Notes on Miss Marple’s Final Cases

 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Year of Publication: 1979

Motive for Murder: wealth and revenge

 

Plot:

1.Sanctuary: Bunch opens the church to find a dying man at the altar. He mumbles his last word sanctuary and the other that sounds like her husband’s name: Julian, the vicar. When a man and a woman turn up and claim the deceased as their brother, Bunch starts to smell a rotten business in the stranger’s death. Particularly, they insist to take his shabby coat which is stained with blood as a memento.

 

dorchester2

Dorchester Abbey in Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire,UK is a filming set for A Murder Is Announced which features Reverend Julian Harmon and his wife Bunch.

2.Strange Jest: The benefactors to Matthew Rossiter’s will Charmian Stroud and Edward Rossiter are running out of time to solve  his late uncle’s riddle. They believe there’s been a buried treasure in Ansteys- the inherited home they love so much. Despite their effort they can’t find it. Being under the pressure to either foot the bill  or sell the property, they turn to Miss Marple for her insights on Victorian idiosyncrasies.

 

3.Tape-Measure Murder: Constable Palk is not supposed to touch anything in a crime scene. Yet he’s picked up a pin on his uniform, having come first to the crime scene. Mrs. Spenlow has been strangled in her home dressed in a kimono.Yet, as the saying goes: ‘see a pin and pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck.’

4.The Case of the Caretaker: Harry Laxton comes back to his village a wealthy man. The prodigal son of Major Laxton has bought the Kingsdean estate where he spent his boyhood and rebuilt the house after his marriage to Louise, a rich Anglo-French woman. An orphan with considerable fortune, her happiness is put to a test when Mrs. Murgatroyd, the widow of the former caretaker whom lives in a corner of the estate threatens the other. Not long afterwards Louise falls off her horse and never regains consciousness.

5.The Case of the Perfect Maid: St. Mary Mead is buzzing with the enviable Mary Higgins. The Skinner sisters’ perfect maid is everybody’s dream. Is it too good to be true? Miss Marple visit them to find out more.

6.Miss Marple Tells a Story: An old friend, Mr. Petherick, comes with his client to consult the sleuth about Mr. Rhoderick’s case. For he’s been suspected to have stabbed his wife in her bed while they were staying at the Crown Hotel in Barnchester. What would she suggest the solicitor regarding the line of defence in the court?

7.The Dressmaker’s Doll: Alicia Coombe announces to her staff that she has given up the

man_in_the_mirror_by_xxvictorious54xx-d5ul3981

Who  is the man in the mir

use of the fitting-room. Nobody hesitates that the decision may come from a menacing-look puppet doll of the dressmaker that seems to occupy the place. Feeling the continual terrors of it, Alicia feels compelled in the end to throw it away. Despite her relief, will it stop bothering her?

 

8.In A Glass Darkly: On his best friend’s invitation a young man stays over at his home Badgeworthy. There he meets the other’s sister Sylvia Carslake and her fiancée Charles Crawley. To his horror, the man happens to see in  the mirror Sylvia’s being strangled in her bed by Crawley.

 

Highlights:

Published posthumously, the six stories of Jane Marple’s show the unwavering wits of Christie’s.  As for the two other stories, The Dressmaker’s Doll and In A Glass Darkly, their inclusion I believe has suggested their having been discovered with the others after Christie’s death in 1976. Other unknown short stories  emerge later on in Greenways;  While The Light Lasts and Problems At Pollensa Bay were released in 1990s.

In 2013 I bought a second-hand copy of 2002’s signature edition. In it there was another short story, A Greenshaw’s Folly. Two years later, however, I happened to get hold some 2006’s facsimile edition in crisp condition a National Trust second-hand bookshop. Interestingly, it does not contain Miss Marple’s finding the murder of Miss Greenshaw.

Having studied about Agatha Christie’s writings in the last four years, I have established a fair assumption that she might have written some at the same time; be they a scene of a play here and details for a short story there. In the meantime, she might have re-read her previously published books and therefore a subplot would have had a new lease of life with different character names and setting.

 

chrysanthemum_25

Bunch puts down the Chrysanthemums she has brought for the church to come closer to a huddled body on the chancel steps

Her ‘recycling’ a setting with a different twist for the plot is noticeable in this collection, too. First, Sanctuary featuring Reverend Julian Harmons and his wife Bunch will jog readers’ minds to A Murder Is Announced (1950). In the novel Bunch is acquainted with Miss Marple, whilst her curious nature in the short story makes her go for a day to meet the sleuth who stays at West’s home in London. It’s likely Tape-Measure Murder might have been drafted right after, punctuated by the naming of Laburnam Cottage in both stories.

 

During the writing, I supposed Christie was aware that she couldn’t omit the trio chief gossipers of St. Mary Mead. Nor should she have put them together in a piece. Hence in Tape-Measure Murder Miss Hartnell lives next to the victim Mrs. Spenlow; Miss Wetherby has her turn to further announce to the world about Lavinia Skinner’s accusing her maid Gladys to have stolen her jewellery and Miss Harmon is in the chemist when Harry Laxton introduces his wife Louise to Bella, his ex-girlfriend and the chemist’s daughter.

Next, there is a main theme running in the stories: jewellery robbery. In the difficult times between the two wars and post-second world war, crimes did occur to gain access to the valuables. With her craft Christie depicts the hardship which continued to engulf the UK right until in the sixties. The plot for At Bertram’s Hotel is based on The Great Train Robbery in 1963.

