Notes on The Moving Finger

Rate: 4 out of five

Year of Publication: 1943

Motive for Murder: Greed

 

Plot:

In a sleepy Lymstock, nothing untoward happened. Peace was the norm in the idyllic village: no wars, no bombs.  Until the first murder occurred.  The Symmingtons’ housemaid body was found cold in the downstairs’ cupboard with a blunt force trauma in her head. A week beforehand, Mona Symmington committe suicide.

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Chilham village in Kent, the filming location for fictitious Lymstock in 2006’s adaptation of Miss Marple series.

 

Anonymous hate letters had circulated, as the poison pen  spread scare among the villagers. Despite their being defiant about the letters, fears and anxiety increased being a target of abhorrent accusations.

In the meantime, Megan Hunter saw something on the day her mother died. A young girl of twenty, she was often seen wandering round the village either in her bike or on foot. Aimee Griffith disliked her idleness, whereas some had sympathy to the girl whose mother paid little attention to her.

She saw something she wasn’t supposed to see. As she realised what would happen next, it was nobody but her who could prevent it become materialised. Could she trust herself to take a high risk to save her life and others?

 

Highlights:

In today’s social media age, the tales of fake news and rampant finger pointing are ubiquitous; the internet trolls that spewed poisonous comments then propelled an issue to a much larger scale and onto a different level.

The devastating impact of hoaxes had also left imprints in Christie’s world; Elinor Carlisle receiving spiteful letters after her engagement in Sad Cypress(1940) and Dr. Charles Odfield asking for Poirot’s help to clear his name due to rumours about his poisoning his late wife in the Labours of Hercules (1947). If vile letters were exist in those books to flavour to a plot, in The Moving Finger the issue became the epitome of an abuse in words.

From the onset Christie put forward the various effects of libels for their respective recipients. To the brother and sister Jerry and Joanna Burton, such was an expression of alienation to foreigners that strengthens the villagers’ watchful glance towards them and their quiet sighing to their cosmopolitan behaviour. To Dick Symmington the solicitor, his reputation, having only opened his practice for a few years, was at stake.

Supposed the book was a blank painting canvass,  Christie then had morphed it into a Jackson Pollock ; the dialogues were the outpourings of characters’ mind while delivering blatant criticism on society.

I have noticed that the books Christie had written during the War may carry the homogenous spirit of being bold and fearless about life. They expose the worst in human’s nature that leave pins and needles sensations in their wake.

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London Children during The Blitz 1940

 

As far as I am concerned, Christie stayed put in London during the War. Her decision was made mainly because of her daughter, Rosalind Hick, whose first husband Hubert de Burgh Pritchard was on an active service an died in 1944.

Come what may, the book touched nothing about the War, although the apparent distress which engulfed Lymstock might have mirrored the uncertainty of the War. Clearly Christie banned any mention of it, but turned the sky of ostensibly picture-perfect setting of the countryside into a cloud of vultures circling an area where a carcass of crime is identifiable and the smell of it inevitable.

Enter the young village doctor Owen Griffith and the orphan Megan Hunter. Together with the Burtons Christie spun the plot around the four of them. Jerry seemed to be an extrovert version of Colonel Hastings; Joanna’s carefree attitude paralleled to Giselda Clement (Murder At The Vicarage) and Dr. Griffith might have been Dr. James Sheppard – only younger and more handsome.

As circumstances altered and characters changed, attention turned into Aimee Griffith, Owen’s older sister.  A semblance to Catherine Sheppard, Aimee was atypical spinster character in other books (see more on The Most Fascinating Character). Likewise, Mona Symmington could be likened to Mrs Ferrars (see Notes On The Murder of Roger Ackroyd).  By the same token, Mr. Ackroyd’s housekeeper Miss Russel had the same traits to Mrs Cane de Althorp  – their detecting ‘bad smell’ in people.

The plot saw Christie’s  marvelling at putting the right dose between feeding excitement and inducing sinister sentiments. Clues dropped in unexpected situations obscured in an ambiguous tone. Whilst it could be quite confusing at times, her sticking to Jerry’s viewpoint held together the loose ends.

As expected, the subplots bore comparable details in her previous books. Nonetheless,  it takes a skilful writer with tricks up her sleeves to pinch a detail and combine it with others to create an entirely different setting. Halfway  I felt I could guess whodunit although I realised that the theatrical touch in it would only make sense as I turned to the last chapter.

Miss Marple remained behind the screen until the last five thousand words.  Meanwhile, some readers might have asked themselves whether the Burtons had been a one-off Tommy and Tuppence. Only in the end it explained the police’s involving Jerry in the investigation in spite of the fact he was a suspect.

To conclude, it is a Miss Marple book that deserves more recognition among Christie’s fans. It’s more than the craft of the plot, but a study of point of views: have we seen an issue in a bigger picture?

 

The Twists:

-Dick Symmington donated his old typewriter to the Women’s Institute

-Megan Hunter’s father was imprisoned for blackmail

-Aimee Griffith wrote the anonymous letter to Elsie Holland

– Joanna Burton received a hate letter that was intended for Emily Barton

– Mrs Dane Calthrop roped in help from an old friend: Miss Marple

– Emily Barton’s prayer book with ripped pages used by the Poison Pen in different anonymous letters was found in the Symmingtons’ downstairs cupboards

 

Cast of Characters:

– Mrs. Baker (Beatrice’s mum; Beatrice a housemaid at Little Furze)

– The Burtons (Joanna and Jerry)

– The Dane Calthrops (Reverend Caleb and his wife)

– Elsie Holland (a governess at the Symmingtons)

– Emily Barton (whose house Little Furze was rented out to the Burtons)

– Florence (Miss Barton’s former maid)

– Miss Ginch (Dick Symmington’s secretary in the law office)

– Inspector Graves (Scotland Yard)

– The Griffiths (Owen the village doctor and Aimee who ran girl’s guide)

– Marcus Kent (Jerry Burton’s doctor)

– Megan Hunter (Mona Symmington’s daughter from her first marriage)

– Superintendent Nash

– Partridge (the cook at Little Furze)

– Sergeant Perkins

– Mr Pye (the proud owner of Prior’s Lodge who has a penchant for antiques)

– The Symmingtons (Dick the lawyer and his wife Mona)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Aimee Griffith

Christie’s crime novels have a number of spinsters in them; from Miss Marple herself to Kirsten Lindstrom (Ordeal by Innocence); from Cecilia Williams (Five Little Pigs) to Nurse Jessie Hopkins (Sad Cypress).

Aimee Griffith is not just another one. In her most renowned book, Christie establishes Dr. Shepepard’s sister’s reputation being a chief gossip in King’s Abbot right from the beginning. On the contrary,  she introduces Aimee as just one of Jerry Burton’s encounters with the villagers without a hint of importance to her role. Her presence is more often due to her access to a typewriter the police have believed being used to type the poisonous letters.

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Jessica Hynes as Aimee Griffith in 2006’s Miss Marple series

 

She disapproves  Megan Hunter; her being the daughter of ‘the wrong un’ To Jerry Burton, Aimee is rather overwhelming. ‘Too much an Amazon for me,’ heremarks to Joanna once.

