fatal blow on the back of her head. Nonetheless, James Bentley is remarkable. He is indifferent to the guilty verdict and unenthusiastic of being freed. Poirot wonders whether he cares to thank the upright superintendent whose conscience has told him that an innocent man may be hanged in three weeks’ time.

Over five months ago Mrs. McGinty was found by her next door neighbour in the parlour of her cottage. Lying on the floor, she had been dead for twenty-four hours. Her bedroom was in a mess; the floorboards were prised up and the little saving she had had underneath was gone. She had no family but a niece.

What other facts can the sleuth possibly unravel from the death of a cleaner? His curiosity prevails nevertheless. As he gets to know the five families where she used to go in in Broadhinny, he does not spot something amiss from them. Not until he finds out that the deceased bought a bottle of ink in the post office two days before her death does he began to think to whom the letter was written. By nature, she did not write much.

When he looks at her belongings, he unwraps a pair of her shoes and notices that the newspaper used dated three days before her death. The middle page of one of them was cut off. What news was she being interested at?

Meanwhile, the murder weapon has not been identified yet – other than something like a meat copper with a very sharp edge.

It is to the forgotten crimes Poirot seeks the answer.

Highlights:

Mrs. McGinty’s dead. How did she die?

Holding her hand out just like I.

Christie’s opposition towards capital punishment seems to be the focal point of the plot. On the one hand is a scrupulous police officer who has grown uneasy that a wrong man is likely to be sent to the gallows. On the other is a convict whose nonchalant behaviour irritates Poirot. The victim herself is  very intriguing, for what a simple woman like Mrs. McGinty might have done to be killed?

As for Poirot, there is no ‘glamour’ in the case; the deceased is a farmer’s daughter who earns her wage from being a charwoman in some homes. She does not leave much for the only relative, nor would the sleuth think of the niece the murderess.

Yet Mrs. McGinty likes to know people’s affairs. She is similar to Wilhemina Lawson (Dumb Witness, 1940) and Miss Gilchirst (see Notes On After The Funeral), of whom listen at the doors and checks the drawers for secret letters. What kills Mrs. McGinty is a faded photograph nevertheless.

Given her personality, the sleuth believes that the investigation must focus on the villain.‘….It is in the murderer and not the murdered that the interest of this case lies. Someone who wanted – what? To strike down Mrs. McGinty? Or to strike down James Bentley?’ The authoress puts forward three options to consider: is she the target? Is he the target? Did she die to incriminate him?

In the meantime, let’s postpone further thinking of the above choices. For Poirot faces a predicament staying at the Summerhayes’s home, the only guest house available in the village. Forget small inconveniences but the hostess’s disastrous cooking. And it is not better in the local pub, either. Moreover is being hit by an apple core on the cheek while walking on the country lane one afternoon. ‘Why, it’s M. Poirot,’ exclaims Ariadne Oliver. After sixteen years they are reunited (see Notes On Cards On The Table).

Still believes that a woman should be the Head of Scotland Yard, she drives in the village in order to save her Finnish detective character from being further ruined by Robin Upward, a promising playwright. For his idea for the adaptation of her novel into the stage is rather absurd to her mind. I wonder if Mrs. Oliver’s agitation might have been the reflection of the authoress’s about Alibi?

Be that as it may, I feel her appearance adds little to the plot. As hilarious as usual, she claims the village doctor as the most likely person to have done in Mrs. McGinty in a cold blooded manner. Furthermore, it gives chills to the bones when she realises that a murder to her hostess, Mrs. Upward, could have been carried out while she was sitting in the car outside the home.

A Victorian sugar cutter, the murder weapon found at the Summerhayes’s home.

Two bodies are not good news. To have found the missing murder weapon is a triffle thrilling nevertheless (see the illustration on the right box).  It is preceded by an attempt at Poirot’s life (‘Splendid news. Someone tried to kill me..’ he says to Superintendent Spence on the phone right after the incident).

The fascinating aspect Christie has brought up in the story is reactions of people towards a seemingly harmless article on the newspaper. Despite its accuracies and facts are exaggerated,  the piece has awakened a killer. At least a desire to kill in one of the pleasant inhabitants of Broadhinny.  As for a curious Mrs. McGinty, one of the photographs stirred her memory of having seen the same one in one of the homes to which she goes. And yet, there are the forgotten children of the victims of the bygone crimes.

As far as I am concerned the book sounds to start the reference to some famous Victorian murder cases. In the book the imaginary Eva Kane seems to resemble Kate Webster. In her later novel By The Pricking of My Thumb (1968), the children killer might have had a touch of the notorious Mary Ann Cotton, whose crimes spanned for twenty years. Likewise, Dead Man’s Folly (1956), Elephants Can Remember (1972) and Hallowe’en Party (1969) also explores the personal background of the criminals, whom get off scot-free due to lack of evidences.

Here is the killer that is far from being hidden nor kept in the dark by the authoress; a cat among the pigeons whose masks himself well. But for fragments of conversations heard by chance, Poirot would not have been able to know his identity. Then an old story book with the killer’s real name on it is discovered.

The use of force in the killing method suggests the sex of the killer. Although the diversions have been put in place by different assumptions, the strength deployed is a necessity. For the killer wants to ensure that the ‘danger’ has been eliminated. And there is an element of timing, too. In Christie’s books, such a methodical approach shows a brain behind it.

I least like the fact that Mrs. Oliver is there because of her profession, not her personality. For I am impartial about her; my favourite partner in crime of Poirot’s. I am not disappointed that her instinct is misleading, but for her wasting the time feeling frustrated to an overconfident male playwright. Yet, for whom the criticism Christie aimed at?

The hanging of Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans – the last dead penalty in Britain before the abolishment in the Parliament in 1969.

Lastly, has she been successful to make her points heard about the flaws in capital punishment? Halfway is on the verge of dropping the case. What keeps his going is Maude Williams (see The Most Fascinating Character), Bentley’s ex-colleague who takes too great an interest to the case. Does she say correctly that she has been driven by her feelings to the nonchalant convict?

On the other hand, supposing the implementation of capital punishment might help prevent the overcrowded of prisons in the UK nowadays, what would Christie have had to say?

On the whole, read the book with clear conscience, for justice is to whomever deserves, n’est-ce pa?

 

The Twists:

Mrs. McGinty’s dead. How did she die?

‘Like this…’

 

1964’s film adaptation of the book featuring Miss Marple. In all fairness, Poirot did not die yet at that time.

-Mrs. Upward lies to Poirot about her having seen the photograph of Lily Gamboll

-A smell of Mrs. Carpenter’s perfume in the living room of Mrs. Upward’s after the body is found

-Maureen Summerhayes is adopted, just like Robin Upward

-Maude Williams sees a man trying to get into Mrs. Wetherby’s barred windows using a ladder

-James Bentley forms the impression that Mrs. McGinty was talking about Mrs. Upward in relation to the newspaper article

-Maude Williams is Robin Upward’s half sister

Cast of Characters:

Mrs. McGinty’s dead. How did she die?