 

miss-pettigrew-thats-cocaine

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

Christie is adept to a matter close to heart to many of her readers: the ongoing problems of domestic worker issue. I wonder what would have been her opinions about of Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day and The Diary of A Provincial Woman, as the books share the same clinging-on sense of the tradition whilst at the same time they are aware of their financial constraint and labour shortage. Notwithstanding whether Christie had read the two books, she herself ‘empowers’ the likes of Gladys et all as a minor character with various roles. More importantly, Christie seems to stress that some maids may have more than meet the eye.

 

Christie brings in Doctor Haydock for The Case of The Caretaker suggests the possibility of Christie’s working on Sleeping Murder, too. In the former, he infers the murder of Louisa Haxton in his note to the sleuth. In the latter, it is Miss Marple who begs to prescribe him for a trip to a seaside to help Gwenda Halliday.

By the same token is the re-appearance of Mr. Petherick the solicitor (see also The Thirteen Problems). Perhaps it’s the same ‘madness’ to his clients to see a silver-haired woman and furthermore to consult her about the case. Mr. Rhoderick is unconvinced as to how Miss Marple’s twinkling eyes can drop a murder charge looming over him.

But Mr. Petherick himself utters to his old friend: ‘In a case of illness one likes two points of views – that of the specialist and that of the family physician. It is the fashion to regard the former as of more value, but I am not sure that I agree. The specialist has experience only in his own subject; the family doctor has, perhaps, less knowledge – but a wider experience.

In the absence of Miss Marple in the last two stories, Christie puts a stress on the pertaining sense of mystery which parallels to the story theme in The Hound of Death (1932). Her exploration into the unexplained occurrences and baffling phenomena underlines what her contemporaries try to grasp owing to the shocking  change of Europe’s political map and the global economy crises.

Lastly, it’s pitiful but understandable that Christie could be audacious in her dialogues but still adheres to the golden rule of  fiction as an escape. By shifting fears to uncertain future to objects, ie. a mirror and a lively-looking velvet doll she is being non-judgmental to things that might terror people’s mind.

Thus Alicia Coombe can loose her battle  against her illogical thoughts and the male narrator succumbs to the imagery in the mirror. In her frustration Alicia tries to persuade a girl to give the doll back to her and her refusal to do so is then summed up by Alicia’s talking to herself in the last sentence : ‘perhaps…perhaps that’s what she wanted all along… to be loved….’ All of a sudden I felt sympathy to her.

Be that as it may, it beats not In A Glass Darkly. The unnamed narrator takes readers to the summer 1914; the timing being a focal point. It’s universally acknowledged as the last happy memory for Christie’s generation; the great calamity in the Great War is then repeated in the Second World War.

The premonition he sees in the mirror along with the sombre mood of a survivor’s guilt are conspicuous. Did he know who he was afterwards? Can he trust his judgment? Finally, Sylvia’s polite response on his telling her what he’s seen the other day that leaves a lingering thought: ‘I’m sure you did if you say so. I believe you.’

What do you think?

 

Cast of Characters:

In Sanctuary:

-Police Constable Abel

-Inspector Craddock

-The Eccless (husband and wife, claiming to be the deceased’s family)

-Edwin Moss (who takes Bunch’s suitcase)

-The Harmons (Reverend Julian and his wife Diana,a.k.a. Bunch)

 

In Strange Jest:

-Charmian Stroud

-Edward Rossiter

– Jane Helier (Charmian and Edward’s friend)

 

In Tape-Measure Murder:

-Miss Hartnell

-Colonel Melchett (the chief constable of St. Mary Mead)

-Miss Pollit (a dressmaker)

-Constable Palk (who comes to a crime scene the first time)

-Inspector Slack

 

In The Case of The Caretaker:

-Miss Bell

-Clarice Vane (Doctor Haddock’s niece, Louise’s friend)

-Doctor Haddock

-Miss Harmon

-Mrs. Murgatroyd (lives in a corner of the Kingsdean estate)

-the Laxtons (Harry and his wife Louisa who live in Kingsdean)

 

In The Case of The Perfect Maid:249824

-Edna (Miss Marple’s maid and Gladys’s cousin)

-Mary Higgins (the perfect maid)

-Colonel Melchett (the chief constable)

-The Skinner sisters (Lavinia and Emily)

-Inspector Slack

-Miss Wetherby

 

In Miss Marple Tells A Story:

-Mrs. Carruthers ( a hotel’s guest)

-Mrs Granby (a hotel’s guest)

-Mr. Petherick (a solicitor preparing for the case, Miss Marple’s friend)

-Mr. Rhodes (Mr. Petherick’s client)

 

In The Dressmaker’s Doll:

-Alicia Coombe (a dressmaker)

-Mrs. Fellows-Brown (Alicia’s client who tries on a dress)

-Mrs. Fox ( the cleaner)

-Sybil Fox (Alicia’s assistant)

 

In A Glass Darkly:

-Sylvia Carslake

-The narrator (Sylvia’s husband)

 

 

 

Notes On Partners In Crime

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1929

Motive for Crimes: Wealth

Mission: Intelligence

Plot:

Tuppence’s thirst for adventure is fulfilled when Mr. Carter makes a surprise visit to the Beresfords’s home. He proposes Tommy taking over the now defunct ‘The International Detective Agency’ after the capture of Theodore Blunt, whose activities abroad are linked to a famous Russian agent ‘16.’ Tommy is to continue Blunt’s being a private detective while looks out for any blue letters with a Russian stamp on them. As soon as it turns up, the Beresfords must forward it to Mr. Carter.

Handling an array of interesting cases, from the missing girlfriend to an unbreakable alibi, the husband and wife are encountered with a series of fascinating and unprecedented events. Dangers also loom over them from their secret adversaries.

