Notes On While The Light Lasts

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1997

Motive: Wealth, jealousy and rage

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

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

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

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

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

Isle of Man, UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

The riddle for Alan Everald from his daughter

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

Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson is Agatha Christie’s favourite

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

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

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

Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson

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

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

Plot:

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

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

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

Cast:

Allegra Kerr (Maisie’s  friend)

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

Maisie Wetterman (Rudolf’s daughter)

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

The unnamed doctor in West Africa

The Twist: John Segrave dies in West Africa

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

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

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

What will Levitt do next?

Cast:

Jake Levitt (the blackmailer)

Miss Jones (Olga’s secretary)

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

Syd Danahan (Olga’s manager)

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

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

Plot:

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

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

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

Cast:

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

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

Nurse Lariston (a nurse at a mental ward)

Vivien Lee (nee Harper, Gerald’s wife)

The Vicar

A hotel receptionist at County Arms in Skippington

The Twist: Clare Halliwell survives

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

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

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

It is an extraordinary glass: a ruby stone.

Cast:

Annie (the maid)

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

Charles Pease (Eric and Johnnie’s school friend)

Emily Endicott (the elderly aunt)

Eric Endicott (Nancy’s younger brother)

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

Granges (the butler)

Jean Endicott (Emily’s niece)

Johnnie Endicott (Nancy and Eric’s sibling)

Nancy Cardell (Emily’s niece)

Oscar Levering (Evelyn’s fiancé)

Roger Endicott (the eldest nephew of Emily’s)

The cook 

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

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

Plot:

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

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

Will she ever see the painter again?

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

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

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

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

Plot:

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

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

 

Cast:

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

Fenella Mylecharane

Juan Farakar

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

Mrs. Skillicorn (Myles’s housekeeper)

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Alan Everard (the portrait artist)

George  (the narrator, Alan’s friend)

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

Isobel Loring (Alan’s wife)

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

Winnie Everard (Alan and Isobel’s child)

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

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

Plot:

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

Will Poirot want to believe the woman’s instinct?

Cast:

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

Burgoyne (Major Rich’s valet/manservant)

Mr. Clayton (Marguerita’s husband)

Major Jack Curtiss (Clayton’s friend)

Marguerita Clayton

Major Rich (the Claytons’s friend)

The Spences (Major Rich’s friends)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Deidre Corzier (George’s wife)

George Corzier (Deidre’s second husband)

Tim Nugent (Deidre’s first husband)

Mr. Walters (the manager of the tobacco estate)

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

The Most Fascinating Character: Myles Mylecharane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your affectionate Uncle,

Myles Mylecharane’     

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

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Notes On Dead Man’s Folly

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1956

Motive for Murder: Wealth and Identity

Plot:

During a fete, Marlene Tucker strangled by a cord and the hostess, Lady Hattie Stubbs disappears amidst a Murder Hunt at the grounds of Nasse House. Surely, it is not how Ariadne Oliver wanted to be; a real body found by her and Hercule Poirot.

Earlier in the day, Lady Hattie looks upset after receiving a letter from a distant cousin. More importantly, she is frightened of him. ‘I don’t want to see Etienne (De Sousa). He’s bad. He’s always bad. I’m afraid of him,’ she says to Poirot.

Is there a reason to believe that De Sousa’s presence has something to do with the murder of a harmless teenage girl? Has Hattie been hiding or kidnapped, perhaps – killed?

The lack of motive and evidence leave police feeling baffled. As for the sleuth, it is not until some time does he realise that Mrs. Oliver’s murder game plot holds significant clues to the case. Yet, it dawns on Poirot that not only does he have to deal with a cunning criminal, but three; of whom have prepared the killings to their minute details.

 

Dead Man’s Folly Casts in its 2013’s adaptation into Poirot Series on ITV. Zoe Wanamaker (on the right) plays the witty Mrs. Oliver.

 

Highlights:

The fifties’ England is arguably a difficult era with the shadows of the war still loom over many people and the hardship continues. For some old families, death duties hit them the hardest as their homes and lands must be sold, having resigned to lose everything after many generations living in the same place or as landlords. ; a number of them become.

To Amy Folliat, it is not the loss of wealth that is unacceptable but what has become some of the old houses after the change of ownership; hotels with a swarm of foreigners and tourists in summer. And she is determined that Nasse House, the house she used to live until the deaths of her two sons in the war, will not be turned into a busy youth hostel like others.