Unlike other fore-mentioned spinster characters, Aimee is good looking. She is comfortable in her own skin and bold, although she seems to be on guard with words and tends to keep her ideas to herself.

In her absence still there are echoes of her. She argues with Jerry about gender equality with  apparent franknesss. ‘It is incredible to you that women should want a career. It was incredible to my parents. I was anxious to study for a doctor. They would not hear of paying the fees. But they paid them readily for Owen. Yet I should have made a better doctor than my brother.’

The bombshell is then dropped when the police arrest Aimee for sending a warning letter to Elsie Holland. Worse, Aimee has denied having done it. Meanwhile, the police has realised she has held back information about two other suspects.

Things look pessimistic for her. Only Miss Marple who can help squash her charge with a huge favour from Megan.

 

Clues:

Jerry Burton (JB) and Aimee Griffith (AG) (after the inquest on the death of Mona Symmington):

AG; ‘ I was terribly sorry for Dick Symmington its all having to come put as it did at the inquest. It was awful for him.’

JB: ‘But surely you heard him say that there was not a word of truth in that letter – that he was quite sure of that?’

AG: ‘Of course he said so. Quite right. A man’s got to stick up for his wife. Dick would. You see, I’ve known Dick Symmington a long time.’

JB: ‘Really? I understood from your brother that he only bought this practice a few years ago.’

AG: ‘Oh yes, but Dick Symmington used to come and stay in our part of the world up north. I’ve known him for years. I know Dick very well…. He’s a proud man, and very reserved. But he’s the sort of man who could be very jealous.’

JB: ‘That would explain why Mrs. Symmington was afraid to show him or tell him about the letter. She was afraid that, being a jealous man, he might not believe her denials.’

AG: ‘Good Lord. DO you think any woman would go and swallow a lot of cyaniade potassium for an accusation that wasn’t true?’

JB: ‘The coroner seemed to think it was possible. Your brother, too…’

AG: ‘Men are all alike. All for preserving the decencies. But you don’t catch me believing that stuff. If an innocent woman get some foul anonymous letter, she laughs and chucks it away. That’s what I….would do.’

JB: ‘I see. So you’ve had one, too.’

 

Dick Symmington(DS) and Megan Hunter(MH):

MH: ‘I would like to speak to you, please. Alone.’

DS: ‘Well, Megan, what is it? What do you want?’

MH: ‘I want some money.’

DS: ‘Couldn’t you have waited until to-morrow morning? What’s the matter, do you think your allowance is inadequate?’

MH: ‘I want a good deal of money.’

DS: ‘You will come of age in a few months’ time. Then the money left you by your grandmother will be turned over to you by the public trustee.’

MH: ‘ You don’t understand. I want money from you. Nobody’s ever talked to me much about my father. They’ve not wanted me to know about him. But I do know he went to prison and I know why. It was for blackmail!

‘Well, I am his daughter. And perhaps I take after him. Anyway, I am asking you to give me money because… if you don’t….’

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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 Parker Pyne Investigates

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1934

Motive for Crimes:

blackmail (Have You Got Everything You Want?)

identity (The Gate of Baghdad)

Plot:

Parker Pyne offers a solution for unhappy people.

There are twelve problems:

First, a wife who suspects her husband to have fancied a younger woman must know the truth.

Second, a lonely Major who requires to do something he has been good at in a civilian life.

Third, a woman comes with a gambling debt paid by pawning a diamond.

Fourth, a husband who is reluctant to grant the divorce.

Fifth, a forty-eight-year-old city clerk whose life has little spark in it asks Mr. Pyne for a bit of adventure.

Sixth, a wealthy widow who wants to know how to spend her money. But little does she prepare for the subsequent events she will encounter.

Seventh, a young woman who travels with her dashing husband approaches Mr. Pyne on board of the Simplon Express. For her jewel case has gone missing. Does Mr. Pyne believe her story?

Opened in 1897, the famous hotel in Istanbul has survived the First World War. It is where Edward Jeffries comes clean to Mr. Pyne about the missing jewelry case of his wife.

Eighth, a fellow traveller has been murdered at night on the road to Baghdad. Two theories emerge on the cause of death: stabbed at the back of his head or hit by a sandbag. The latter is suggested by the murderer.

Ninth, in Shiraz while taking a stroll Mr. Parker drops his card at a house, the abode of an eccentric Lady Esther Carr. What makes Mr. Parker want to see her?

Tenth, in Petra the daughter of an American magnate has lost her pearl ear ring worth £40,000. Among the suspects are the people who have been in the same tour; an archaeologist, a Member of Parliament, a military officer and Mr. Pyne.

Eleventh, a woman who complains to everyone round her has been found dead in her room on a ship during the Nile tour. As all passengers are being questioned, who has got the strongest motive to kill her?

Lastly, a curious circumstance arising following the kidnap of an eighteen-year-old lad on holiday with her mother in Delphi. Mr. Pyne ought to clear his name.

 

Highlights:

 

 

His advertisement is the thirties’ equal of nowadays ‘No Win No Fee.’ Lawyers are not required.

What appeals from the twelve cases in the book is some ordinary clients Mr. Pyne has agreed to take. The characters are a world apart from Murder in The Orient Express (see the Notes), which is published in the same year. The shadow of the Belgian sleuth might be behind the other man’s being less popular and less known among the avid fans.

It is interesting that both men have a number of similar traits. Perhaps not in their countenance, but their enjoying travelling and are well connected. Also,  they have Miss Lemon as a super secretary. Although Mr. Pyne  is as methodical as Poirot, the former does not seem to mention the work of his grey cells. Instead he plans either a splash of drama or  a confidence trick in order to solve his cases.

Personally Mr. Pyne is more like Harley Quinn. There is a touch of mystery in Mr. Pyne. He describes himself to Major Wilbraham (The Case of the Discontented Soldier) saying: ‘you see, for thirty-five years of my life I have engaged in the compiling of statistics in a government office. Now I have retired and it has occurred to me to use the experience I have gained in a novel fashion…’ Be that as it may, those sentences are as good as Alan Turing’s saying during his interview to a Manchester Detective Inspector that he had worked in Bletchley radio factory during the War.

More about Mr. Pyne’s past career is while he is having dinner with the British Consul in Shiraz. The latter’s story about Lady Esther Carr has aroused Mr. Pyne’s curiosity. For he happens to know Lady Esther’s father, the former Home Secretary, under whom he used to work. In what capacity is anyone’s guess. His identity, however, is a sly humour of Christie’s which often appears in other books.

Persepolis in Shiraz

In creating a retired civil servant (ex-MI-6?) to do sleuthing jobs, it is apparent that Christie wishes to take a break from Poirot. For Mr. Pyne is a pleasant man; he might be quiet but approachable. If M. Poirot works alone,  Mr. Pyne prefers to have two actors in his employ. He commissions Mrs. Oliver to stage a ‘saving a damsel in distress’ plot for Major Wilbraham. Unfortunately, one scheme fails to deliver in The Case of the Discontented Husband, partly due to Madeleine de Sara, one of the actors.