Franscesca Annis as Tuppence and James Warwick Tommy in 1983’s TV series.

Can the duo amateur sleuths accomplish the mission: to capture no. 16?

Highlights:      

Young Adventurers, Ltd.  makes a come back as ‘Blunt’s Brilliant Detectives’ – the couple’s slogan for the firm they run.  Six years after Jane Finn’s affair (see Notes On The Secret Adversary), Mrs. Beresford’s grey cells require exercise.  Playing her part as a demure but very effective secretary, Tuppence shows the same agility and perceptive mind tackling  a curious incident.

This second book of Tommy and Tuppence series has the same light-hearted touch of the sleuthing world as the previous one, published seven years earlier. Moving fast from one case to another, fourteen in total, their beguiling nature will thrill readers to no end. With sleeping enemies and a dangerous mission to achieve, some ‘hiccups’ are bound to happen along the way.

The husband might be the head of the firm, but the wife decides what matters. Or rather, a weary  husband who quietly disagrees the risky steps being taken by his indomitable wife. Nonetheless, she is apt in inventing the first case with a help of an old acquaintance; a good intention on her part that hurts a man’s pride. Tommy then scores in the second case, having found a way to prove the innocence of two people inspired Dr. John Thorndyke.  Summing up, he says: ‘My learned friend forgets. Thorndyke never tells until the last moment. Besides, Tuppence, you and your pal Janet Smith put one over on me last time. This makes us all square.’

Tuppence’s quick-thinking and Tommy’s cautious approach are the opposite attract that make the collaboration a success. Mind, Albert, the page boy Tuppence recruited to watch Rita Vandermeyer in The Secret Adversary comes handy when either of them are in tight places. Furthermore, every prospective client is fed with the agency’s credentials the moment they have stepped into the office. More importantly, his talk is as good as his act as he saves Tommy and Tuppence’s life on separate occasions.

The best aspect of the book is the duo’s humour in role-playing by enlisting various names in the crime genre. Taking his hat off after finding a missing pink pearl, Tommy wears another as Father Brown in The Man In The Mist, being the American McCarthy, trying his hand as Holmes in the mix-up of the US Ambassador’s kitbag on board a liner and Desmond Okewood. Meanwhile, although Tuppence is either Watson or Hastings, she seems to have more imagination than the sidekicks and takes an unexpected move when the net is closing in for No. ’16.’

Father Brown, GK Chesterton’s empathetic character has been adapted on the BBC and the new series were broadcast last January 2013. Mark Williams stars as the protagonist.

My favourite case is The Curious Telegram (I invent the title myself).  A Pole explorer who has returned having been away for two years’ expedition feels something is amiss when he received a telegram from his fiancée. Why didn’t she wish to meet him? After he leaves the office Tuppence points out that the county’s name has been written on the county’s name, which is not a common practice. Her hunch finally leads to the discovery of the ‘missing fiance’ whom has checked herself in into a clinic in Essex.  Furthermore, the scene in which Tuppence looks into the room by climbing the ladder will recall readers’ mind to the similar doing of hers while indentifying Jane Finn’s whereabouts in a nursing home. Above all, what amuses me is not the strange premises, but the very reason as to why the explorer’s fiancée has hidden herself in such establishment.

Full of Christie’s dry wits and humour, this book is nevertheless was written during an extremely difficult time in her life. Kudos to her, quadruple thumbs-up that she kept on writing and most significantly that not an iota of resentment is drawn against the opposite sex. In fact, she encourages the equal partnership between a man and a woman. As far as I am concerned, her hinting at her ordeal is expressed through the Beresfords’s stressing of not taking a divorce case.

In fact, she sent the message of her resilience in the ending. After Tuppence regains her consciousness, Tommy says,‘… we’re going to give it up now, aren’t we? ‘Certainly we are.’ He gives a sigh of relief. ‘I hoped you’d be sensible. After a shock like this..’ ‘It’s not the shock. You know I never mind shocks.’ He murmurs, ‘A rubber bone – indestructible.’ ‘I’ve got something better to do. Something ever so much more exciting. Something I’ve never done before.’ Another project, anyone? You bet.

Lastly, I wish there were more details about No. ’16.’ Who is the agent? As this is not deliberated, I hardly believe she might have been Countess Vera Rossakoff, Poirot’s so-called woman. In the following I omit The Most Fascinating Character owing to her being the perfect criminal and on a par with the fellow whodunits in Sad Cypress, After The Funeral and By The Pricking of My Thumbs (see my respective Notes on the three novels).

The Details of each case in the order of their appearance:

1.       The Missing Girlfriend:

Plot: A man in love is astounded by the sudden disappearance of a woman, of whom he has taken interest in. As usual he waits for her outside a hat shop where she works, but she has not came to work that day. He then seeks her in her lodging and she has not come back the night before.

In despair, he turns to the agency, having remembered about its advertisement on the paper mentioned by the woman. Can Tuppence keep her promise to find her in twenty-four hours?

Cast of Characters:  Lawrence St. Vincent (the client) and Jeanette (a.k.a. Janet Smith)

The Twist: Miss Smith is an ex-nurse, of whom Tuppence acquainted during the Great War and now works in a hat shop

2.       The Missing Pink Pearl:

Plot: A guest’s valuable pearl is missing when she stays at the Kingston-Bruces’s home, The Laurels. Beatrice Kingston-Bruce steps into Blunt’s Detectives office recommended by Lawrence St. Vincent, of whom happens to know the family and was at the house at that time.

Having heard the brief of the case, Tuppence notices that the young woman has not told her everything.