She is the last one standing; an elderly woman who now rents the lodge from the Stubbsess, the new owner.

Remember Mrs. Bantrys, Miss Marple’s old friend, who is in a similar situation?  Gossington Hall (home of the Bantrys’s) is the crime scene in The Body In The Library (1932). It is then sold to a Hollywood star, Marina Gregg, whom then refurbishes it and agrees for a village fete to be held in its grounds (The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side – see the Notes).

If Folliat seems to be unhappy about the situation, Mrs. Bantry’s sounds quite unsentimental. She accepts change and moves on; two things Folliat have found very difficult to begin with. This is where things start to shape.

Next, her relationship with Lady Hattie Stubbs.  The younger woman used to be under the other’s care and Folliat is fond of her. “Hattie is a dear good child,” she says, despite the fact that Hattie appears to be a little simple in mind. Nonetheless, Miss Brewis differs. Sir George’s secretary believes that her boss’s wife is not quite as slow as a snail when it comes to thinking (see Clues). As for Michael Weyman, her behaviour arouses curiousity on his part. He remarks to Poirot: ‘For some reason she likes playing the dim nitwit. I don’t know why…’

Miss Brewis might be biased in her views nevertheless. Being in love with Sir George, it is clear that she has been jealous to Hattie; “a woman who would never understand him (her husband) – his abilities.” Besides, Brewis does not like the other as well. Furthermore, what is intriguing is Weyman’s, who is neither interested in Hattie nor cares about giving criticism to the tennis pavilion project, of which he has been commissioned.

The grandeur design of 17th century era immortalised at a Folly in Stowe Landscape Garden, Buckinghamshire, England, UK

Then, there is still the host, Sir George Stubbs. He is a self-made man ‘the new rich’ who has bought title and status entailed being extremely wealthy. He reminds me of Gordon Ragg, a middle-aged man and a media magnate engaged to his much younger secretary Bridget Conway (Murder Is Easy – see the Notes). To the ‘old pussy’ Mrs. Folliat and Mrs. Masterton he is perceived as a complete vulgarian but liked in the community; happily playing the role of a county squire. To Weyman, Sir George is ‘a silly ass’ who has had a Folly done at a spot far from the house where nobody will come to admire it.

Opposing viewpoints and myriad impressions about a character are the strong points of the book. Christie the puppet master performs a wonderful performance, playing with the tricks of the brain to deceive readers – away from whodunit. Amidst the confusion concerning the motive, important clues are provided in mere words and gestures whose significance would be realised in the second reading.

The ‘distressed’ Mrs. Oliver and the ‘bloodhound’ Mrs. Masterton nearly steal the show with the authoress’s brilliant depiction of two contrasting personalities; one is the creator of the murder game and modern whilst the other is not about look but has influence over the influential men. And all the same, both smells something fishy but cannot point their fingers exactly towards what it is.

In the meantime, the police’s attention are drawn to Etienne De Sousa, the mysterious cousin. According to Lady Hattie, she knows his coming to the house when his letter arrived at breakfast. On the other hand, in his interview with Poirot he said that he had written to the Stubbsess three weeks prior to his presence. Who is one to believe? If Hattie lies, what are her reasons? Likewise, what makes De Sousa lie to the detective?

As The Most Fascinating Character, I have chosen Amanda Folliat. It is not an obvious choice because I had Alec Legge in mind (see Cast of Characters). Yet, the more I think about the role she plays, the more I realise that she is indeed a fascinating character. First and foremost, she holds the key to the case . Second of all, her opening up to Poirot at the beginning about her family and the Stubbsess are quite arresting. Which elderly women who are not keen at telling the past to anyone? And why to the Belgian, not the police? Is it because he is a foreigner or has she been aware of the sleuth’s reputation and as a friend of Mrs. Oliver?  There is more about this woman that meets the eye as the same credits go to Esa, Imhotep’s mother (Death Comes As The End – see the Notes).

My criticism about the plot, however, lies at the huge amount of private knowledge the suspects shared with Poirot. Take the example of Marylin Tucker, the younger sister of Marlene, who tells him about the money her elder sister got from blackmailing a very dangerous person. The detective comes to see the family a month after the murder, after the inquest. I wonder why such information cannot be obtained by the local police from the family? Did they ask the wrong questions? Or, did they not listen well?