Another evidence is in the book title itself, which was on the press ten years after Poirot Investigates (1924). The last of Mr. Pyne’s case, Problem At Pollensa Bay (1935), appears first on the UK magazine (see the Notes). He  seems to travels  to more countries than Poirot and have more sensible sartorial choice than   the other in hot climate.

Christie’s attempt to’ defy’ the almighty a little man with an egg-shaped head is in vain. Her frustration is channelled through Mrs. Oliver whom also grows a dislike towards her Swedish detective Mr. Finn. It does not help either that the amiable Mr. Pyne has received fewer nods from the avid fans. Did Christie discontinue Mr. Pyne due to the lukewarm reception? Or, did her publisher ask her to ‘kill’ the nice English man (supposing Mr. Pyne is English)?

Whilst the book has not gained he same glory as Murder On The Orient Express, the flow and the drama in Mr. Pyne’s cases are nearly as good as in the other book. For both books are teemed with Christie’s  travelling to the Far East. Moreover is her having captured the happenings in  the society in the post-war years. Her portrayals of arrivistes – the ‘in-betweeners’ in today’s lingo- and moral hypocrites are amusing and clever.  The Pearl of Price is the exemplary example of Christie’s criticism towards them.

And therefore I suggest two ways to judge the book: either put it away if the expectations are for a thriller because Christie is not very good at writing one or go finish it if a test of ingenuity and the exploration of human psyche appeals more. Besides, her short stories work better than her novels.

 

The Twists:

– Claude Lutrell refuses Mrs. Crackington’s gift (The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife)

-Major Wilbraham and Freda Clegg would not find the ivory cache (The Case of the Discontented Soldier)

– ‘Jules’ only slips the diamond ring off Lady Dorthemeir’s finger, not replacing it (The Case of the Distressed Lady)

-Reginald Wade wants to marry Miss Madeleine de Sara (The Case of the Discontented Husband)

– The city clerk is sent on a trip to Geneva to the trick a mafia gang (The Case of the City Clerk)

– Amelia Rymer wishes to remain as Hannah Woodhouse (The Case of The Rich Woman)

-Edward Jeffries has an accomplice on board the train (Have You Got Everything You Want?)

– Colonel Smethurst is an old Etonian like Samuel Long, a mole (The Gate of Baghdad)

The replica of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany.

– Muriel King, a lady maid, believes that she will be blamed for the deadly accident occurred (The House of Shiraz)

-Caleb Blundell’s business has gone belly up (The Pearl of Price)

-Sir George Grayle does not poison his wife (Death On The Nile)

– Mr. Thompson is Parker Pyne (The Oracle at Delphi)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Mrs. Amelia Rymer

‘I’m not going to let money come between me and my happiness’

She is extremely rich and lonely. Furthermore, she is bored; having yearned for company since her husband Abner died.When he was alive they put a Midas’s touch to every investment they had made.

As her frustration grows she decides to turn up at Mr. Parker’s office. ‘If you are any good at all you’ll tell me how to spend my money!’

Mr. Parker understands who she is and how different she is from the other clients. To my mind, the life of Amelia Rymer seems to reflect the life of her creator.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd catapulted Christie into the limelight. So when she was reported missing a few months later, the search mission became the police biggest operation in the year of 1926. Having checked in as Mrs. Neele the Swan Hotel in Harrogate, Christie had no idea whatsoever about her making the headlines on the paper. Nor did she expect a great crowd at the King’s Cross as she arrived at the station with Colonel Archibald Christie.

But Mrs. Rymer has no desire to disappear but a bit of interest in her life, possibly the replacement of Mr Rymer. Just as Christie, Mrs. Rymer is angry to have learnt that Mr. Parker might have deceived her. From a wealthy middle-aged woman to a simple farm woman Hannah Woodhouse, Mrs. Rymer tries to fight back at first but then accepts her new identity after some time. What triggers the change of heart is the presence of a new farm labour Joe.

Suppposing a banjo player in the hotel did not recognise Christie, would she remain incognito for a longer time? What difference would it have made? To this day her eleven days disappearance is still shrouded in mystery, having stated in her biography of having ad no recollections on it.

Agatha’s being a ‘Gone Girl’ during her disappearance. How has Amelia Rymer transformed during her year’s missing?

When a year has gone Mr. Parker comes to see ‘Hannah’ in the farm. ‘Come, Mrs. Rymer are you an unhappy woman now?’ he asks. She admits ‘No. I’m not unhappy.’ But what would she do with her money, of which has been presided over by Mr. Pyne during her ‘absence’?

If Christie jumped on the Simplon-Orient and searched her happiness along the rail tracks for Istanbul, Mrs. Rymer only needs to stay in England.

Amelia and Agatha have found their happiness when it is least expected.

 

Cast of Characters:

Parker Pyne’s employees:

Miss Lemon (Mr. Parker’s secretary)

The Actors:

Claude Luttrell

Madeleine de Sara

The novelist: Mrs. Oliver

 

1. The Case of Middle-Aged Wife

The client: Mrs. Mary Crackington

George Crackington (Mary’s husband)

 

2. The Case of Discontented Soldier

The client: Major Charlie Wilbraham

Freda Clegg

Mrs. Oliver (the novelist)

 

3. The Case of Distressed Lady

The client: Daphne St. John/Ernestine Richards

The Dortheimers (Lady and Sir Reuben)

Gerald St. John (Daphne’s husband)

 

4.  The Case of the Discontented Husband

The client: Reginald Wade

Irish Wade (Reginald’s wife)

Mrs. Massington (Irish’s friend)

 

5. The Case of The City Clerk

The client: Mr. Roberts

Lucas Bonnington

Maggie Sayers/Grand Duchess Olga

 

6. The Case of The Rich Woman

The client: Mrs. Abner Rymer/Hannah Moorhouse

The Gardners

Joe Welsh

 

7. Have you Got Everything You Want?

The client: Elsie Jeffries

Edward Jeffries (Elsie’s husband)

 

8. The Gate of Baghdad

The group leaving for Baghdad:

Hensley (Smethurst’s good friend)

Squadron Leader Lotus

Netta Pyrce

O’Rourke

Miss Pyrce (Netta’s aunt)

General Poli

Captain Smethurst

Flight Lieutenant Williamson

 

9. The House at Shiraz

The client: Lady Ester Carr

Herr Schlagal (the German pilot)

The English Consul in Shiraz

 

10. The Pearl of Price

The client: Carol Blundell (Caleb’s daughter)

Caleb P. Bundell (a rich American)

Dr. Carver (an archaeologist)

Sir Donald Marvel (Member of Parliament)

Colonel Dubosc (a career military officer on leave)

Jim Hurst

 

11. Death On The Nile

The client: Lady Ariadne Grayle

Basil West (Sir George’s secretary)

Miss Elsie McNaughton (Lady Grayle’s nurse)

Sir George Grayle (Lady Ariadne’s husband)

Pamela Grayle (Lady Grayle’s niece)

 

12. The Oracle at Delphi

The client: Mrs. Peters (the Junior’s mother)

Mr. Thompson (the hotel manager at Delphi)

Willard Peters Junior (Mrs. Willard’s son)

 

Clues:

Parker Pyne to Reginald Wade: (The Case of Discontented Husband)

‘You do not understand human nature, Mr. Wade. Still less do you understand feminine human nature. At the present moment you are, from the feminine point of view, merely a waste product. Nobody wants you. What use has a woman for something that no one wants? None whatever. But take another angle. Suppose your wife discovers that you are looking forward to regaining your freedom as much as she is?’