Cast of Characters:

– Elise (Lady Laura’s maid)

– Gladys Hill (the parlour maid at the Kingston Bruces’s house The Laurels)

-Mrs. Hamilton Betts (American, the owner of the pink pearl who stays at The Laurels)

-The Kingston-Bruces (father, mother and Beatrice the daughter)

-Lady Laura Barton (a guest staying at The Laurels)

– Mr. Rennie (Beatrice’s friend)

The Twist: Beatrice and Mr. Reinnie suspect one another for stealing the pearl

3.       The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger

Plot: A doctor describes strange occurrences about the letter and the false summon he had to Tommy and Tuppence. Nonetheless, the client’s eyes somehow glance at a blue envelope arrived moments before. After he left, the couple examines the Russian stamp on it whereby number sixteen appears.

As promised, Tommy goes to the client’s house in Hamsptead at night. Little does he know what awaits him there.

Cast of Characters:

Dr. Charles Bower (a.k.a Carl Bauer)

Inspector Dymchurch

The Twist: Tommy inadvertently pockets a silver cigarette case engraved  ‘Francis from Tuppence’ that is supposed to be Tuppence’s present for her friend’s wedding

4.       The Three Arts Ball

Plot: In a costume party Tuppence realises that a woman, dressed as The Queen of Heart,  has been stabbed with a small dagger and is barely alive. ‘Bingo did it…,’ she says in a strained whisper and shortly afterward dies. She refers to Captain Hale, the deceased’s husband’s best friend.

Franscesca Annis as Tuppence is resplendent in the twenties’ dress

The next day, the deceased’s husband, Sir Arthur Merivale comes over to ask Tuppence about his late wife’s last words. For he had no idea that his late wife would have come to the party.

Did the captain kill her?

Cast of Characters:

Sir Arthur Merivale (the husband)

Lady Merivale (the deceased)

Captain’Bingo Hale (the main suspect)

The Twist: Sir Arthur jumps off the window of the agency’s office

5.       The Curious Telegram

Plot: A North Pole explorer turns up at the agency with a telegram in his hand. For he does not believe that it is from his fiancée, of whom upon his return after two years’ expedition has apparently not very keen to see him. Has she really gone to Monte Carlo for week as written on it?

Cast of Characters:

Gabriel Stavansson (the explorer)

The Honorable Hermione Crane (the fiancée, previously Mrs. Leigh Gordon)

Dr. Horriston (who runs The Grange, a clinic at Maldon, Essex)

The Twist: Mr. Stavansson dislikes a fat woman

6.       Blindman’s Bluff

Plot: A middle-aged man approaches Tommy and Tuppence’s table while they have lunch at the Blitz. Introducing himself as Duke of Blairgowie, he wants to consult them on the matter of the disappearance of his sixteen-year-old’s niece. Furthermore, he will give Tommy a lift back to the office while Tuppence, introduced as Miss Gange is left behind to arrange other matters.

In the car Tommy finds out that the man is an impostor, who knows his real name and the mission Blunt’s Detectives. What will Tommy do?

Cast of Characters:

–          Duke of Blairgowie

–          Captain Harker (the ‘Duke’’s companion)

–          Gregory (the chauffeur)

The Twist: The ‘Duke’ does believe that ‘Mr. Blunt’ is blind

7.       The Man In The Mist

Plot: Still wearing a parson’s outfit after solving a case, Tommy bumps into an old acquaintance, who happens to be in the same hotel in which the Beresfords were having tea. The other man introduces Tommy to his companion, a famous actress Gilda Glen. Presently she sends a letter to Tommy, asking for him to come to her dwelling at The White House.

Meanwhile, Tuppence is acquainted with a poet, of whom is the erstwhile boyfriend of Miss Glen. He remarks on her current relationship with a richer man. ‘And if she sells herself to that muck cheap, Leconbury – well, God help her. I’d as soon kill her with my own hands.’

When Tommy and Tuppence comes at the house at the agreed time, little do they know that the actress has already been killed. More importantly, they have met the murderer before entering the house.

Cast of Characters:

Ellen (Mrs. Honeycott’s maid)

James Reilly (the poet)

Miss Gilda Glen

Mrs. Honeycott (Glen’s sister, with whom she stays at The White House)

Marvyn Estcourt (a.k.a. ‘Bulger,’ the Beresfords’s acquaintance)

The Twist: Gilda Glen was married young at seventeen and now seeks divorce from her first husband to be able to remarry

8.       The Crackler

Plot: A case of counterfeit money brings the couple to a distinguished London club where the transactions allegedly have taken place before the forged notes brought across the English Channel. A certain man in position and power is suspected although nothing can be associated with the crime at a big scale.

The live and parties in the roaring twenties’ Britain.

When the party ends, Tommy, posing as a well-to-do young man with money to burn, follows his new friend, Mr. Reilly to Whitecapel. Through some dingy alleys Tommy goes straight into a lion’s den, which is the factory where the notes are produced. Can he escape in one piece?

Cast of Characters:

–          Hank Ryder (a rich American man)

–          The Laidlaws (a Major and French wife, Marguerite)

The Twist: Tommy has instructed Albert to follow him on a motorcycle if he goes with Ryder. The faithful ‘assistant’ then promptly alerts Inspector Marriot.

9.       The Sunningdale Mystery

Plot: Over lunch the Beresfords discuss the murder of Captain Anthony Sessle on the links. He was stabbed with a woman’s hatpin.  The last person to have seen him alive is his friend and partner in the insurance company, Hollaby. According to him the deceased was seen talking to a woman when he reached the sixth hole first. Afterwards it was noticed that the captain’s luck in the game changed and he left after the eighth hole.