On the one hand, the success of Poirot is due to his nagging sense of ‘a gap’ in the case and apparently the great work of his grey cells. On the other, an outsider like the sleuth has the advantage of seeing matters clearer without judgment. To this virtue, I suppose, whereby the authoress stands. What do you think?

As mentioned previously, Alec Legge is an enigmatic character. For he happens to rent a cottage and stays there with his smart wife, Sally, on ‘doctor’s order.’ When Tucker is killed, they have been at the cottage for a month.  What is fascinating is the curious case of Alec’s nervous breakdown; a young intelligent man who looks sane.  Until the end, Christie keeps readers in the dark about them, but a hint of Sally being attracted to Weyman.

Alan Turing – the head of the code breakers at Bletchley Park who died in 1952.

From whom does Christie derive Alec? His being in the shell makes Sally suffer and drive them apart. In the closing chapter readers know who he really is; an atom scientist who is fear of something or someone. His predicament might be similar to the brilliant Mathematician Alan Turing, who was committed suicide in 1952 – see the photograph on the right.

Lastly, in Spring 2013, I was at the boathouse in Greenway. It beggars belief that such a serene spot has inspired a crime fiction; a lateral idea that only reminds many that murders may happen in the unimaginable places.

On the whole, Dead Man’s Folly is a joy to read, ponder and re-read; a case of love, of despair and of justice that pinpoints the human nature in the face of adversity.

The Twists:

-Old Merdell’s  remark to Poirot: ‘Always be Folliats at Nasse’

-Miss Brewis sees Lady Hattie slip out of the house at night before the fete

-Loose soil is found underneath the Folly, which triggers cracks on its foundation

-Amanda Folliat lies about her younger son whom was killed in Italy during the war

-Sir George Stubbs is seen to have shouted at an Italian girl who trespasses a day before the fete

-Sir George is a bigamist

– Marlene Tucker is Old Merdell’s granddaughter

-Michael Weyman expresses his surprise of knowing that Lady Stubbs asked Miss Brewis to have brought a tray of cake and tea for Marlene Tucker down at the boathouse

 

Cast of Characters:

‘You know those lines of Spenser’s? Sleep after toyle, port after stormie seas, ease afterwar, death after life, doth greatly please….

(Amanda Folliat)

 

Alec Legge (Sally’s husband, the atom scientist)

Amanda Brewis (Sir George’s secretary and the housekeeper of Nasse House)

Amanda Folliat (the former owner of Nasse House who now lives at the lodge)

Ariadne Oliver (Poirot’s sidekick, a crime novelist)

Inspector Bland (of local chief constable)

Constable Bob Hoskins

Etienne De Sousa (Hattie’s distant cousin from West Indies)

Sir George Stubbs (the owner of Nasse House, Hattie’s husband)

Lady Hattie Stubbs (Sir George’s wife)

Hercule Poirot

Captain Jim Warburton

Marlene Tucker (Old Merdell’s granddaughter)

The Matersons (the husband is a local M.P. and the wife is a shrewd woman)

Michael Weyman (an architect whose presence at Nasse is to build a tennis pavilion for Lady Stubbs, Sally’s friend)

Old Merdell (who has been working at Nasse House since he was a boy, Marlene’s maternal grandfather)

Sally Legge (Alec’s wife and Michael Weyman’s friend)

Mrs. Tucker (Marlene’s mother)

Major Werall (The Chief Constable of the County)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Amanda Folliat

Recently I saw a programme on which it focuses on women behind bars; some of them are interviewed by Trevor Mc Donald in high security jails in the US. One of the interviewees is Sarah Jo Pender, who escaped in 2008 with the help of an officer. To the prison warden who has known her quite some time, Pender was one of the best manipulators the other had ever seen in her career spanning over 20 years.

Sinead Cusak gives a brilliant potrayal of Amanda Folliat in 2013’s Poirot series

To my mind, Amanda Folliat is on a league with Pender. If she made her boyfriend pull the trigger in 2000, Folliat persuades Hattie to marry Sir George so Nasse House would not have become something else.

To Poirot, she describes at length her relationship with Hattie.

‘I know her very well, you see. For a short time she was under my care.’

‘I did not know that,’ said Poirot.