Sticking her neck out just like I

Mrs. Upward to Poirot

-Ariadne Oliver (the crime novelist who comes to stay with the Upwards)

-Mrs. Bessie Burch (Mrs. McGinty’s niece)

-Mrs. Elliot (the next-door neighbour who finds Mrs. McGinty’s body)

-James Bentley (the convict)

-Maude Williams (James’s friend who works at an estate agent office)

-Pamela Horsefall (the journalist who writes the article on the Sunday Comet)

-Mr. Scuttle (the partner at Messrs Breather & Scuttle, where James used to work)

-Superintendent Spence

-Mrs. Sweetiman (the woman at the post office)

Mrs. McGinty’s clients:

– The Carpenters (the husband, Guy, is an MP candidate and the wife, Eva)

-The Hendersons( a stepfather, a hypochondriac mother and the daughter Deidre)

-The Rendells (the husband a doctor and the wife Shelagh)

-The Summerhayes (the husband Johnnie and the wife Maureen)

-The Upwards (the mother an elderly, the son Lawrence is a playwright)

-Mrs. Wetherby

The Most Fascinating Character: Maude Williams

She approaches Poirot in a cafe and introduces herself after hearing his interview with Mr. Scuttle. Her look is described as ‘a very healthy young woman, with a full buxom figure that Poirot approved. About thirty-three or four and by nature dark-haired, but not one to be dictated by nature.’

Sarah Smart stars as Maude Williams in 2008’s Poirot series on ITV

She believes James Bentley is innocent. Initially Poirot thought her a woman whom has been in love to a very unimaginative man. If anything, she firmly stands for what she has chosen to believe.

A chance remark that brings a sudden note of bitterness in her voice makes him see her in a different light. More importantly is her slipping of the tongue about a fact that neither him nor Superintendent Spence has ever told anyone: what became Eva Kane after the trial of Dr Craig.

‘Evelyn Hope..?’

‘What’s that?’ she asks .

‘So you know that name?’

‘Why-yes…It’s the name Eva Whatshername took when she went to Australia. It-it was in the paper – the Sunday Comet.’

‘The Sunday Comet said many things, but it did not say that. The police found the name written in a book in Mrs. Upward’s house.’

‘Then it was her,’ she exclaims,’and she didn’t die out there…Michael was right.’

Convinced that her solid interest is to the above name, not Bentley’s freedom, he nonetheless must find out what she has meant that ‘Michael was right.’

Personally she is much useful a sidekick than Mrs. Oliver. For she has provided the sleuth with information about the murderer’s movement; without her understanding its importance in the first place.

In the end Poirot must ask her the truth. ‘Your real name is Craig?’ She nods.

‘I was brought up by some cousins – very decent they were. But I was old enough when it all happened not to forget. I used tothink about it a good deal. About her. She was a nasty bit of goods all right – children know! My father was just – weak. And besotted by her. But he took the trap. For something, I’ve always believed, that she did. Oh yes, I know he’s an accessory after the fact – but it’s not quite the same thing, is it? I always meant to find out what had become of her. When I was grown up, I got detectives on to it. They traced her to Australia and finally reported that she was dead. She’d left a son – Evelyn Hope he called himself.’

Thus her having applied a typist job at Broadhinny. This was done after having heard from a friend, a young actor, Michael that ‘Evelyn Hope’ had come from Australia.

Readers, I must stop here.

Clues:

I cannot think of any intriguing nor fascinating remarks. Nonetheless you should try this: http://www.funtrivia.com/playquiz/quiz2288361a337e8.html

Notes On Problem At Pollensa Bay

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1991

Motive for Murder/Crime: Wealth

Highlights:

In this compilation of eight marvellous short stories, Agatha Christie delights readers with the presence of her three male sleuths in six respective stories. Two stories each for Parker Pyne, the duo Harley Quin-Satterthwaite and Hercule Poirot ‘the police hound.’ In the two other, two women on a crossroads of their life are faced with difficult decision to make.

The map of Majorca, Spain where Parker Pyne has to resolve a rift between two women while on holiday.

Presumably first appeared in the UK magazines, seven of them were written in the twenties and in the  thirties. Only The Harlequin Tea Set was in 1971. Interestingly, the copyright of five of them were signed as Mrs. Mallowan; hence after her divorce in 1928.

Poirot’s cases concern with a reconstruction of a suicide and the death of an old eccentric well-to-do man who summons the Belgian to his home. In the former story, it starts when he receives a telephone call from a mysterious woman begging for his help. ‘…table with yellow irises,’ she sounds frightened  of being overheard. In the latter, a shot is heard moments after the first gong for dinner but a guest firmly believes of having heard the second gong. Four years later the same plot appears in Dead Man’s Mirror (see Notes On The Murder In The Mews) with alterations to the character names.

In the non-detective stories, two female protagonists must make her choice. On the one hand, it is between a dog or starvation in Next To A Dog; the dog being the very memory of a dead husband. On the other, Theodora Darrel undergoes a battle of will between loyalty vs happiness. Will she still walk out from her marriage having known that her husband has been in a serious charge of theft and fraud?

The Love Detectives (1926) seems to mark the early appearance of Harley Quin; an enigmatic man of whom his path is crossed with Mr. Satterthwaite’s on a number of occasions (see Notes On The Mysterious Mr. Quin). In a dark night both meets when their car collide; Sattwerthwaite is with Colonel Melrose on their way to a crime scene. An aristocrat has been killed with a bronze figure of Venus. Then his beautiful wife and a male guest whom stays over in the house confess of the murder. Who is one to believe?

Any readers who remember Mrs. Protheroe and Lawrence Redding     will understand what  occurs next in the story (see Notes On The Murder At The Vicarage).  The clock is changed to suit the alibi of a suspect and the study also becomes where the ‘thing’ happens. In Miss Marple’s case, however, the deceased’s wife and her lover state that they have shot the victim’s head from the back at close distance. Apt readers would soon realise the reason Mrs. Mallowan puts Colonel Melrose in the above-mentioned short story.

As for The Harlequin Tea Set, Mr. Satterthwaite’s visit to an old friend turns to be an adventure to prevent a murder.  Again, meeting Mr. Quin in a nondescript cafe, he gives the other a clue in a word. In this regard the authoress marvels at the association between Daltonism and the rainbow colours of the tea set. For the victim’s inability to distinguish between red and blue cups creates an opportunity for the murderer. Before the tea in a blue cup is drunk, Mr. Satterthwaite comes to the rescue.

I recall the recurring plot in S.O.S. (one of the stories in The Hound of Death). Mortimer Cleveland spots the three letters for a cry for help in his room. He has to figure out the appropriate course of action given that he has no evidence to substantiate. Likewise, Mr. Satterthwaite in the eleventh hour the switch of identity between two boys who have been raised as brothers; one has a colour blind and the other has not.