A week later Dorris Evans is charged with the murder. To the police she said to have met Sessle at the cinema and had been invited to his bungalow Sunningdale, when there was nobody there. Moreover, she did not know that he was married. He then suggested their taking a stroll; she was walking  on the outskirt of the golf course when suddenly he brandished a revolver. They were then in a fight and she managed to free herself.

Whose story is the truth?

 Cast of Characters:

–          Mr. Hollaby (the deceased’s friend and partner at The Porcupine Assurance Co)

–          Mrs. Sessle

–          Mr. Hollaby’s son

The Twist: Dorris Evan never sees the body of Sessle’s

10.   The House of Lurking Death

Plot: Tommy’s attention is drawn to the headlines on newspaper:

‘Mysterious Poisoning Case. Deaths From Fig Sandwiches.’

For the victim, Lois Hargreaves, came the day before describing a box of chocolates she had received which contained a small dose of arsenic; enough to cause illness but not a fatal one.

Arrived in the village where Hargreaves used to live, Tommy and Tuppence interviews the doctor about the poisoning. At first they suspect Hargreave’s stepbrother, who benefits from her death. Nonetheless he also died on the same day despite having occurred on a separate occasion. Then, to the deceased’s friend who happened to stay over at the time of the tragedy.

Not until Tuppence meets another inhabitant of the house then she realises how the murderer has done it so far.

Cast of Characters:

–          Dr. Burton (the village doctor)

–          Hannah (the maid at Thurnly Grange)

–          Miss Logan (Lois’s late aunt’s companion)

–          Lois Hargreaves (the client, who inherits Thurnly Grange)

–          Mary Chilcott (Louise’s friend who stays over)

The Twist: Hannah keeps a textbook belong to Miss Logan in her room

An alley in East End London in 19th century. It is through one of these Tommy walks through with Mr. O’Reilly

  1. 11.   The Unbreakable Alibi

Plot: Mr. Montgomery Jones accepts a challenge from Una Drake to solve the mystery of her being at London and Torquay at the same time, on the same day. For he tries to impress her but does not feel to have the skills to explain the plausibility of the impossible.

Cast of Characters:

Mr. Le Marchant (Una’s friend who dines with her at the Savoy)

Mr. Montgomery Jones (the client, recommended by L.St. Vincent)

Mrs. Oglander (who sits next to Una’s table at the Savoy)

The receptionist, the chambermaid at the Castle Hotel in Torquay

The Twist: Miss Drake has a twin sister, who arrived in England from Australia

  1. 12.   The Clergyman’s Daughter

Plot: A priest’s daughter has inherited from a wealthy paternal great aunt, along with a big house. A man puts an offer to it, which she refuses. Then strange things occur, which suggests that her home is haunted.

Dr. O’Neill, whose great interest to the curious happenings in the house, is willing to buy the house for solving its mystery. What makes him increase his offer by £150?

While doing the search, Tuppence discovers a riddle among the great aunt’s papers:

My first you put on a glowing coal

And into it you put my whole

My second really is the first

My third mislikes the winter blast

What does it suppose to mean?

Cast of Characters:

Monica Deane (the client)

The gardener

The Twist: Miss Deane notices that Dr. O’Neill and the previous man who makes an offer to the house have the same gold tooth.

  1. 13.   The Ambassador’s Boots

Plot: Two identical kitbags with the same initials swap owners on board of Nomadic liner; one belongs to a senator and the other to the US Ambassador in Britain. Intriguingly, the senator denies having had the item among his luggage.

When enquired as to the content of the bag, the ambassador says that there were boots inside. ‘Silly case, this. Boots – you now. Why boots?’ asks Tuppence. ‘All wrong. Who wants other people’s boots?’

In their interview with the ambassador’s valet, he tells them that a woman happened to feel queer  outside his master’s cabin. He took her inside and left her alone to fetch a doctor, which took some time. Nonetheless, a witness came forward, saying that she actually pretended to be fainted and was seen to have slipped something in the lining of the ambassador’s boot.

Cast of Characters:

Cicely March (the witness, a.k.a. Ellen O’Hara)

Randolph Wilmott (the US Ambassador)

Richards (Wilmott’s valet)

The Twist: The valet sees a tin of bath salts in the senator’s kitbag

  1. 14.   The Man Who Was No.16

Plot: When Tuppence realises that the leaf of the office calendar is days forward, Sunday 16th,  she thought Albert has made a mistake. The evidence in the wastepaper basket is a contrast. Shortly afterwards a Russian prince goes in, of whom, after an exchange of secret phrases with Tommy, comes clean about his identity.

While the prince takes Tuppence for lunch, Tommy meets Mr. Carter to brew the plan. For he realises that the prince is no.16. Having understood what Tuppence has risked, the Chief reassures the other that his wife is in safe hands; that two agents have been assigned to follow her and No.16 into the prince’s hotel suit. Then all of a sudden they lose track of their targets.

Cast of Characters:

Prince Vladiroffsky (the Russian prince)

Mrs. Van Synder (American, who occupies suit No.318)

The Twist: The Prince is not no. 16

Notes On Murder On The Orient Express

 

Albert Finney as H. Poirot, Sean Connery Colonel Arbuthnot and Vanessa Regdrave Mary Debenham in 1974’s novel adaptation into a film. The sleuth has an uphill challenge to reveal tissues of lies interwoven in the witnessess’ statements.