 

Parker Pyne to Mr. Roberts: (The of City Clerk)

‘You are carrying a cryptogram which reveals the secret hiding place of the crown jewels of Russia. You can understand, naturally, that Bolshevist agents will be alert to intercept you. If it is necessary of you to talk about yourself, I should recommended that you say you have come into money and are enjoying a little holiday abroad.’

 

Parker Pyne to the murderer: (The House of Shiraz)

‘Your ridiculous statement that Smethurst had been killed by bumping his head. O’Rourke put that idea into your head when we were standing talking in Damascus yesterday. You thought – how simple! You were the only doctor with us – whatever you said would be accepted. You’d got Loftus’s kit. You’d got his instruments. It was easy to select a neat little tool for your purpose. You lean over to speak to him and as you are speaking drive the little weapon home. You talk a minute or two. It is dark in the car. Who will suspect?’

The confession of the perpetrator (The Pearl of Price):

‘It was really sheer accident to start with. I was behind you [Mr. Parker] all morning and I came across it a moment before. She hadn’t noticed it. Nobody had. I picked it up and put it into my pocket, meaning to return it to her as soon as I caught her up. But I forgot.

And then, half-way up that climb I began to think. The jewel meant nothing to that fool of girl; her father would buy her another without noticing the cost. And it would mean a lot to me. The sale of that pearl would equip an expedition…’

Notes On Poirot’s Early Cases

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1974

Motive for Murder: Wealth / Woman / Identity

Highlights:

 ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ –

in The King of Clubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ghost I have seen

Maybe the devil: and the devil hath power

To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps

Out of my weakness and my melancholy,

As he is very potent with such spirits.

Abuses me to damn me

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

1.     The Affair At The Victory Ball

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

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

Commedia dell’ Arte masks

Cast:

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

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

Inspector Japp

Mrs. Mallaby (dressed as Pulcinella)

The Twist:

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

 

2.     The Adventure of The Clapham Cook

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

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

Cast:

Annie (the maid at the Todds‘s house)

Eliza Dunn (the missing cook)

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

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

The Twist:

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

 

3.The Cornish Mystery

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

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

Cast:

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

Mrs. Pengelley

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

The Twist:

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

 

4.     The Adventure of Johnnie Weaverly

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

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

What does Poirot mean in his last sentence?

Cast:

The Waverlys (the parents of the kidnapped boy)

The Twist:

Marcus Waverly knows that his wife never likes the butler

5.     The Double Clue

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

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

Cast:

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

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

Lady Runcorn

Countess Vera Rossakoff (one of the guests)

The Twist:

Countess Rossakoff does not intend to drop her cigarette case

 

6.     The King of Clubs

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

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

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

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

Will Poirot find the murderer?

Cast:

Count Paul Feodor (Valerie’s fiancé)

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

Valerie Saintclair (a famous dancer)

The Twist:

The Oglanders play the bridge without the king of clubs

 

7.     The Lemesurier Inheritance

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

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

Cast:

Gerald Lemesurier (Hugo’s younger son)

Hugo Lemesurier (Ronald’s father)

John Gardiner (Hugo’s secretary)

Mrs. Lemesurier (Ronald’s mother)

Roger Lemesurier (Vincent’s cousin)

Ronald Lemesurier (Hugo’s elder son)

The Twist:

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

 

8.     The Lost Mine

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

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

Does it make Lester a murderer nevertheless?

Cast:

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

Inspector Miller

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

The Twist:

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

 

9.     The Plymouth Express

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

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

Who has lied to Poirot?

Cast:

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

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

Inspector Japp

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

The Honorable Rupert Carrington (Flossie’s estranged husband)

The Twist:

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

 

10.                        The Chocolate Box

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

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Francois (the old servant)

Mrs. Deroulard (the deceased’s mother)

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

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

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

The doctor

The Twist: Mrs. Deroulard has cataract in both eyes

 

11.                        The Submarine Plans

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

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

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

Who has told the truth?

Cast:

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

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

Fitzroy (Lord Alloway’s secretary)

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

Leonard Weardale (Sir Harry’s son)

Leonie (Mrs. Conrad’s French maid)

Lady Juliet Weardale (Sir Harry’s wife)

The Twist:

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

 

12.                        The Third-Floor Flat

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

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

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

Cast:

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

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

Mildred Hope (Pat’s other friend)

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

The Twist:

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

 

13.                        Double Sin

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

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

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

Cast:

J. Baker Wood (the buyer)

Mary Durrant (the woman who loses the miniature)

The Twist:

Elizabeth Penn’s business is in a bad state

 

14.                        The Market Basing Mystery

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Miss Clegg (the deceased’s housekeeper)

Dr. Giles (the doctor who examines Walter Protheroe)

Inspector Japp

Constable Pollard (of Market Basing police)

The Twist:

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

 

15.                        Wasps’ Nest

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

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

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

Cast:

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

John Harrison (Poirot’s old acquaintance)

The Twist:

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

 

16.                        The Veiled Lady

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

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

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

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

Who is actually the woman?

Cast:

Lady Milicent Castle Vaughan (the client)

The Twist:

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

 

17.                        Problem At Sea

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

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

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

Cast:

Passengers on board the ship:

Ellison Henderson

General Forbes

Colonel John Clapperton (Adeline’s husband)

Kitty and Pam (two young girls)

The Twist:

John Clapperton before the war was a ventriloquist.

 

 

18.                        How Does Your Garden Grow?

Plot:

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

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

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

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

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

Mistress Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With cockle-shells, and silver bells,

And pretty maids in a row

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

Cast:

Amelia Barrowby (the client)

The Delafontaines (Henry the husband and Mary the wife

Katrina Rieger (Russian, Barrowby’s nurse attendant)

Inspector Sims (of Rosebank police)

Miss Lemon (Poirot’s secretary)

The Twist:

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

Notes On Poirot Investigates

Rate: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1924

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

1.       The Adventure of The ‘Western Star’

Plot:

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

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

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

Is it true that the diamonds are cursed?

Cast:

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

Mary Marvell (the Hollywood actress)

Lord and Lady Yardly

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

 

2. The Tragedy At Marsdon Manor

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

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

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

Cast:

Captain Black (Mrs. Maltravers’s acquaintance)

Dr. Bernard (the deceased’s doctor)

Mrs. Maltravers

The Twist: Mr. Maltravers is not a Scientologist

 

3. The Adventure of The Cheap Flat

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

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

What does Poirot have in mind?