Forty-one years after twelve beguiling cases in The Mysterious Mr. Quin, I wonder what is the reception to the last case of Mr. Satterthwaite’s. He must have been very old, perhaps older than the authoress who was eighty one when it was published.

What I never cease to admire is the authoress’s agility in mind, with which her brain worked just the same. She may have ‘cooked’ a story using the ingredients, but the result is still a different ‘dish’ to peruse .

Joyce Lambert in Next to A Dog (1929) reminds me of Vivien Corzier in While The Light Lasts (1925). They have the same background; both are widows due to the Great War and continue to live shadowed by the memories of their husbands.

They are very different nevertheless. Corzier moves on and is remarried. She enjoys a comfortable life with a diamond ring on her finger. Joyce does not; life after the War is tough. She lives hand to mouth because she cannot give up an old dog which used to be her husband’s. Ten years afterwards time has come when she has to bite the bullet of having to agree to marry a man she hates for his money so she can keep the dog.

Magnolia Blossom intrigues me because of the intricacy of the catch twenty-two situation the protagonist in. In spite of having been married to a handsome and popular man wi

Dame Agatha and Sir Max Mallowan in Greenway with their dog. The house was reopened in 2009 and it has appeared in the adaptation of ‘Dead Man’s Folly into the Poirot series in autumn 2013.

th means, she is deeply unhappy. Her meeting the right man leads to her decision to elope with him. What happens when she is informed that the man is the one who is going to bring her husband down with some damning papers about the fraud? What choice does she have?

Personally, what is extraordinary is the appearance of Mrs. Mallowan’s less known sleuth, Parker Pyne. He calls himself ‘a specialist in unhappiness’ resolving a sense of futility between two women while on holiday in Majorca. In the other story he helps a man to save his neck after the loss of a diamond belonged to an American millionaire in the party he has attended.

Thus Problem At Pollensa Bay is chosen as the most favourite story owing to Pyne’s ingenuity to make the most of a man’s infatuation to women. Having involved an actress, all is better in the end.

This English gentleman’s sharp mind in The Regatta Mystery lies in his choice of words After describing the unfortunate event to the detective, Evan Llewellyn, the client remarks, ‘I can’t expect you to believe me [with the amazing story]– or anyone else.’ ‘Oh, yes, I believe you,’ replies Pyne. ‘You do? Why?’ ‘Not a criminal type,’ as Pyne continues, ‘not, that is, the particular criminal type that steals jewellery. There are crimes, of course, that you might commit – but we won’t enter into that subejct…’ A touch of Sherlock Holmes here; forthright and harsh.

Be that as it may, I am not satisfied with the way the solution is offered. There should have been more in the story before the jewel thieves are caught. And why has it always been an Italian mafia?

The best thing is the smartness of Mrs. Mallowan having created the likes of Poirot/Pyne/Satterthwaite. For the three of them have a balanced mind between the left and right side of their brains. First and foremost of their correct attitude  while dealing with the opposite sex. Furthermore, they listen to women’s gossiping and actually can converse with different types of women when a circumstance suits them.

Supposedly, they are intended to draw the line between the Victorian men and the new era and opportunities up for grab for women after the War. More importantly, Mrs. Mallowan is correct to make clean breast with the famous Sherlock Holmes, who tend to regard women simply as a nuisance.

Lastly, what more than to conclude that those eight stories are worth reading for? Together with the twelve stories in While The Light Lasts (see the Notes), the twenty of them will be sufficient to enter ‘Write Your Own Christie’ competition. Fancy to try?

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

 

1. Problem At Pollensa Bay

Soller in Majorca where Parker Pyne spends a week away from Adella Chester and Betty Gregg

Plot: On holiday in Spain Parker Pyne meets the Chesters; Adella the mother and her son Basilin as they stay at Pino d’Oro. The presence of the carefree artist Betty Gregg in the arms of Basil infuriates Adella, of whom disapproves the young woman’s way of dressing and talking.

Furthermore, she flatly refuses the idea of his marrying Miss Gregg. ‘Yes. Mr. Parker Pyne, you must do something. You must get my boy out of this disastrous marriage!’ she pleads.

As for Basil, he wishes his mother had had an open mind to accept his fiancée. Nonetheless, he is aware of Betty being quite stubborn about herself in front of his mother.

Mr. Pyne goes for a week to Soller. On his return he sees the two women have tea together. What has been going on? And why do they look pale?

Cast:

Betty Gregg (Basil’s girlfriend)

The Chesters (Adella and Basil)

Dolores Ramona (the Spanish woman to whom Basil is infatuated)

Nina Wycherley (Parker’s acquaintance)

Parker Pyne

The Twist: Miss Ramona is a false identity of an actress, of whom Parker Pyne has hired to seduce Basil Chester

 

2. The Second Gong

Plot: When the second gong of dinner is sounded, Joan Ashby hurries down the stairs. She thought she was late and at the same time argues with her friend about the accuracy of the fact.

For the first time in the history of Lytcham Close the first gong is delayed. For Hubert Lytcham Roche, the owner, instructs the butler to have done so. He has been waiting for Poirot, whose train has been delayed for half an hour.

Nobody in the house is informed about a sleuth’s presence, except the butler.  When he enters into the dining room apologising of his lateness, it dawns on the butler that his master is not among them.

Cast:

Diana Cleves (Hubert’s adopted daughter)

Digby (the butler)

Geoffrey Keene (Hubert’s secretary)

Gregory Barling (a financier, a suitor for Diana)

Hercule Poirot

Hubert Lytcham Roche (the victim)

Harry Dalehouse (Hubert’s nephew)

Joan Ashby (Harry’s friend)

John Marshall (Hubert’s agent)

Mrs. Lytcham Roche (Hubert’s wife)

Inspector Reeves

The Twist: the murderer sets for the shot to take place at 8.12 pm with his alibi in place. Yet the bullet hit the gong and he picks it up on his way to the study to join others.

 

3. Yellow Iris

Plot: An American millionaire has a strange way to celebrate the anniversary of the death of his wife four years ago. In a supper party in New York, Irish Russel was poisoned with potassium cyanide. The verdict came as suicide as the remaining poison was found inside the deceased’s handbag.

Unconvinced, her husband recreates the atmosphere in London. He invites all people who were in New York’s one with the cabaret and rolls of drums. This time, he wants to get to the bottom of it.

 

Cast:

Anthony Capell (Poirot’s acquaintance)

Barton Russel (an American millionaire)

Hercule Poirot

Senora Lola Valdez (an Argentine actress)

Luigi (the restaurateur at the club Jardin des Cygnes)

Pauline Weatherby (Barton’s young sister-in-law)

Stephen Carter (of foreign service)

The Twist: Pauline Weatherby is coming of age and will inherit her late sister’s wealth.

 

4. The Harlequin Tea Set

As sweet as love, as black as night, as hot as hell. That’s the old Arab phrase, isn’it?