 

Rating: 4 out of five

 

Year of Publication: 1934

 

Motive for Murder: Revenge/Hatred

 

Plot:

 

On board of The Simplon Orient Express a mature plot begins to take place. The Istanbul-Calais coach is unusually full in winter. Thirteen people from different nationalities enter and one passenger gets on at the last minute.

A postcard of Simplon Orient Express and Taurus Express. Poirot boards Taurus Express from Aleppo, Syria and meets Mary Debenham and Colonel Artbuthnot.

The journey goes well amidst the snowfall until it leaves Belgrade on the second night. Leaving Vincovi before midnight, at quarter past the train comes to a halt. The snowdrift ahead makes the track impassable.

At twenty-three minutes past one, Hercule Poirot is awakened by the lack of motion of the train. To the Wagon Lit conductor he enquires a bottle of water and is about to get back to sleep when he hears something heavy has fallen with a thud against the door. Having opened his compartment’s door and looked out, he sees to his right down the corridor a woman wearing a scarlet kimono retreating away.

 

The next day after breakfast, M. Bouc, a director at Campaigne Internationale de Wagon Lits who happens to be in another coach, asks his Belgian friend to see him. ‘What has occurred?’ he asks. ‘…a passenger lies dead in his berth – stabbed.’

 

The night before Samuel Ratchett offered Poirot a handsome amount of money for his service. ‘My life has been threatened,’ Ratchett says. The other responds,’If you will forgive me for being personal – I do not like your face, M. Ratchett.’

 

Twelve stabbing wounds in Ratchett’s body. The missing button of the Wagon Lit conductor. A bloody dagger found in a passenger’s sponge bag.

 

Of the thirteen passengers in the coach, who has murdered the American man?

 

 

Highlights:

 

The most famous book of Christie’s, the 10th Poirot’s novel is admired by many fans owing to the setting and the nature of the crime. In the former Yugoslavia the heavy snowfall has altered everything.  What is more, the unprecedented appearance of a little man with an egg-shaped head whom replaces a passenger who does not turn up. Having got off the Taurus Express at Istanbul, Hercule Poirot would have expected to spend three days at the heart of the former Ottoman Empire when an important telegram was received in the hotel, requiring his presence in London in his earliest convenience.

In the First Class compartment he is next to Rachett. Convenient or coincidence? What is more interesting is his declining £20,000 in fee from the American man. And apparently it is not because of the man’s face, but something more profound. On setting his eyes on Ratchett, to his friend  M. Bouc  he says, ‘I had a curious impression. It was as though a wild animal – an animal savage, but savage! You understand –had passed me by.’

 

A tiny scrap of paper discovered in Ratchett’s compartment leads to Poirot’s knowledge about other death threat letters the deceased has received. At any rate  it clarifies Ratchett’s identity. For he was Casetti, who kidnapped a three-year-old Daisy Armstrong in the USA and killed her afterwards whilst asking the ransom money to her family (see Clues).

 

Somehow he escaped justice in the country What circumstances that rendered the twelve jurors the non-guilty verdict? I was hoping there would have been an explanation about it. Did the defendant have a deal with the authority? For I recall Louise Leidner, who reports her first husband to the Intelligence in the later novel Murder In Mesopotamia. As she receives the death threats, the shadow of her past doing resurges. She may not say anything about the old sin to Poirot , but it is then elaborated in the end as to the motive of the murderer.

 

Be that as it may, there are similarities between Ratchett and Mrs. Leidner’s killing. The revenge/hatred motive is ingrained in the mind of the perpetrators. It is also an ultimate revenge; life for life for little Daisy. I wonder, however, how much it would have meant for the murderers after Ratchett eventually dies. For neither the little girl nor her parents could have been alive again.

 

What does the killing suggests is the meticulous plan on the part of the mastermind. On the one hand, there is not an iota of sympathy for the victim, for he is a wicked man deemed such punishment. On the other, the ‘execution-style’ killing is required  to ascertain that ‘justice’ is witnessed by everybody concerned.

What is most fascinating to my mind is the different kinds of stabbing wounds; two or three forceful and fatal ones whilst the rest seem to have been done reluctantly after the body has had no longer life in him. What can Poirot deduce from them? One person who caused the death and others who then came in to witness and each gave a ‘symbolic’ stab. Frankly speaking, I shuddered to think about it.

 

Ratchett gets his due whilst his murderers get away. In the end Poirot offers two ways of looking at the case and the decision as to which version that would be presented to the Yugoslavian police is in the hands of M. Bouc. With the company’s reputation is at stake, he must choose what benefits everyone. Has he decided right, do you think, considering the deceased is an evil?

 

I am intrigued that the popularity of the book may sum up the public’s feelings about the agreed version of the murder. Nonetheless I disagree. Although the solution answers my present astonishment towards the ending of Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. I tell you later why.

 

It helps to have read Cards On The Table beforehand. For I understand what has become of the dagger. Poirot shows it to Anne Meredith, one of the suspects in the stabbing of Mr. Shaitana, when she visits his house with her friend Rhoda Dawes. Apparently M. Bouc has given it as a ‘gift’ besides  ‘a token of gratitude,’ ie. a handsome fee on behalf of the company.