‘How should you? It is in a way a sad story. Her people had estates, sugar estates, in the West Indies. As a result of an earthquake, the house there was burned down and her parents and brothers and sisters all lost their lives. Hattie herself was at a convent in Paris and was thus suddenly left without any near relatives. It was considered advisable by the executors that Hattie should be chaperoned and introduced society after she had spent a certain time abroad. I accepted the charge of her…..’

What emerges from that is Folliat’s filial affection to the other. Further on, she expresses her bitter feeling having lost the ownership of the house and lands. Old Merdell, who has known her since her coming to live in the house as a child, meets Poirot and tells him how she has been through a lot but taken it on the chin. Then comes his peculiar remark that ‘Always be Folliats at Nasse’, which is confirmed by Mrs. Masterton despite her saying the similar sentence as a joke.

I would like to highlight the fact that she is not the murderer, nor does she want anybody killed. As a result, the girl’s killing has shocked her a lot. Although she eventually realises the motive, unfortunately she keeps the knowledge to herself.  Not until Poirot forces her to acknowledge it does she speak and ask Poirot to leave her to think about it afterwards.

Her mixing up past and present tense while speaking about Hattie sounds natural at first due to her aging. The inconsistency continues nonetheless and Poirot becomes to wonder. For there has to be some reason behind it. To readers the clues are  described by Folliat’s gestures.

I suppose keeping secrets are extremely tiring and quite a lonely business. She  does not seem to have friends and Mrs. Masterton is not Folliat’s cup of tea. Sarah Legge is much younger and unlike Hattie in character, while the Stubbsess’s guest, Ariadne Oliver, may have been too contemporary to Folliat’s way of thinking. The book does not say anything about Folliat’s friends, either.

To date, Folliat is a favourite among my collection of Christie’s Most Fascinating Characters. Her words linger in my head. ‘You see, as I told you [Poirot], Hattie is completely suggestible. Anyone she is with at the time can dominate her.’

Clues:

Michael Weyman to Ariadne Oliver and Hercule Poirot about the Folly:

‘Top of that grassy bank by the house – perfect natural setting. But no, these tycoon fellows are all the same – no artistic sense. Has a fancy about a “Folly,” as he calls it, orders one. Looks round for somewhere to put it. Then, I understand, a big oak tree crashes down in a gale. Leaves a nasty scar. “Oh, we’ll tidy the place up by putting a Folly there,” says the silly ass. That’s all they ever think about, these rich city fellows, tidying up! I wonder he hasn’t put a beds of red geraniums and calceolarias around the house! A man like that shouldn’t be allowed to own a place like this!’

‘It’s bedded down in concrete. And there’s loose soil underneath – so it’s subsided. Cracked all up here – it will be dangerous soon…Better pull the whole thing down and re-erect it on the top of the bank near the house. That’s my advice, but the obstinate old fool won’t hear of it.’

 

Miss Brewis to Hercule Poirot:

‘Lady Stubbs knows perfectly well exactly what she is doing. Besides being, as you said, a very decorative young woman, she is also a shrewd one.’

 

Amanda Folliat to Hercule Poirot:

‘Sir George, though he is a self-made man and –let us face it – a complete vulgarian, is kindly and fundamentally decent, besides being extremely wealthy. I don’t think he would ever ask for mental companionship from a wife, which is just as well. Hattie is everything he wants. She displays jewels and clothes to perfection, is affectionate and willing, and is completely happy with him. I confess that I am very thankful that that is so, for I admit that I deliberately influenced her to accept him. If it had turned out badly –her voice faltered  a little- it would have been my fault for urging her to marry a man so many years older than herself…’

 

Michael Weyman to Inspector Bland:

‘I should say she [Lady Stubbs] knows which side her bread is buttered better than most. A very ornamental young woman and knows how to make the most of it.’

‘But mentally not very active? Is that right?’ says the Inspector.

‘Depends what you mean by mentally. I wouldn’t describe her as an intellectual. But if you’re thinking that she’s not all there, you’re wrong. I’d say

Notes On Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1934

Motive for Murder: Identity

Plot: Robert Jones is miraculously survived when traces of eight gram of morfia was found in his beer. Beforehand, Bobby received an unusual letter offering him a job in South America for a thousand pounds a year.