Mr. Satterthwaite to Mr. Quin

 

Plot: Mr. Satterthwaite meets Harley Quin by chance in a village cafe. Over Turkish coffee they talk about a family, of whom Mr. Satterthwaite is going to visit. ‘Dantonism,’ says Mr. Quin as they part.

Having been reacquainted with members of the family of an old friend, Satterthwaite feels unease. He reckons that Roland, the grandson, does not  esemble much of his father except for his red hair.  Then he is intrigued with the similarity in built of Roland’s stepbrother, Timothy.

Something is going to happen, something is amiss. But what?

The Harlequin Tea Set

 

Cast:

Beryl Gilliat (Simon’s second wife)

Harley Quin

Dr. Horton (Thomas’s friend)

Inez Addison (Thomas’s granddaughter)

Mr. Satterthwaite

Thomas Addison (Mr. Satterthwaite’s old friend)

Roland Gilliat (Thomas’s grandson, Simon’s son)

Simon Gilliat (the late Lily’s husband who remarries)

Timothy Gilliat  (Roland’s stepbrother, Beryl’s son)

The Twist: Thomas Addison wears one red and one green pair of shoes when he greets Mr. Satterthwaite.

 

5. The Regatta Mystery

Plot: Isaac Pointz, a diamond merchant, showed everyone in the party about ‘The Morning Star’ on board of his yacht. The next evening Eve Leathern, who was present, bets that she can steal the precious stone and makes it disappear temporarily without everyone realising it.

The thirty-thousand pounds stone does vanish afterwards. It is clear that one of them has stolen it.

 

‘A pretty little place’ – Dartmouth in Devonshire, UK is fifteen minutes away by boat from Greenway, Agatha Christie’s holiday home.

Cast:

Evan Llewellyn (Pyne’s client)

Eve Leathern (Samuel’s daughter)

Isaac Pointz (Hatton Garden diamond merchant)

Mrs. Jane Rustington

Leo Stein (Isaac’s business partner)

The Marroways (Sir George and Lady Pamela)

Parker Pyne

Samuel Leathern (an American business acquaintance of Isaac’s)

The Twist: Pointz to Miss Leathern: ‘Eve. I take off my hat to you. You’re the finest thing in jewel thieves I’ve ever come across. What you’ve done with that stone beats me…’

 

6. The Love Detectives

Plot: Colonel Melrose receives a telephone call about the killing of Sir James Dwighton. Mr. Satterthwaite has been with the chief constable and therefore he accompanies the other to the crime scene at Alderway. On their way driving in the dark they almost collide with car coming from the opposite. In it is Mr. Quin.

At Alderway the three of them meets the deceased’s wife, Lady Laura. Apparently, prior to his husband’s death she had an affair with Paul Delangua, whom had been the guest in the house. The late Sir James then asked him to leave a week ago.

Things move in a different direction when both Lady Laura and her lover confess of a murder. She said to have shot her husband and he had stabbed him with a small dagger. Nonetheless, the cause of death is from a blunt instrument – the bronze figure of Venus.

Furthermore, in the crime scene Satterthwaite picks up a piece of glass. Not until Mr. Quin explains the solution to the case does Satterthwaite realise that the glass will save a man from the gaol.

Cast:

Inspector Melvin Curtis

Harley Quin

Jennings (the deceased’s valet)

Lady Laura Dwighton (the deceased’s wife)

Colonel Melrose (the local chief constable)

Paul Delangua (Lady Laura’s lover)

Mr. Satterthwaite

The Twist: Mr. Satterthwaite’s glass is an evidence that the deceased’s golf watch has not been smashed in his pocket.

 

7. Next To A Dog

Plot: A stranger helps Joyce Lambert takes her old dog to the vet. It has fallen while standing on the rotten window sill in a flat where she lives. Yet Terry the dog does not have long to live.

Earlier on the day she has agreed to marry a man she despises. Under one condition: Terry must live with them. For it is a living memory of Joyce’s late husband who dies in the War.

The death means that Joyce is now free. What will she do to the engagement? Who is the stranger who helps her?

Cast:

Mr. Allaby (who interviews Joyce for vacancy as a carer/governess)

Arthur Halliday (Joyce’s would-be husband)

Mrs. Barnes (Joyce’s landlady)

Joyce Lambert

Terry the dog

The Twist: Joyce Lambert breaks her engagement to Arthur Halliday

 

8. Magnolia Blossom

Plot: Vincent Easton is anxious whether Theodora Darrel will come. He is afraid that she has changed her mind to run away with him.

As for Mrs. Darrel, Easton is a fresh breath. She has been unhappy with her popular and handsome husband and in public she has been expected to play a happy couple. When she is introduced to Easton by her husband, she falls for him.

Richard Darrel knows that Easton is attracted to his wife. He lets Theodora get closer to the other man for his benefit. Darrel’s firm, Hobson, Jekyll and Lucas, has been under scrutiny by the authority and he realises that Easton is commissioned to look into the matter.When the papers begin to sniff the wrongdoing in the firm investment in South Africa, Darrel needs his wife. And he has a way to make her come back to him in spite of herself.

Cast:

Theodora Darrel is asked to wear an evening dress ‘the Calliot model’ to meet Vincent Easton for the papers.

The Darrels (Richard and Theodora)

Vincent Easton (an auditor)

The Twist: Vincent Easton gives the damning report about the firm to Theodora Darrel without wanting a penny for it.

 

 

Notes On The Listerdale Mystery

Rating: Four out of five

Year of Publication: 1934

Motive for Murder: Wealth

 

Highlights:

This delightful twelve short stories of Christie’s give her continuously growing readers (at that time) the flavour of her fond of plays and romance. Beginning with the mysterious disappearance of Lord Listerdale, her depiction of the recession in the aftermath of Great Depression is followed by a woman’s dream of killing her husband. The other ten crimes are a selection of affairs that are satirical, unprecedented and somehow ironical. And yet, some of them do not require bodies.

In this book Christie shows a variety of techniques in unravelling crimes, but nonetheless all of them are from the protagonists’ viewpoints. Furthermore, her having created of the twelve different characters are an intriguing choice. Suppose you could guess/remember them?

There they are briefly below:

1. A broke aristocrat woman who needs to find a home and marries off a daughter,

2. A series killer who looks as meek as a lamb,

3. A penniless aristocrat young man disowned by his rich uncle and tries to find his way about the world,

4. A woman’s plea to a retired well-known barrister about the murder of her elderly aunt,

5. An ordinary man jumps into a wrong car that is very similar like his and finds a diamond necklace in it

Bonny Parker; an inspiration for Lady Noreen and Jane Montresor, the Christie’s characters?