Cast:

Mr. Burt (of the US Secret Service)

Elsa Hardt (American, a concert singer)

Inspector Japp

Gerald Parker (Hastings’ s old friend)

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

The Robinsons ( the American newlywed couple)

The porter at Montagu Mansions

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

 

4. The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge

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

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

Cast:

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

Inspector Japp

Mrs. Middleton (the housekeeper)

Roger Havering (the nephew of Harrington)

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

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

 

5. The Million Dollar Bond Robbery

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

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

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

Cast:

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

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

Inspector McNeil

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

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

 

6.       The Adventure of The Egyptian Tomb

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

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

Cast:

Sir Guy WWaillard (Lady Willard’s son)

Mr. Harper (the secretary of the expedition)

Hassan (Sir John’s devoted native servant)

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

Dr. Robert Ames

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

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

 

7. The Jewel Robbery At The Grand Metropolitan

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

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

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

 

Cast:

Celestine (Mrs. Opalsen’s French maid)

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

The chambermaid

The valet

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

 

8. The Kidnapped Prime Minister

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

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

Poirot has twenty fours before the Conference commences at Versailles.

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

Cast:

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

Lord Estair (Leader of the House of Commons)

Inspector Japp

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

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

 

9. The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim

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

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Inspector Japp

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

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

 

10. The adventure of the Italian Nobleman

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

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

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

Cast:

Signor Ascanio (Italian)

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

Graves (the valet/butler to Count Foscatini)

Inspector

Robert – the lift attendant

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

 

11. The Case of The Missing Will

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

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

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

Cast:

The Bakers (the caretakers at Crabtree Manor)

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

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

 

Notes On Postern of Fate

Rating: three out of five

Year of Publication: 1973 (UK Collins Crime Club)

The blue badge at a house in Lewisham, Greater London, UK where Flecker was born. The book’s title is taken from by  his poem ‘The Gates of Damascus.’Just like ‘Mary Jordan,’ the English poet died at young age. His poems were influenced by a certain literary style of French poetry – Parnassianism.

Motive for Murder: Evidence / Identity

Plot: The Beresfords, now in their seventies, are settling down in their new home at Hollowquay, a coastal village in East England. At retirement age one physically becomes tired easily, yet the mind is another matter.  Tuppence’s looking at some old books in the attic brings about another adventure – the last one. By chance, in a children’s book, she finds a number of words underlined which then, after pondering over them, form a message. Mary Jordan did not die naturally. It was one of us. I think I know which one.

Who is Mary Jordan? Nobody seems to know any Jordans having lived or buried in the village. Although some still remember about the Parkinsons, the family who used to live in the Beresfords’s. The book seems to have belonged to the young Alex Parkinson. While taking the dog for a walk in the churchyard, Tommy spots the boy’s grave, whom died at the age of fourteen.

Furthermore, were Parkinson and Jordan related? If Jordan had been killed, how about the boy, having died young? Rumours have it that Jordan was a governess and a German spy before the outbreak of the First World War.

In the meantime, Tommy is intrigued having been told by his old contacts that the village was used as the centre of an early fascist movement in Britain. Coupled with the revelation about an English Naval officer who supported the Fifth Column, it fascinates him more what role Jordan has meant to play. Was she a foe or friend? Who killed her?

Little does Tuppence realise that her life is in danger once more.

Highlights:

The last book in Tommy and Tuppence’s series sums up the husband and wife’s previous adventures as the unlikely and the unofficial British agents. It harks back to the days of The Young Adventurers, the hunt of Jane Finn and confidential intelligence information concealed in a nursery rhymes’s book  (N or M – see the Notes). So it is of a little surprise that in the pages of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow Tuppence finds a treasure, which then spurs on a treasure hunt in the house they have moved in.

It was first published in 1888.

To begin with, the setting is an interesting period before the outbreak of the First World War. In 1913, once upon a time an English Naval officer is revealed as a German Spy by an undercover British agent. Nonetheless, Mary Jordan, despite of her hard work was unable to present the damning evidence timely. She was poisoned and died later while the incriminating papers in the form of letters had vanished, surely having been hidden somewhere.  For this reason Tuppence must figure out where they were and drags Tommy into it.

Next, the first hurdle they have to clear is that nobody actually knows what happened. The trails have gone cold, but recollections and reminiscences of elderly people. Nevertheless, just as in Sleeping Murder (see the Notes), somehow someone knows. Moreover, Tuppence’s ‘elephants’ are not much different from Ariadne Oliver’s (see Notes On Elephants Can Remember).

Next, the second challenge is to separate facts from myths, tales from truths.  Christie gives readers quite a number of red herrings and details, from various references to Edwardian era to classic titles of children’s English literature; from Tommy and Tuppence’s domestical issues to an old gardener with a wealth of knowledge about yesteryears.

Then lines after lines of conversations with myriad characters; tales retold and recalled in which truths and myths are intertwined. Christie can be quite convincing in doing so, for halfway the plot takes a U-turn as Mary Jordan’s status is clarified. In fact, it takes only a sentence to clarify it. ‘She is one of our lot,’ says Mr. Robinson to Tommy.

The opera was first performed in 1850 and inspired other works of art in the period.

Be that as it may, Tuppence’s list of clues becomes the most fascinating aspect of the plot (see the Twists). Seemingly nonsense, a list containing vintage toys, a pair of Victorian porcelain gardening stools and Wagner’s Lohengrin altogether are the solution. Christie’s whimsical sense of humour does not sound to have receded with age.

My question is: does it matter that the evidence must be recovered? First and foremost the people concerned are already dead.  What would Tuppence gain by dwelling into the matter? Was it the principle that truth must come up somehow on the part of the authoress? Or, does Tuppence see Jordan in herself and therefore she should complete the other’s mission? (see Clues).

Of all the characters, Isaac Boldicott stands out. The old gardener cannot do much around the garden but he has sharp memories about people and events. Through his rambling Tuppence is introduced to ‘Truelove, ’ ‘KK’ and ‘Mathilde.’ Was he ‘the East Gate Warden’? For in Flecker’s poem, it says ‘…This is the song of the East Gate Warden; when he locks the great gate and smokes in his garden…’

If anything, Boldicott reminds me of old Merdell in Dead Man’s Folly (see the Notes); the difference is that Merdell keeps himself to himself, except that he talks to his granddaughter. His remark to Poirot ‘ Always Folliats in Nasse’  is crucial. On the other hand, Boldicott is indiscreet about things and talks too much. Yet, unlike Merdell’s granddaughter, of whom being strangled to death, Boldicott’s grandson Henry invites himself to help Tuppence in her ‘research’ with his Junior Brigade friends.

‘Mathilde’ is a rocking horse. Tuppence found it in the green house at the back of her house. It is the content of its stomach that matters.

In this regard, Christie seems to reflect Alex Parkinson in Henry Boldicott, and Mary Jordan in Tuppence.  Here is the guessing part for readers, as to whether  Parkinson had an understanding about his smart governess; that her demeanour had been distinctive and may not have been quite like the former governesses whom had come before. Children’s blind understanding, so to speak.