Prior to the poisoning, the clergyman’s son never related the incident with his having found a man at the bottom of the cliff. He died shortly afterwards and was identified as Alex Pritchard. ‘Death by accident’ was then concluded at the inquest. Nonetheless, no sooner has Bobby seen a photograph of a woman’s on Marchbolt Weekly Times than he realises the reason behind an attempt of his life. For it is not the same photograph he noticed having fallen from the deceased’s pocket while he was staying with the dead body.

As soon as Frankie heard about the news of her old friend, she came immediately to visit him. As he points out to her about the photograph issue on the paper, plans are laid to investigate the matter. Some people want Bobby out of the picture owing to his knowing the original photograph. Moreover, Pritchard was pushed off the cliff. Hence, murdered. Yet,who is the woman in the photograph anyhow? Why did Pritchard keep it?

Before he died Pritchard said to Bobby, ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’

Highlights:

The map of the seaside towns in Wales, United Kingdom

As the sun setting over Marchbolt, a fictional Welsh seaside town, in autumn, a body of a man’s lies at the bottom of the cliff. He moaned as Bobby’s golf ball hit him inadvertently.  As Bobby approaches, he realises that the man is already dying.

In another scene he bumps into Frankie on a train the next day in London. Lady Frances Derwent is introduced and saves her old friend’s face in the first-class carriage he has been mistakened to get into. Two friends met each other again after some time, subtle criticism as regard to English class society remind readers about the uneasiness Bobby endured towards a ‘Lady.’ Of equal merit, their meeting bear similarities to Tommy and Tuppence’s after the Great War (The Secret Adversary).

In Christie’s world, romance and crime parallels despite differences in the names, setting and personalities of the characters. Furthermore, in her books that were published in the thirties the theme recurs and another heroine here is particularly created. Frankie comes after Emily Trefusis (The Sittaford Mystery, 1931) and more or less she is the new ‘Bundle’ without a father who is ‘forced’ to be involved in politics.

Frankie’s father, Earl Marchington, remains in the background.   More importantly, this father and daughter theme sounds to reflect Christie’s relationship with her beloved mother Clara. The dynamics shown between Bundle and the Earl speak volumes of their mutual affection, which might resemble Christie and Clara’s to one another. Perhaps, it had to be a father for Christie; a sign of yearning of the more from her late father.

The Vicarage in Llanfor, 1885. An illustration to Bobby’s home in the book.

As for Bobby’s relationship with his father, the Vicar of Marchbolt, it is fascinating that in the difficult time, ie. economy going belly up, the frustration of a parent towards their grown-up son/daughter  is similar. Reverend Jones’s fourth son returns to live in the Vicarage after his deciding to quit the Navy and trying his hands on a garage business. Likewise, in the current situation in the UK, some parents must put up with her adult children still staying at home in their late twenties as a result of their salary cannot afford to pay for the deposit of a flat/house.

In the authoress’s thirties’ books, I understand that in the non-Poirot/Marple books the plot is rather full of suspense and twists. One situation moves to another fastly, as if riding a roller-coaster. On the one hand, it keeps the excitement to readers. On the other, it usually leaves no room to ponder over the order of events and names. Be that as it may, conversations between the characters are equally intriguing and polished with quiet humour and ‘polite sarcasm’ – if the latter term exists.

‘My dear, as soon as I heard about you, I tore back. It’s most exciting to have a romantically poisoned friend,’ said Frankie. ‘I don’t know whether morphia is so very romantic,’ said Bobby reminiscently.

Be that as it may, the incident has become a turning point for Bobby. Gone is his lack of confidence; his posing as Frankie’s driver, who has been in Melroway Court following her ‘accident’ takes their relationship to the next level. Drifting apart, each then has found another partner in crime; Frankie to Bassington-frenches and Bobby to Moira Nicholson, the woman in the photograph.

1930′ Bentley Speed Six. Did Frankie drive this when crashing near Melroway Court?

What is most intriguing personally is the identity of the dead man (see The Most Fascinating Character). Information about him is provided on a need-to-know basis while the very truth is guarded right until the end. There are some contrasting views on him; red herrings and rumours are thrown in along the way. At any rate it is a work of guess on the part of the readers, for they have to decide for themselves which one to believe: a non-local on a walking holiday caught up by fog or a Canadian detective in the hunt of a wanted criminal?  Plus, is Alex Pritchard his real name?