 

Lastly, it fascinates me that Christie has somehow confused The Orient Express with The Simplon Orient Express. As I looked up the history of the former, Compaigne Internationale de Wagon Lits concurs with the Orient Express’s owner. Nevertheless the story is set in the Simplon Orient Express, which is an entirely different train. The following paragraph, quoted from the website, may clarify the matter:

 

Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ isn’t set on the Orient Express, it’s set on the Simplon Orient Express.  By the 1920s and 30s there were a whole inter-connecting network of Wagons-Lits company trains with ‘Orient Express’ as part of their name in addition to the Orient Express itself.  The Orient Express has always run from Paris Gare de l’Est via Munich, Vienna & Budapest, whereas the Simplon Orient Express started running in April 1919, taking a Southerly route from Calais and Paris Gare de Lyon to Milan, Venice, Trieste, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sofia and Istanbul, with a portion for Athens.  In the 1920s and 30s the Simplon Orient Express linked Calais, Paris and Istanbul every day, whereas the (plain) Orient Express only carried Paris-Istanbul cars three times a week, although both Orient and Simplon Orient would have been one combined train east of Belgrade.

 

On 12 December 2009, EuroNight train number 469 ‘Orient Express’ left Strasbourg on its final overnight run to Vienna.  On 13th December it disappeared from Europe’s timetable after 126 years.

 

As far as I am concerned, this is the only case in which Poirot relies heavily on his imagination under an extraordinary circumstances solved within twenty-four hours. Who can match Poirot but Holmes?

 

In the meantime, I am very much looking forward to the remake of 1974’s film of the book. Would it be the one who stars as Colonel Arbuthnot better than Sean Connery? I very much doubt it. 🙂

 

 

The Twists:

 

-M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine decide to take on the first solution: the killer gets on the train on  the second night after leaving Istanbul. Approximately when it stops at Belgrade or Vincovci (Vicevi, a town in modern Serbia) as the door is left open. He wears a suit of Wagon Lit uniform on top of his clothes and has a pass key which allows him access to Casetti’s compartment. The victim has been drugged so he would not have heard a stranger came in. After the stabbing the killer leaves through the communicating door leading to Mrs. Hubbard’s and puts the murder weapon into her sponge bag. He takes off the uniform and gets off the train the same way.

A Wagon Lit conductor wearing his uniform in 1950s.

 

– Mr. Harris, the passenger who does not turn up, is a decoy

 

– A missing button of a Wagon Lit conductor is found in Mrs. Hubbard’s room

 

– The uniform is placed on the luggage of Schmidt

 

– An expensive handkerchief with initial ‘H’ is at Casetti’s room

 

– The scarlet kimono is folded neatly and put in Poirot’s room

 

– Ratchett does not speak French

 

– The grease on the passport of Countess Andrenyi’s; on her first name ‘Elena’

 

– Countess Andrenyi is innocent

 

– ‘A man with womanish voice’ is said to have dressed as a Wagon Lit conductor

 

 

Cast of Characters:

 

Passengers in Istanbul – Calais coach:

 

Count and Countess Andrenyi (Hungarians)

 

Antonio Foscarelli (Italian, a car salesman)

 

Colonel Arbuthnot (coming from India)

 

Caroline Hubbard (American)

 

Cyrus Hardman (a type-writing ribbon salesman)

 

Princess Dragomiroff (Russian, an aristocrat)

 

Edward Masterman (English, Ratchett’s valet)

 

Greta Ohlsson (Swedish)

 

Hector MacQueen (American, Ratchett’s secretary)

 

Hercule Poirot

 

Hildegarde Schmidt (German, Princess Dragomiroff’s maid)

 

Mary Debenham (a governess travelling from Baghdad)

 

Samuel Ratchett (the victim)

 

 

 

From the Athens coach:

 

– M. Bouc (a director at the Compagnie Internationale de Wagon Lits)

 

– Dr. Constantine

 

Others:

 

-Pierre Michel, the Wagon Lit conductor

 

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Countess Andrenyi (Helena Maria)

 

‘Is it possible, Mademoiselle, that you did not recognize in the Countess Andrenyi Mrs. Armstrong’s young sister whom you taught in New York?’ asks Poirot to Mary Debenham.

 

A clothing shop at Wigmore Street, Central London, of which the Countess thinks of having to give an answer to the name of her governess.

She replies that she has not realised who the Countess was. ‘I noticed her clothes more than her face,’ she reasons. Indeed? Bearing in mind that she only has not seen her for three years, it amazes me that she should not have noticed something about her ex-charge. Particularly that Debenham was in employ by Sonia Armstrong as a secretary and apparently lived under the same roof.

 

By the same token, the Countess ought to have understood who Miss Debenham was. Apparently she knows and does her best to conceal the other woman’s real identity, having invented the name ‘Miss Freebody’ when enquired by Poirot (Debenham and Freebody is a  long-standing clothing shop in Central London).

 

The grease on her passport is the doing of her husband when the news reached him that a luxurious handkerchief with initial ‘H’ had been found at the crime scene. With an intention to shelter his wife he lies during the interview that her first name is ‘Elena’ instead of Helena. Nonetheless, he solemnly swears to Poirot that his wife never left her compartment on the night of the murder.

 

Linda Arden’s younger daughter is a poor rich girl like Iris Marle (Sparkling Cyanide). At the time of the kidnapping, she might have been too small to understand hatred and sorrow, but profound sadness at the deaths of an idolised niece Daisy and an elder sister Sonia. Her mother’s deep sentiment towards bringing Ratchett to justice does not seem to affect Helena.

 

I bow to Christie for her; that her innocence preserved and she sounds to bear no grudge to Ratchett. Perhaps, there is an iota of sympathy for him after all.