6. A retired Chief Inspector Detective who bumps into a murderess while staying over at his old friend’s house

7. A jobless woman in her twenties whose appearance and mannerism resembles a Duchess,

8. A parlourmaid discovers a ruby necklace in a basket of fruits she has bought,

9. A male writer who receives a mysterious phone call from a woman,

11. A man mixed up in a burglary,

12. A man is face-to-face with a ruby thief  having been deserted by the girl he fancies,

13. A famous opera star is adamant to perform Tosca in front of a private audience

(read the stories online here)

 

In Christie’s world, imagination is the key. In the plots disguises, gestures, countenance, the shadows of the past and good humour are interwoven into an unexpected ending.

More importantly, here is the thirties’ England. Not only do the stories discuss about the economy and more freedom for women but also the class attitude. While some have criticised that Christie cares more about the upper-class, they may consider the fact that perhaps her writing about them is to put the division of class, which is the culture, in perspective. In a nutshell, the upper-class people  are not trouble-free and although some might have been fed from a silver spoon they would have to work for their bread eventually. By the same token, being poor in itself might not be a bad thing; opportunities may arise from a bleak situation.

Take the example of The Manhood of Edward Robinson (see the plot). An ordinary low-class man -because ‘the middle class’ was not acknowledged yet-man caught up in the game of burglary of a socialite, her fiancé and her cousin.

At the beginning it seems to be a story of a whim of an ordinary man; to buy a dream car when all of a sudden he wins £500 in a naming competition. Then his finding a diamond necklace in the pocket of the car then introduces him to a daring act of the other class has done.

I am slightly disturbed with this ‘stealing for fun’ thing. Had it not for Edward Robinson, what would have occurred had the gang’s plot been ruined? Would their influential parents have bailed them out and silenced the police? Christie did remind readers of the risk; the fact that the fiance has racked his ankle after he injured himself while going down the windows in skirt (he was dressing as a girl maid). If this was the idea of excitement, as the socialite concerned tells Robinson: ‘It’s difficult for you to understand, I suppose. One gets so tired of the same thing – always the same thing…’, then it is hard for me to understand the whole thing either – upper-class or not.

I am fascinated about the inspiration for the duo thieves Lady Noreen and Captain James Folliot, V.C. Would they have been the English’s Bonny and Clide?

Overall, this compilation of stories is one not to be missed, particularly as they deliberate the nature of crimes and the factors behind them.

 

In the following I will describe the Plot in brief, the Twists and the Cast of Characters from each story (I omit Clues and The Most Fascinating Character):

 

  1. The Listerdale Mystery

Plot: Mrs. St. Vincent hates to see that the prospect of marriage of her daughter Barbara will be jeopardised owing to her dwindling wealth. Having worried about the next place to live, the elderly woman seizes the opportunity to acquire a cheap-rented house in an affluent neighbourhood without any questions asked to the agent. Nor does she seem to be bothered by the peculiar facts about the premises; that there is Quentin the butler and the servants’ wages still being paid by the owner.

But her son, Rupert, cannot rest his mind about those. For he knows that it belongs to Lord Listerdale, who left the house one day and has not come back. Did he die? Did he go abroad, perhaps East Africa? Or was he killed? A chance to reveal the mystery presents itself when Rupert happens to spot Quentin in a village and follows him going into a small cottage. Quentin, it turns out, is not a butler after all.

 

Cast of Characters:

Like Mr. Mosely in Downtown Abbey Series, Mrs. St. Vincent endures great hardship but will not accept charity. If Mr. Bates comes to rescue the ex-valet of the late Matthew Crawley, who would that be for a widow who lost wealth in the wrong investment?

The St. Vincents: Barbara (daughter), the widow mother and Rupert (son)

Quentin (the butler)

Quentin (the impostor)

 

The Twists:

-Rupert brings the real Quentin back to London to face his impostor

 

2. Philomel Cottage

Plot: Alix Martin has been married for a month. This is her third marriage; her previous two husbands have died. Every time she has the same dream: she saw her husband lying dead and Dick Windyford standing over him, and she knew clearly and distinctly that his was the hand which had dealt a fatal blow.

Dick Windyford is her ex-fiance and he happens to stay in the local inn in the village where the Martins live. He rings up Alix as an old friend, but she is afraid of Gerard’s knowing her past relationship with Windyford. Meanwhile, she also suspects about other women in Gerard’s life.

Until Alix looks into her husband’s papers and finds newspaper clippings of an American notorious bigamist and swindler, Charles Lemaitre; she never thought that her life has been in danger.

Cast of Characters:

Alix Martin (nee King)

Dick Windyford (Alix’s ex-fiance)

Gerald Martin (Alix’s husband)

 

The Twists:

– Gerald Martin looks angry when his wife tells him that their gardener came in on Wednesday instead of his usual Mondays and Fridays.

-Gerald comments on the bitterness of the coffee Alix has served after dinner

 

3. The Girl In The Train

Plot: What’s the use of a title without money? George Rowland is disowned, following his dispute with his uncle and his guardian. Intending to find his way about the world he catches a train at Waterloo when a young pretty woman suddenly appears in his carriage and asks him to hide her from ‘her uncle.’

When the coast is clear she then hands him a small packet. ‘Guard it with your life. It’s the key to everything.’ Then she alights. Will George see her again?

Cast of Characters:

Lady Elizabeth Gaigh

George Rowland

Detective-Inspector Jarrod (of Scotland Yard)

 

The Twists:

-George Rowland is given the task to follow a man with a small dark beard and wearing light overcoat

-George Rowland unexpectedly retrieves a stolen top-secret document from the man he has been shadowed

 

4. Sing a Song of Sixpence

Plot: Lily Vaughan is already quite old when she was struck with a blunt object at the back of her head. A day before her death she had a row with her niece, Emma, who had lived in the same house with her husband and the two siblings, Magdalen and Matthew.

The nursery rhymes might have been Christie’s favourite; ‘A Pocket Full of Rye’ was published later in 1953 while ‘Four and Twenty Black Birds’ is one of the short stories in The Adventure of Christmas Pudding (1960).

With nobody is arrested after three weeks the uneasiness among the four of them grow. They begin to suspect one another. Then Magdalen comes for help to a former barrister, of whom she has known some time ago on a voyage.   Was it an outsider job? Or, as Magdalen is inclined to believe – one of them?

When asked by police whether on the day the deceased saw a stranger in the house, Martha, the long-standing servant, said that there had been no-one. Nonetheless, during the investigation, the ex-barrister has noticed that Vaughan had a dispute with Martha regarding six-pence coins. What can he deduce from it? On his way home, his meeting with Matthew gives him an idea as to who the murderer is.

 

Cast of Characters:

The Crabtrees (William the husband and Emma the wife)

Sir Edward Palliser, K.C. (a famous ex-barrister)

Magdalen Vaughan (who comes for help to Sir Edward)

Martha (who looks after Aunt Lily for thirty years)

Matthew Vaughan (Magdalen’s brother)

 

The Twists:

–          In the deceased’s velvet bag there is no new six pence coins but two old ones

–          Martha lies to the police that she saw no stranger received by her mistress on the day of the murder

 

5. The Manhood of Edward Robinson

Plot: Cashing in £500 from a competition is Edward Robinson’s wildest dream. With an eye from a red sport car within the budget, the ordinary Robinson does not blink an eye to have spent the money for such a beauty. Besides, for once he wants to indulge himself before Christmas.