The most curious character is Dr. Nicholson, Moira’s husband. He runs an institute for psychiatrically patients called The Grange.  Further development leads to Bobby and Frankie’s suspicion towards the Canadian psychiatrist and especially when his love to Sylvia Bassington-ffrench is revealed. Naturally, he has a motive to silence Moira and Sylvia’s husband so he can marry her.  Most significantly, Sylvia’s husband, Henry, is a morphia addict. Dr. Nicholson has been asking for her permission to treat Henry in The Grange. Yet, can he be trusted, if the treatment fails and Henry will die? Had it happened, the chances were that the doctor would not be blamed.  Thus, two sides of a coin about Dr. Nicholson: a really good psychiatrist or a man madly in love with another man’s wife?

Having considered the above matters, Christie was brilliant in terms of double-meaning in a phrase or sentence; the mind game in motion.  What I appreciate most is her tying the loose ends well. And sometimes applying an element of surprise, such as a suggestion for Frankie to ask Roger Bassington-ffrench as to why he did replace the photograph in Pritchard’s pocket.

On the contrary, I wonder if the subplots could have been simplified; Frankie’s fake accident, Bobby’s dressing up as a lawyer and a cunning thief with multiple identities are rather fun. Christie’s fondness to plays gives way to these. What raised my eyebrows were John Savage’s will and Badger came to the rescue for Bobby and Frankie. Does it occur to anyone’s mind that Bobby’s old pal went to Oxford and therefore had known Roger Bassington-ffrench in his youth?

Also, the occurrence in Tudor Cottage where Frankie and Bobby are detained by ‘Dr. Nicholson’is superfluous. For it is very similar to Bundle and Bill Eversleigh in a Seven Dials Pub. I mean; do the protagonists have to be coshed in the head and fainted before they realise how much they like each other?

As the saying goes “less is more.”

Lastly, after the second reading, the ending I believe is rather flat. The villain’s letter to Frankie and Bobby explaining the whole scheme might reveal who really is the protagonist anyhow. After all, it is not Frankie and Bobby but the criminal; live and free in a country untouched by the law.

The Twists:

-Roger Bassington-ffrench replaces the photograph of a woman’s in Alex Pritchard’s body after Bobby left

-Franky has orchestrated a motor accident near the residence of Bassington-ffrenches’s Merroway Court in Hampshire

-The photograph of a woman’s on the piano at Merroway Court is the same as the one Bobby saw in Pritchard’s pocket

-Bobby meets the woman in the photograph at the Grange

-Moira Nichoilson admits that she knew Alan Carstairs to Bobby

-Roger tells Frankie why he replaced the photograph from Pritchard’s pocket

-Roger hears Frankie said ‘Bobby’ over the telephone (whilst she was supposed to call her driver)

– Henry Bassington-ffrench does not commit suicide in his room

-Moira disappears from the Grange after Henry’s death

– Mrs. Robertson’s maiden surname, the Vicar’s housemaid, is Evans

Cast of Characters:

Alex Pritchard/Alan Carstairs (the deceased)

Amelia Cayman(nee Pritchard, the deceased’s sister)

Badger Beadon (Bobby’ friend)

Lady Frances Derwent (a.k.a. Franky, the daughter of Earl Marchington, Bobby’s childhood friend)

George Artbuthnot (the doctor Frankie ‘hires’ for the ‘accident’ at Melroway Court)

Gladys Roberts (nee Evans, the ex-parlourmaid at Tudor Cottage and now works at the Vicarage)

Dr. Jasper Nicholson (Moira’s husband, a Canadian psychiatrist who runs The Grange, near Merroway Court)

Leo Cayman (Amelia’s husband)

Henry Bassington-ffrench (Sylvia’s husband, Tommy’s father and Roger’s brother)

Earl Marchington (Frankie’s father)

Moira Nicholson (the wife of Dr. Nicholson)

Reverend Jones (the Vicar of Marchbolt, Bobby’ father)

Mrs. Rivington (who came to Merroway Court  with her husband Colonel Rivington and Alan Carstairs)

Robert Jones (a.k.a. Bobby, the fourth son of Reverend Jones, Frankie’s childhood friend)

Roger Bassington-ffrench (who stays with the dead body after Bobby left, waiting for the police to come)

Sylvia Bassington-ffrench (Henry’s wife, Roger’s sister-in-law)

Dr. Thomas Thorndyke (the village doctor, Bobby’s opponent in playing golf)

Tommy  (the Bassington-ffrench’s seven-year-old son)

Inspector Williams (of Marchbolt police)

The Most Fascinating Character: Alan Carstairs

In the book he is a dead man; his last words become the title of the book. The sentence is uttered before his last breath, of which Bobby heard.