As regard to the identity of ‘Mary Jordan,’ Christie also leaves readers to fill the gap about this ‘ghost’ character. In the book readers will find her real name, that she is half Austrian and thus fluent in German.  Nonetheless, how old was she when she died, who killed her and where she would have been buried are another story to be written.

Lastly, the title. I gather that James Elroy Flecker’s eponymous poem might derive from Christie’s reminiscences to the days of travelling in Syria in the thirties, which is then wittingly recalled with love in Come, Tell Me How You Live (see the Notes). More importantly, that ‘The Laurels,’ Tuppence and Tommy’s house suggests Greenway, The Mallowans’s much loved holiday home while  Hannibal the dog is in reality is Bingo, their second terrier (see The Most Fascinating Character). Nevertheless, what is in ‘Postern of Fate’? I cannot deduce why it is chosen rather than the names for the other three gates – Fort of Fear, the Desert Gate or Disaster’s Cavern? Perhaps it is just simply the fate that this is the last book written by Agatha Christie Mallowan.

In the meantime, do leave a comment, will you, if you happen to spot Jordan’s real name. 🙂

Four great gates has the city of Damascus…

And four Great Wardens, on their spears reclining

All day long stand like tall stone men

And sleep on the towers when the moon is shining

This is the song of the East Gate Warden

When he locks the great gate and smokes in his garden

Postern of Fate, the Desert Gate, Disaster’s Cavern, Fort of Fear

The Portal of Bagdad am I, and Doorway of Diarbekir

 (the first part of ‘The Gates of Damascus’ by J.E. Flecker)

The Twists:

Tuppence’s List of Clues:

-Black Arrow

-Alexander Parkinson

-Mary Jordan did not die naturally

An illustration of a pair of Victorian garden stools ‘Oxford’ and ‘Cambridge’ Isaac Boldicott points out to Tuppence. In the book, they have ‘swans’ which are associated to Wagner’s Lohengrin.

-Oxford and Cambridge porcelain Victorian seats

-Grin-Hen-Lo

-KK

-Mathilde’s stomach

-Cain and Abel

-Truelove’

 

-Albert sees Miss Mullins put something in Tuppence’s cup of coffee through an enlarged crack in the Tuppence’s bedroom door.

 

Cast of Characters:

Albert (the Beresfords’s manservant)

Andrew (Tommy and Tuppence’s grandson)

Colonel Atkinson (Tommy’s contact)

The Beresfords (Tommy and Tuppence)

Beatrice (the Beresfords’s cleaner)

‘Truelove’? A cart toy from the early 1900 are among old things Tuppence has unearthed in the green house of hers.   One of the wheels is tampered when Tuppence has a go on it. As a result, the cart goes down the hill very fast and nearly kills her.

Mrs. Boldicott (Isaac’s daughter-in-law and Henry’s mother)

Clarence (Henry’s friend at Junior Brigade)

Miss Collodon (the woman Tommy has employed to do some research)

Mr. Crispin (a British agent who takes cover as a gardener for the Beresfords)

Deborah (the Beresfords’s daughter)

Miss Dorothy Little (‘The Parish Pump’ – of the local Women Institute)

Gwenda (Beatrice’s friend, who works in the post office)

Hannibal (the Beresfords’s dog)

Henry Boldicott (Isaac’s grandson)

Isaac Boldicott (an old gardener, Henry’s grandfather)

Janet (Tommy and Tuppence’s granddaughter)

Miss Irish Mullins (a.k.a. ‘Dodo’ by Mr. Crispin, a facist)

Mrs. Lupton

‘Mutton-chop’ (a nickname for Tommy’s friend, an inactive agent)

Colonel Pikeaway

Mr. Robinson (in the Intelligent posing as a City banker)

Rosalie (Tommy and Tuppence’s granddaughter)

Mrs. Winifred Griffin (nee Morrison, an elderly neighbour who knows about the Parkinsons)

A grizzled man (Tommy’s friend and old contact)

The Most Fascinating Character: Hannibal

In A Murder Is Announced, Tiglath Pileser, the Vicar’s dog, gives Miss Marple a clue about the drama unfolded at Miss Letitia Blacklock’s house.

Hannibal, the black and tan terrier of Tommy and Tuppence’s is Bingo, the Mallowans’s second terrier.

It is little wonder that Hannibal, the Beresfords’s Manchester Terrier becomes a hero. The namesake apparently is based not upon another Assyrian king but Count Hannibal (1901). Nonetheless, it might resemble the appearance and traits of the Mallowans’s second terrier, Bingo.

While there is no need to describe that Hannibal is part of the family, no reference has been made as to how ‘he’ has come into the possession of Tuppence and Tommy. Whose idea to get a dog? Was ‘he’ a present from their grown-up children? There is no mention either of getting a dog in the previous novel of theirs, By The Pricking Of My Thumb (see the Notes).

Christie’s soft spot to this canine creature sees her refer Hannibal as a ‘he’ than ‘it’ and therefore having given ‘it’ a voice. At any rate the terrier is part of the team; it guides Tommy to find Alexander Parkinson’s grave and knows – sniff, to be precise- which one is either enemies or friends.

His looks are described as:

‘…Hannibal was a small black dog, very glossy with interesting tan patched on his behind and each side of his cheeks. He was a Manchester terrier of very pure pedigree and he considered himself to be on a much higher level of sophistication and aristocracy than any other dog he met.’

Furthermore is the character:

He (Tommy) did not know if it was worse or better that Tuppence should have Hannibal. Hannibal would certainly allow no harm to come to Tuppence. The question was, might Hannibal do some damage to other people? He was friendly when taken visiting people, but people who wished to visit Habbibal, to enter any house in which he lived, were always definitely suspect in Hannibal’s mind. He was ready at all risks to both bark and bite if he considered necessary.

I am fascinated since when the black and tan terrier has been domesticated. For it is originally a working dog whose reputation as a ratter was popular over a hundred and fifty years ago. The name ‘Manchester Terrier’ was first used in 1890s, owing to a number of them usually found in North West England in towns near Manchester where the cotton industry was.  More importantly, it gained famous reputation – or notorious some would say- from the Rat Pit in 19th century.

‘The Rat Pit,’ a popular ‘sporting game’ in 19th century in which a Manchester terrier would run around a pitch killing the rats.

One thing for sure, Hannibal is an extraordinary dog.

Clues:

Tuppence Beresford (TB)’s interviews Gwenda (G):

TB: ‘It was someone called mary Jordan I was asking about. Beatrice [her cleaner] said you knew about her.’

G: ‘Not really – I just heard her name mentioned once or twice, but it was ages ago. Lovely golden hair she had, my grandmother said. German she was – one of those Frowlines as they were called. Looked after children – a kind of nurse. Had been with a naval family somewhere. That was up in Scotland, I think. And afterwards she came down here. Went to a family called Parks – or Perkins. She used to have one day off a week, you know, and go to London, and that’s where she used to take things, whatever they were.