At a spot he gets off the car after dark and wanders for a while before coming back. When he reaches for his muffler in his shiny car, he cannot find it but a diamond necklace. Having found a note, he realises that somebody else has the same car and has mistakened Robinson’s as his.

The next thing he knows is a brush of life with the upper-class; Lady Noreen, the IT girl about England engineers a fake burglary act with her fiancé Jimmy and her childhood friend Gerald. It was Jimmy who has driven the wrong car and it is Robinson, who was supposed to be Gerald’s brother, who delivers the loot.

What happens to Jimmy? What will Robinson do when the necklace is thrusted on him?

 

Cast of Characters:

Edward Robinson

Gerald Champneys (Lady Noreen’s friend and sidekick)

Marchesa Bianca (a.k.a. Maud, Edward’s fiancée)

Lady Noreen Elliott (an English socialite)

 

The Twists:

–          Gerald’s Champneys’ brother’s name is Edward

 

6. Accident

Plot: An ex-CID Evans stays over the weekend in his old friend’s house and spots a woman who was acquitted of the murder of her late husband. She is the friend’s neighbour and has been remarried to a retired professor of Chemistry.

Evan meets her again at the village fete and is then invited to tea afterwards. She prepares three cups of tea: one for him, one for her and the other for her husband. But which one contains the poison?

 

Cast of Characters:

Evans (an ex-Chief Inspector Detective)

George Merrowdene (Captain Haydock’s neighbour, Margaret’s second husband)

Captain Haydock (Evans’s old friend)

Margaret Merrowdene (the former Mr. Anthony who is acquitted of murder)

The Twist:

-Evans asks Mrs. Merrowdene to drink a cup of tea she has made for her husband

 

7. Jane In Search of a Job

Plot: Jane Cleveland is already near to the bones when she notices an intriguing advertisement on a paper. If a young lady of twenty-five to thirty years of age, eyes dark blue, very fair hair, black lashes and brows, straight nose, slim figure, height five feet seven inches, good mimic and able to speak French…

Unbeknown to her it is the door to two-thousand pounds she yearns and her being introduced to a princess from East Europe. From plain Jane to a princess lookalike, Cleveland is prepared as a substitute to the princess in a charity event due in two days’ time.

Things go smooth until Cleveland, now an American journalist Miss Montresor, is kidnapped after she finishes playing her part. The next day on the papers’ headline: ‘American Girl Bandit in England. The Girl in the Red Dress. Sensational hold-up at Orion House Bazaar.’

Jane’s life is finished.

 

Cast of Characters:

1930’s red velvet long dress – as worn by Jane Cleveland?

-Anna Michaelovna (the Duchess’s chaperone)

-Detective-Inspector Farrel

-Feodor Alexandrovitch (Count Streptich, the Duchess’s aid)

-Jane Cleveland (the princess’s impostor)

-Her Highness The Duchess Pauline of Ostrova (the princess)

-Prince Poporensky

 

The Twists:

-The Duchess wears a pair of low-heeled shoes

-Jane wears the flame-coloured marocain frock when she wakes up; the red dress of a woman perceived to be a robber in a charity event attended by the Duchess

-Jane Montresor the journalist becomes ‘an American bandit girl in England.’

8. A Fruitful Sunday

Plot: A parlourmaid on her day off is taken to a tour in a new Baby Austin and moans about her arrogant employer to her company and her dreaming about the great things a girl might have.

Two shillings of a basket of strawberries and at the bottom of it is a ruby necklace – right after she read about a ruby necklace worth fifty-thousand pounds missing.

Soon she is in a dilemma; whether to keep the treasure or return it to the rightful owner.

Cast of Characters:

-Dorothy Pratt (the parlourmaid)

– Edward Palgrove (Dorothy’s friend)

 

The Twist:

Palgrove shows Pratt an advertisement: ‘…Baskets of fruit were sold yesterday and will be on sale every Sunday. Out of every fifty baskets, one will contain an imitation necklace in different coloured stones…’

 

9. Mr. Eastwood’s Adventure

Plot: A writer, who answers the plea of help of a stranger woman, is arrested on the suspicion of murder of another woman. He has been perceived as a murderer on the run.

To clear his name he invites the two Scotland Yard officers to his flat. As they conduct a search throughout, little does he realise what awaits his fate: a tale of a Jewess jewel thief, two fake policemen and a collection of silver enamels lost in a blink of an eye.

 

Cast of Characters:

–          Anthony Eastwood (the writer)

–          Detective-Inspector Verral

–          Sergeant Carters

–          Inspector Driver (the real police constable)

 

The Twists:

–          Anna Rosenburg is indeed murdered by Conrad Fleckman

–          Carmen Ferrarez, the Spanish woman to whom Eastwood answers her begging of help, is part of a thief gang.

 

10. The Golden Ball

Plot: A young man in a crossroads of his life has to find £20,00 per year to prove his worth to his arrogant uncle. While he looks like at sea, suddenly a girl about the town, a mere stranger to him, asks him to get into her car. ‘How would you like to marry me?’ she pops up the question, in spite of her engagement to a Duke having been announced on papers.

During their drive around London the girl suggest gatecrash into someone’s house. Yet, a robbery has been taking place in the premises and the two of them must join the lady of the house to be kept together in a room. The man’s quick thinking renders the situation as he strikes down the burglar.

To his surprise, it is not a real situation but a test of chivalry. For the girl has the amount of money required but he has no longer wants to marry her. ‘To go to one’s knees on any woman is degrading. I will not do it,’ he says to her. But then, how will he get the money without losing his pride?

 

Cast of Characters:

Bella Wallace (Rube’s wife, who acts as Mrs. Pandonstrenger per Mary’s instruction)

Ephraim Leadbetter (a City financier, George’s uncle)

George Dundas (the man, Ephraim Leadbetter’s nephew)

Mary Montresor (the girl, a Duke’s fiancée)

Rube Wallace (an actor, who is paid by Mary to play a robber part)

 

The Twist:

–          George Dundas slips because of a banan skin and knelt in the mud before her.

 

11. The Rajah’s Emerald

Plot:  It is a holiday in hell for James Bond when a woman he fancies and takes her on a seaside holiday seems to desert him for another man.

While in his hopeless search of a beach hut on a busy day at the beach, Bond dares enter one to change. The next thing he knows there is a stone the size of a pigeon’s egg in the trousers’ pocket he has worn.   Later he understands that it is a stolen emerald belonged to the Rajah of Maraputna, the guest of Lord Edward Campion.