Following the inquest, Amy Cayman and her husband identify him as Mrs. Cayman’s brother Alex Pritchard. It is the name Carstairs was known at the beginning while an accident is perceived as the cause of the death. Nobody smells a rat until Bobby’s beer is poisoned. Further on, Franky’s staying with the Bassington-ffrench and her hostess, Sylvia, mentions about a Canadian guest, Alan Carstairs, who came with the family’s friend the Rivingtons prior to Carstairs’s death.

Bobby’s interviewing Mrs. Rivington about Carstairs’s affair in England. During the interview Mrs. Rivington said that Carstairs seemed upset after returning from Melroway Court and was asking a lot of questions about the people there and at The Grange.

If anything, Carstairs strikes the chord with Colonel Race (The Man In The Brown Suit) for their being discreet and good-looking. Race also was on the hunt of a crook on board a ship liner to South Africa.

Carstairs’s involvement began having received a telegraph from John Savage. He was on a voyage and told Carstairs that he had met a ‘nice lady.’Savage was a man of wealth and the cunning female thief whom he liked then lured him into her trap. He was seduced but unfortunately quite sane not to give a portion of his vast fortune to the woman.

Nonetheless, Carstairs was alarmed and set off to find Savage’s whereabouts in England. Meanwhile, she and her crime gang concocted a plan to make Savage alter his will on her favour. He did not. One of the gang then ‘became’ him lying on his death bed after summoning his lawyer and modified the will nevertheless. The real Savage had been drugged and possibly killed after the lawyer was gone.

Interestingly, Carstairs’s presence was unbeknown to the gang until he turned up at Melroway Court. In the book there are no further details regarding the history between Savage and Carstairs. For instance, how well did Carstairs know Savage? In what capacity Carstairs hunted the gang – in his personal capacity as Savage’s friend or as – something else?

If it is clear that Race is rumoured to be connected with the Intelligent Service, Carstairs’s profession is in the dark. From the description I deduce that he might have been a policeman or a private investigator. Probably, a Canadian lawyer as in The Clocks?

What do you think?

Clues:

Bobby and Franky’s conversation in a convalescent home:

B:‘There’s a flaw there.’

F: ‘Why? You were the only person who saw that photograph. As soon as Bassington-ffrench was left alone with the body he changed the photograph which only you had seen.’

B:’No, that won’t do. Let’s grant for a moment that that photograph was so important that I had to be “got out of” the way, as you put it. Sounds absurd but I suppose it’s just possible. Well, then, whatever was going to be done would have to be done at once. The fact that I went to London and never saw the Marchbolt Weekly Times or the other papers with the photograph in it was just pure chance- a thing nobody could count on. The probability was that I should say at once,”That isn’t the photograph I saw.” Why wait till after the inquest when everything was nicely settled?’

F: ‘There’s something in that.’

B: ‘And there’s another point. I can’t be absolutely sure, of course, but I could almost swear that when I put the photograph back in the dead man’s pocket Bassington-ffrench wasn’t there. He didn’t arrive till about five or ten minutes later.’

F: ‘He might have been watching you all the time.’

B: ‘I don’t see very well how he could…’

Conversations between Bobby (as a fake junior lawyer) withMrs. Rivington:

(after Alan Carstairs going to Merroway Court and then was noticed to be upset about something)

B: ‘Was there a party? Did he meet any of the neighbours?’

R: ‘No, it was just ourselves and them. But it’s odd your saying that -’

B: ‘Yes.’

R: ‘Because he asked a most frightful lot of questions about some people who lived near there.’

B: ‘Do you remember the name?’

R: ‘No, I don’t. It wasn’t anyone very interesting – some doctor or other.’

B: ‘Dr Nicholson?’

R: ‘I believe that was the name. He (Carstairs) wanted to know all about him and his wife and when they came there – all sorts of things. It seems so odd when he didn’t know them, and he wasn’t a bit a curious man as a rule. But, of course, perhaps he was only making conversation, and couldn’t think of anything to say. One does do things like that sometimes.’