TB: ‘What sort of things?’

G: ‘ I don’t know – nobody ever said much. Things she’d stolen, I expect.’

TB: ‘Was she discovered stealing?’

G; ‘On, no, I don’t think so. They were beginning to suspect, but she got ill and died before that.’

TB: ‘What did she die of? Did she die down here? I suppose she went to hospital?’

G; ‘ No – I don’t think there were any hospitals to go to then. Wasn’t any Welfare in those days. Somebody told me it was some silly mistake the cook made. Brought foxglove leaves into the house by mistake for spinach – or for lettuce, perhaps. No, I think that was someone else. Someone told me it was a deadly nightshade but I don’t believe that for a moment, because I mean, everyone knows about deadly nightshade, don’t they, and anyway that’s berries. Well, I think this was foxglove leaves brought in from the garden by mistake. Foxglove is Digoxo or some name like Digit – something that sounds like fingers. It’s got something very deadly in it – the doctor came and he did what he could, but I think it was too late.’

TB: ‘Where there many people in the house when it happened?’

G; ‘Oh, there was quite a lot I should think – ys, because there were always people staying, so I’ve heard, and children, you know, and weekenders and a nursery maid and a governess, I think, and parties……’

Conversations between Thomas Beresford and Colonel Atkinson:

A: ‘Well, I expect you’ve read about it or heard about it. The Cardington Scandal. You know, came after that other thing- the what-you-call- ‘em letters- and the Emlyn Johnson submarine business.’

TB: ‘Oh, I seem to remember something vaguely.’

A: ‘Well, it wasn’t actually submarine business, but that’s what called attention to the whole thing. And there were those letters, you see. Gave the whole show away politically. Yes. Letters. If they’d been able to get hold of them it would to several people who at the time were the most highly trusted people in the government. Astonishing how these things happen, isn’t it? You know! The traitors in one’s midst, always highly trusted, always splendid fellows, always the last people to be suspected…..’

Notes On Ordeal By Innocence

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1958

Motive for Murder: Hatred

Plot: Arthur Calgary thought he has done the right thing to The Argyles. Seeing them, he has brought with him good news about one of the sons, Jack:  that he did not kill his mother after all. A stepmother, in fact. For Calgary was absent as a witness to Jack’s alibi when the murder happened two years ago. Jack died in jail six months after the sentence.

Calgary’s beneficence, however, is not reciprocated. ‘All of this is in the past. I try – we all try- that the boy must be regarded as an invalid. One of Nature’s misfits. That, I think, expresses its best,’ says Jack’s father. Nonetheless the guest dissents, having realised that had he not been in a motor accident, which impacted his memory; a life could have been saved.

The members of the family’s unanimous stand that Jack was indeed guilty intrigue Calgary. Particularly when he understand that Leo and Rachel’s five children are all adopted. Furthermore, the motive. For Rachel Argyle was wealthy and divided her fortune evenly among her husband and the children. As for Leo, he has fallen in love to his long-standing secretary, Gwenda Vaughan, to whom he wants to marry and it can only be done after Rachel’s passing. And there is Kirsten Lindstorm, who has lived with the family for years and is fond of Jack.

As for the family, Calgary brings up the home truth: Rachel Argyle’s murderer is still at large and might be one of them.

 

The Argyles in the book adaptation into Miss Marple series (2007), which highlights the family dynamics in Christie’s fifties’ novels.

 

Highlights:

This crime plot scrutinises a family in the aftermath of the death of the mother. Unlike the Crackenthorpes (4.50 From Paddington –see the Notes) or the Abernethies (After The Funeral –see the Notes), the Argyles accepted the court verdict and apparently has moved on; Leo has been engaged to Gwenda and the portion of money for each remaining child has made it possible for them to live as they wish. When their late mother was alive, she had loved and sheltered them well.

On closer inspection, issues emerge as a result of the domineering personality of Rachel’s. A mere outsider, Calgary believes it is his duty to clear Jack’s name in spite of warnings as to the consequences.  At the end of the first chapter Christie has already queried readers about a moral dilemma and more importantly whether they either side with the Argyles or Calgary. ’ So you all, ‘ Calgary said slowly, ‘had no doubts? No doubts of his guilt, I mean.’ Hester (Jack’s stepsister) stared. ‘How could we? Of course he was guilty.’ ‘ Not really guilty,’ Leo dissented. ‘I don’t like that word.’ ‘It isn’t a true word, either,’ Calgary took a deep breath. ’Jack Argyle was – innocent.’ As Calgary leaves the family home, Sunny Point, at the end of Chapter Two, the words of Hester’s, one of the daughters,  linger in his mind: ‘’It’s not the guilty, who matter. It’s the innocent.’

Just as in Crooked House, Christie brings attention to the victim: the centre figure in the family. Clearly, Rachel Argyle’s fortune made her powerful to others. To Leo, his wife’s guilt of not being able to have a baby was quite strong to the point that she then channelled it by creating a children’s home during the war. Gone was a kind woman he used to love; the one who could make him feel as a man. To her surviving stepson, Michael, she was not a mother but a woman who has severed his tie with his biological mother. To Hester, she hates the stepmother that was right about her not to have pursued a career on the stage and ridiculed herself with a fling to a married man. Likewise, Rachel warned Marry Durrant, the eldest, for not choosing a certain man as a husband.

Richard Armirtage stars as Philip Durrant in the novel adaptation into Miss Marple series in 2007. He is the man who Rachel Argyle has warned about.

 

Be that as it may, Rachel Argyle is actually an amiable character. She had strong views but generous; firm but kind to her children. Yet, she has been killed with such a force that the motive might be categorised as the crime passionnel, bearing in mind that besides the children there are two other women who live in the home; one is the secretary, of whom Rachel understood having been in love with her husband and a spinster and an ex-nurse whom always bowed to Rachel’s whims.

What is interesting is the third women; the so-called ‘black horse’ Maureen Clegg, Jack’s wife. They were married a few weeks before his arrest. She turned up at Sunny Point a day afterward, of which it astounded the family as they had been in the dark about the marriage. Yet, the greatest shock was on the murderer’s part, who received Clegg on the day.

As regard to the protagonist, he is a bachelor who sounds like the ex-police officer Luke Fitzgerald (Murder Is Easy – see the Notes).  Only that Calgary is a scientist and has been on an expedition to the Pole. But all the same both have been driven by love; it is no longer to right the wrong but to save the neck of a woman they have fancied. Their being adamant about the innocence of a suspect might remind readers to Dr. Peter Lloyd in Sad Cypress (1940).

With neither Mr Quinn nor Parker Payne in sight, Calgary’s dwelling upon the family takes him to a retired village doctor, Mr. MacMaster. Having known the Argyles since before the War, he lays all facts about each member of the family. He is another outsider who regards Calgary’s intelligence and the one who is actually unconvinced that Jack was the murderer. Most intriguingly, Macmaster’s view point is based upon realisation that a bloody murder would not have been opted by Jack (see Clues). Whilst the killer instinct is intact in Jack, he might have not been keen at doing the job himself. So who was he asking?