 

Cast of Characters:

-Claud Sopworth (the man Grace meets in a hotel during her holiday with James)

-Lord Edward Champion (the owner of the emerald)

-Grace (James’s girlfriend)

-James Bond (the man)

-Detective-Inspector of Merrilees (who investigates the missing emerald)

 

The Twists:

-James Bond wears the wrong pair of trousers when changed

-Detective –Inspector Merrilees is Jones, Lord Edward Champion’s valet who stole the precious stone

 

12. Swan Song

Plot:  Paula Nazorkoff, a French opera star with glowing reputation, is a perfectionist and short-tempered person. She comes to London for shows at Royal Theatre and is enquired for a private performance at Rustonbury’s Castle. She will accept under a condition: to sing nothing else but ‘Vissi D’Arte’ from her favourite Tosca.

Hours before the performance, the tenor singer is poisoned. Fortunately, near to the castle lives a famous ex-baritone singer, who agrees to replace the unlucky man. Who would have thouHoght but one that the whole thing has been arranged as a murder plot; a revenge for a life that could have been saved?

 

 

Cast of Characters:

–          Blanche Amery (Lady Rustobury’s daughter)

–          Mr. Cowan (Paula’s agent)

–          Eduard Breon (French, a famous ex-baritone singer who lives near Rustobury’s Castle)

–          Elise (Paula’s French maid)

–          Paula Nazorkoff ( an Italian famous opera singer who comes Lord Rustonbury’s dwelling)

–          Signor Roscari ( an Italian tenor singer who would have performed with Paula)

 

The Twists:

–          Eduard Breon does not recognise Bianca Capelli as Paula Nazorkoff

–          Mr. Cowan is surprised to have heard Nazorkoff’s saying that she was Russian

Notes On Towards Zero

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1944

Motive for Murder: Hatred

Plot:  Audrey Strange is on the verge of facing the court, having become a suspect for the murder of an elderly aristocrat woman at her house, Gull’s Point. With all evidences points to her, there is little doubt about her being guilty to anyone but Superintendent Battle. For the look in her eyes reminds him of his daughter’s.

Sylvia Battle admits to have stolen a number of things at school. Miss Amphrey, the headmistress, summons her father to lay all the facts against the sixteen-year-old girl. Interestingly, there is no evidence in the case but Sylvia’s confession. ‘I wanted, not to confront her with her guilt, but to get her to admit it herself. I set a little test for her – a word association,’ says Amphrey. Whilst Superintendent Battle does not answer to her accusation, to his daughter he says: ‘…you are not a thief. You’re a very unusual type of liar…’

On a night in September Angus McWhirter revisits Sharkhead near Gull’s Point. For months beforehand he attempted to take his life on that spot. Then he happens to see a woman who is about to do the same. He stops her. ‘Afraid,’ says Audrey Strange. ‘What are you afraid of?’ he asks. ‘I am afraid of being hanged..’

What does McWhirter’s presence at Sharkhead have to do with the murder? Meanwhile, Superintendent Battle is running out of time. For the blow in the head of the woman has been planned to its minute detail in order to implicate Strange for the killing. Can he prove Strange’s innocence by way of evidence? While his daughter’s case gives Battle an idea, he has realised that he  deals with a most peculiar mind he has ever known in his career.

 

Highlights:

Superintendent Battle to the rescue! After thirteen years of absence, “the cool man” makes a comeback with a case similar to Murder Is Easy (1931) – see the Notes.

A teenage daughter in trouble, a man’s failure of committing suicide and a hate crime do not seem to yield any association at first to readers. As for Christie, weaving three separate issues into a thread of mind of a murderer is vital, if not how the seemingly confounding case will be resolved. Although the image of a murderer is captured through varied viewpoints, it is far from the technique the authoress used to unmask a number of murderers in a picturesque English village. Unlike Luke Fitzwilliam, Superintendent Battle is an active officer, albeit being called on duty during holiday to assist his nephew, Inspector James Leach, on the case. More importantly, he is a father having to deal with a delicate domestic issue; not a single ex-policeman just coming back from India.  Murders follow him, just as Hercule Poirot in the preceding war-time novel Evil Under The Sun (1941) – see the Notes.

Furthermore, halfway through the plot readers will see Christie’s mirroring a scene to another as in the case of Battle’s teenage trouble and the framing of Audrey Strange to the murder of Lady Tressilian.

To begin with, four people come to stay for a fortnight at Gull’s Point: Audrey’s ex-husband Nevile,   his pretty second wife Kay and Audrey’s childhood friend Thomas Royde. A recipe for disaster as the ‘triangle of love’ among Audrey-Kay-Nevile develops into continual tension between Kay and Audrey, for Nevile wants both women to be “friends.” Coupled with Royde’s shadowing  Audrey, the conflicts that erupt in the house lead to Nevile’s dispute with Lady Tressilian moments before she is killed with a blunt instrument.

Then Christie drops vital clues to the crime in the first few chapters, which also serves as an introduction to a number of minor characters. Besides the above-mentioned names, there are others: an ex-judge who is a friend of Lady Tressilian’s late husband, Edward Latimer, Kay’s friend who stays at a nearby hotel opposite Sharkhead and Angus McWhirter for sure (see Clues).

At this point, here are the questions: what makes Thomas Royde visit Gull’s Point after being abroad for quite a few years? Does Edward Latimer choose his hotel near to Kay’s husband’s godmother on purpose?

Be that as it may, what is most fascinating to my mind is the title. It is neither an irony nor pleasant in the least, for the killing is a goal: the zero hour. In fact, somehow it bears the same spirit as Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty.

At the beginning of the book, the octogenarian ex- judge Mr. Treve – Lady Tressilian’s late husband’s friend- is perceived to be vague, having said that a murder is an end result of careful planning.  ‘All converging towards a given spot…And then, when the time comes – over the top! Zero Hour. Yes, all of them converging towards zero..’ Words that then are dismissed as having no meaning to his audience and will be reflected by readers after his death. The cause? Heart attack – quite a natural one for his age. Yet, the night before, he was resigned to take flights of stairs to his room as the lift had apparently been ‘out of order’ (see The Twists). Then he had dinner in his hotel near to Gull’s Point with two guests of the house.  During the time Treves made a remark about a certain physical mark that recalls him to a convicted man (see Clues). His passing words then alarmed someone, much as it was simply a reflection. Intriguingly, what triggered him to say it?

In the meantime, there is Kay’s secret admirer, Edward Latimer. Curiously he worries about her staying at Gull’s Point. What does Edward have to worry about – the jealousy of an ex-wife? Or, does he feel something more sinister would happen when two women who love the same man are under one roof?

Angus McWhirther’s revisiting the scene of his failed suicide attempt is interesting. Here is a man who has come back from death, saved by the trees jutting into the sea. His being there saves Audrey Strange; a heroic act that is alike to Harley Quin’s in The Man From The Sea (The Mysterious Mr. Quin, 1932 – see the Notes). It is a prophecy fulfilled; the one uttered by a nurse at a nursing home where McWhirter recuperates. ‘It may be just by being somewhere – not doing anything – just by being at a certain place at a certain time…’ The rest for McWhirter and Strange is the same as Luke Fitzwilliam and Bridge Conway. You know the latter, don’t you?

What is most interesting about Latimer, Treve and McWhirter are their brief but brilliant appearance. The three of them are strangers which alter things. For Superintendent Battle, McWhirter is a God’s send for a main witness. Treves almost recognises a murderer despite many years have passed. Most importantly, Latimer’s statement of a pungent smell in his hotel on the night of the murder and his having kept missing to spot Nevile Strange are crucial to the investigation.

In this book Christie enquires the nature of a crime: is it an act of taking life by either a weapon or a physical force or is it an act of mind, who means to get away from it and awaits the fruit of their labour?

Despite her brilliant way of telling tales and drawing readers’ attention to another suspect, my criticism to the plot concerns with little details and references.

First of all, it is unusual for the authoress to have left some loose ends. What happened to Sylvia Battle after her father having challenged the Headmistress to call police? Was her name cleared afterward and how? Will she find a better school pending the investigation?

Second of all, Mary Aldin, Lady Tressilian’s companion (see The Most Fascinating Character).  She is mentioned to have entertained herself by some ‘childish experiment’ out of boredom. What kind of things? I have to wonder about it and whether one of them is to leave a placard ‘out of order’ in front of a hotel lift.  Perhaps ringing a bell in the Lady’s room to call her maid?

Third of all, I have my reservation with Battle’s experiment to get the murderer’s confession. Here he meets one of the most cunning minds that strikes an old woman without a blink of an eye. In the end, the murderer falls into believing that there was a witness. Would he believe Battle then? I sincerely doubt it. Not for someone who has planned a murder for nearly a year.

Nonetheless, Christie’s witty humour wins her readers’ heart after all. The choice of the name ‘Strange’ for a suspect, although there is Mrs. Lestrange in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Then a launderette girl who is confused with two very similar dark blue suits and an unhappy customer Angus McWhirter.

On the whole, I would recommend this book as it requires readers to look into crime as a culmination of events and a lesson on human’s limited intelligence.

 

The Twists:

-Angus McWhirter has the same dark blue suit as Nevile Strange’s

-Angus McWhirter states that he sees a man climbing up a rope towards Gull’s Point on a rainy night on Monday

-Kay Strange believes that Lady Tressilian’s money would have come to her upon the other’s death

-Thomas Royde loves Mary Aldin

-The wire of Lady Tressilian’s bell runs along the ceiling in the house

-Edward Latimer cannot swim

– Jane Barrett gives Nevile Strange an alibi

 

Cast of Characters:

Audrey Strange (Nevile’s ex-wife)

Superintendent Battle

Lady Camilla Tressilian (Nevile’s godmother)

Edward Latimer (Kay’s friend)

Inspector James Leach (Battle’s nephew)

Jane Barrett (Lady Camila’s maid)

Kay Strange (Nevile’s second wife, Edward’s friend)

Mary Aldin (Lady Camilla’s companion)

Sylvia Battle (Superintendent’s daughter)

Thomas Royde (Kay’s cousin and childhood friend)

Treves (ex-judge, Lady Camila’s late husband’s friend)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Mary Aldin

 

Julie Graham is Mary Aldin in the novel adaptation into television series (Miss Marple’s – series three) in 2007

What is a life of a companion? We know some of her kind: Katherine Grey   (The Mystery of The Blue Train– see the Notes), Amy Carter (The Labours of Hercules – see the Notes) and Miss Gilchrist (After The Funeral – see the Notes). A supposedly altruistic personae whose status is higher than a maid but an equal wage with no pension. It is by their mistress’s favour that they see to their companions’ welfare; some are fortunate but others might not get a cent and are left worried silently about their future.

It is interesting that most companions in Christie’s book occur to be a single woman. With no clear job description and working hours they also have to attend to the whims of their mistresses and hear about family feuds and past life. I wonder to what extent those would insult their intelligence, for they must play part as a listener, in addition to be obedient at all times.

Mary Aldin has served Lady Tressilian’s for twelve years prior to the aristocrat’s death. A distant cousin of the other, Aldin knows Nevile Strange, Audrey Strange and Thomas Royde well. She manages the servants and knows the habits of her mistress and her maid, Jane Barrett.

During her interview with Battle and James Leach, she refuses the idea of the killing of Lady Camilla as ‘a defenceless old woman in bed.’ Furthermore, she does not believe that it was Nevile’s idea that Audrey and Kay should meet at Gull’s Point.

Aldin’s calm nature makes her uneasy to be read. Battle’s visit to her room sums up the kind of personality Aldin is. ‘She’s not so conservative. No photographs either. Not one who lives in the past.’

Yet to Mr. Treves, the old ex-judge, she compares notes during the dinner at Gull’s Point about the others. After his death she relays to Superintendent Battle about Treves’s words concerning  a murderer to Battle. ‘I took it that it was a boy the story was about – but it’s true Mr. Treves didn’t actually say so – in fact I remember now – he distinctly stated he would not give any particulars as to sex or age.’

Her statement confirms McWhirter’s that the ex-judge held information he had not supposed to. Was the judge then murdered because the murderer had remembered who he was?

In the end, all ends well for Mary Aldin; the way Christie did for Katherine Grey.

 

Clues:

Superintendent Battle to Sylvia Battle:

‘…I am a policeman I know well enough you’re not a thief. You never took a thing in this place. Thieves are of two kinds, the kind that yields to sudden and overwhelming temptation – (and that happens damned seldom – it’s amazing what temptations the ordinary normal honest human being can withstand) and there’s the kind that just takes what doesn’t belong to them almost as a matter of course. You don’t belong to either type. You’re not a thief. You’re not a very unusual liar.’

Sylvia began, ‘But -’

‘You’ve admitted it all? Oh, yes, I know that. There was a saint once –went out with bread for the poor. Husband didn’t like her. Met her and asked what there was in her basket. She lost her nerve and said it was roses – he tore open her basket and roses it was – a miracle! Now if you’d been Saint Elizabeth and were out with a basket of roses , and your husband had come along and asked what you’d got, you’d have lost her nerve and said “Bread”.’

Mr. Treves to Mary Aldin:

‘Rather an interesting shaped head – a curious angle from the crown to the neck- rendered less noticeable by the way he has his hair cut, but distinctly unusual. The last man I saw with a head like that got ten years’ penal servitude for a brutal assault on an elderly jeweller.’

‘Surely,’ exclaimed Mary,’you don’t mean -?’

‘Not at all, not at all. You mistake me entirely. I am suggesting no disparagement of a guest of yours. I was merely pointing out that a hardened and brutal criminal can be in appearance a most charming and personable young man. Odd, but so it is.’

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.