I have great admiration about Christie’s skill in ‘shielding’ the murderer right until the end and the presence of a witness that puts things in perspective. Nonetheless, I feel sometimes they can be simplified and it need not a second victim to reveal the murderer. Personally, I am a little bit ‘disappointed’ that Philip Durrant must die, especially as the death can be perceived as a solution for a disabled man trapped in the comfort and care of a wife he has despised.

More importantly, I come to conclude that the murderer is not actually a killer. The struck on the head to Rachel Argyle is partly due to the repressed anger. In my view her poisoning Marry Durrant’s husband is done out of fear.

Above all, readers might realise in the end that there are three separate investigations carried out; two by amateurs whereas the other by ‘the authority’. This, on top of the red-herrings, makes the plot even more complicated that it should have been. Calgary’s views are often recurred in Superintendent Huish’s remarks.

On the whole, this fifties’ novel of Christie’s is one for those who wish to reflect about life and explore the intricacies of emotions. For the thrills and excitements are ample in the authoress’s twenties’ and thirties’ era.

 

The setting for the filming at the marvellous Nether Wichenden House, Buckinghamshire, England, UK.

 

The Twists:

– A statement about Jack Argyle from a middle-aged woman, a witness, whose money has been swindled.

– Donald Craig thinks that Hester Argyle might have killed her stepmother

– Kirsten Lindstorm’s warning to Hester Argyle: ‘…Be on your guard. Be on your gaurd against me and against Mary and against your father and against Gwenda Vaughan.’

– Christina Argyle’s car was spotted at Sunny Point on 9th November. She then tells Michael Argyle that she heard voices of a man’s and a woman’s whispering on the ground of the house.

 

Cast of Characters:

The Argyles:

-Christina (the yo

Jane Seymour as Rachel Argyle in 2007’s Miss Marple series

ungest, a librarian who owns a red bubble car)

-Hester (other stepdaughter)

-Leo (Jack’s stepfather)

-Marry Durrant (nee Argyles, the eldest child)

-Michael (a car salesman in Drymouth)

-Philip Durrant (Mary’s husband, an ex-RAF pilot who is then disabled having contracted with polio)

-Rachel (the stepmother)

 

Others:

-Dr. Arthur Calgary (the protagonist, nearly forty)

-Donald Craig (MacMaster’s successor. He is in love with Hester)

-Major Finney (the Chief Constable)

-The Greens (the son, Cyril, saw Christina’s car after the dark at Sunny Point)

-Superintendent Huish

-Gwenda Vaughan (Leo’s secretary)

-Kirsty Lindstorm (ex-nurse, Swedish, who used to work in a children’s home created by Rachel Argyle and then continues to live in the house until after Rachel died)

-Dr. Macmaster (the retired village doctor)

– Mr. Marshall (the Argyles’s family lawyer)

-Maureen Clegg (Jack Argyle’s ex-wife who is remarried to an electrician)

-A middle-aged woman, whose name is not revealed, a witness to Jack’s personality

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Dr. Macmaster

He is featured in two chapters in which he discusses the Argyles with Arthur Calgary and his conversing with Donald Craig about Hester.  This elderly retired doctor is an invaluable resource to Calgary, for his insights into each person who live at Sunny Point and the dynamics among them.

Compared to other village doctors in Christie’s books, MacMaster is quite open to a stranger. His honesty is remarkable and to my mind the extent of his knowledge speaks volumes of what a doctor profession is: a doctor as a philosopher.

He is being in doubt that the killer can be captured is surprising nonetheless. It is a response to Calgary’s quoting Hester’s that it was the innocents who had mattered. ‘Yes if we could only know -… Even if it doesn’t come to an arrest or trial or conviction. Just to know. Because otherwise –‘ At this point Calgary cannot make him say further.

As Donald Craig comes in, the fatherly MacMaster’s attention shifts and listens to his worry about the same woman. ‘I’d better say it for you, hadn’t I, Don? You’re afraid that it was your Hester who heard the quarrel between her mother and Jacko, who got worked up by hearing it, perhaps, and who, in a fit of rebellion against authority, and against her mother’s superior assumption of omniscience, went into that room, picked up the poker and killed her. That’s what you’re afraid of, isn’t it?’

MacMaster fascinates me because of his shrewd observation and succinct words, which puts him on a par with Judge Lawrence Wargrave(And Then There Were None) and Dr. Haydock (Murder At The Vicarage –see the Notes).  Also, he reminds me of Dr.    , Julian Fellowes’s character in Downtown Abbey Series. His suggestion of taking Lady Sybil Crawley to hospital is thwarted in favour of a famous physician the Crawleys has brought to help with the labour. Sadly, the village doctor is right and just as MacMaster, there is nothing they can do prevent a death occurs.

His brief appearance is crucial in the plot. I wonder who did he have in mind to have killed Rachel Argyle? And why? Too bad Christie does not make him appear again in the ending.

 

Clues:

Arthur Calgary and Leo Argyle (at Sunny Point):

Calgary said, ‘You will confirm that I have stated the facts correctly?’

‘You are perfectly correct,’ said Leo, ‘though I do not see why it has been necessary to go over painful pacts which we are all trying to forget.’

‘Forgive me. I had to do so. You do not, I gather, dissent from the verdict?’

‘I admit that the facts were stated – that is, if you do not go behind the facts, it was, crudely, murder. But if you do go behind the facts, there is much said to be said in mitigation. The boy was mentally unstable, though unfortunately not in the legal sense of the term. Then McNaughen rules are narrow and unsatisfactory. I assure you, Dr. Calgary, that Rachel herself – my late wif, I mean- would have been the first to forgive and excuse that unfortunate boy for his rash act. She wasa most advanced and humane thinker and had a profound knowledge of psychological factors. She would not have condemned.’

 

Dr MacMaster to Arthur Calgary:

‘So you weren’t surprised,’ said Calgary,’ when he was arrested for murder?’

‘Frankly, yes, I was surprised. Not because the idea of murder would have been particularly repugnant to Jacko. He was the sort of young man who is conscienceless. But the kind of murder he ‘d done did surprise me. Oh, I know he had a violent temper and all that. As a child he often hurled himself on another child or hit him with some heavy toy or a bit of wood. But it was a child usually smaller than himself, and it was usually not so much blind rage as the wish to hurt or get hold of something that he himself wanted. The kind of murder I’d expected Jackto to do, if he did one, was the type where a couple of boys go out on a raid; then, when the police come after them, the Jackos say, “Biff him on the head, bud. Let him have it. Shoot him down.” They’re willing for murder, ready to incite murder, but they’ve not got the nerve to do murder themselves with their own hands. That’s what I should have said. Now it seems I would have been right.’

 

Christina Argyle to Michael Argyle:

‘They said – one of them said, “Between seven and seven-thirty. That’s the time. Now remember that and don’t make a muck of it. Between seven and seven-thirty.” The other person whispered, “You can trust me,” and then the first voice said,” And after that, darling, everything will be wonderful.”’