 

 

Clues:

 

About the Armstrongs’s case (summarised by Poirot):

 

‘Colonel Armstrong was an Englishman – a V.C. [Victoria Cross]. He was half American, as his mother was a daughter of W.K. Van der Halt, the Wall Street millionaire. He married the daughter of Linda Arden, the most famous tragic American actress of her day. They lived in America and had one child – a girl – whom they idolized. When she was three years old she was kidnapped, an an impossibly high sum demanded as the price of her return. I will not weary you with all the intricacies that followed. I will come to the moment, when, after having paid over the enormous sum of two-hundred-thousand dollars, the child’s dead body was discovered, it having been dead at least a fortnight. Public indignation rose to fever point. And there was worse to follow. Following the shock of the discovery, she gave birth to a dead child born prematurely, and herself died. Her broken-hearted husband shot himself.’

 

 

 

-Count Andrenyi: ‘Consider my position. Do you think I could stand the thought of my wife dragged through a sordid police case. She was innocent, I knew it, but what she said was true – because of her connection with the Armstrong family she would have been immediately suspected. She would have been questioned – arrested, perhaps. Since some evil chance had taken us on the same train as this man Ratchett, there was, I felt sure, but one thing for it. I admit, Monsieur, that I lied to you – all, that is, save in one thing. My wife never left her compartment last night.’

 

 

 

– H. MacQueen’s (HM) query to Poirot:

 

HM: ‘If I’m not being unduly curious, just how did you figure this out? Casetti’s identity, I mean.’

 

P: ‘By a fragment of a letter found in his compartment.’

 

HM: ‘But surely – I mean- that was rather careless of the old man?’

 

P: ‘That depends on the point of view.’

 

Notes On Cards On The Table

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1936

Motive for Murder: Fear (of identification)

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

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

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

How much do they need before the murderer strikes again?

 

Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of the Amazon in South America from above.

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

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

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

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

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

The Twists:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 Cast of Characters:

Anne Meredith (suspect 1)

Ariadne Oliver

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

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

Miss Burges (Dr. Roberts’s secretary)

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

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

Hercule Poirot

Major John Despard (suspect 2)

Mrs. Lorrimer (suspect 3)

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

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

Colonel Race

Rhoda Dawes (Anne’s housemate)

Dr. Roberts (suspect 4)

Mr. Shaitana (the host)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Mrs. Lorrimer

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

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

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

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

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

 

Clues:

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

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

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

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

‘The best being – ?’ asked Poirot.

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

 

The profiles of the suspects:

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

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

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

 

Suspect B:

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

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

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

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

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

Suspect C:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Notes On The Big Four

Rating: 3.5-4 out of five

Year of Publication: 1927

Motive for Murder: Power

Plot:

Four is English and a master of disguise. Posing as the keeper of an Asylum centre, he sees Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings about the dead man in the Belgian’s flat. Little do the duo realise that the man was a British agent, who had been tailing Four for years. Then, as a butcher he slips under the radar after slitting a man’s throat, who tried to warn Poirot’s acquaintance in the Intelligence. Furthermore, he scores again having imitated himself as his gang fellow; an American millionaire known as Two.

From left: Inspector Japp, Hercule Poirot, Captain Arthur Hastings and Miss Lemon will appear in The Big Four’s adaptation into television series broadcast on ITV UK on 23rd October 2013.

Three is a French woman of renowned reputation in her field of work. Nobody would think of linking her to the disappearance of a fellow scientist. The French Prime Minister is offended when Poirot laying the facts about her untraceable crimes.

Two’s attempt to have lured the sleuth to retire to South America comes to an end after a stranger turns up an hour before the voyage and become unconscious.  Two’s identity is confirmed after an Intelligence operation on the grounds of Hastings’s tip-off fails to catch Two.

One is Li Chang Yen, a Chinese man who runs an underground organisation in England and has great influence and networking on the world economy. His name is almost unheard of in England owing to the cell approach deployed, which leaves no evidence to One.

‘The Big Four’ with their sheer intelligence and resources is behind a number of catastrophes and political upheavals in many countries. More importantly, they are able to obliterate their enemies but the one and only little man with an egg-shaped head.

So when the news of his death arrives, will it be the end of the game?

Highlights:

Poirot’s retirement plan comes to an end (once again). An hour before his departure, an unexpected guest stands at the door and ten flops onto the floor. ‘M. Hercule Poirot, 14 Farraway Street,’ he repeats the words and faints.  Shocking it might seem to be to the detective, earlier in the day Captain Hastings’ turning up from Argentine is a great surprise.

Poirot-Hastings realise what is in store after Four’s gallant visit to see himself the dead body of a man he has poisoned with arsenic. What follows next primarily is the game of cat and mouse between the duo and Four, whose  masterly skill in changing appearance is incredible. In a fast-paced plot with myriad sub-plots, unravelling the identity of Four’s is the hardest.

The villain resembles the uncanny serial killer in ABC Murders (1936  – see the Notes). If in the latter book the killer plants evidence that will lead to a naive war hero Alexander Bonaparte Cust; Four’s playing the game by a wide range of approaches; framing an innocent person, albeit an ex-convict, electrocuting a chess player and looking ten years younger a young nephew of  a great traveller are some of them. Coupled with a meticulous plan for killing, this psychopath also ensures the satisfaction from each method employed.

Donald Douglas plays as Franklin Clarke in 1992’s ABC Murders adaptation into Poirot series.

As far as I am concerned, critics have been divided about the book plot: the world domination. On the one hand, Poirot does not suit as Ian Fleming’s James  does not seem to agree with the idea of global trotting, let alone hopping from one city to another. It is Poirot/Hastings against four powerful people in addition to the fact that Four is apparently fitter and his junior many years.  I suppose in the plot the duo have deviated from their usual domestic cases, eg. the death of a French millionaire (Murder In The Links) and the murder attempts of an orphan young woman (Peril at End house).

On the other hand, Four as a serial killer is a most intriguing character because nobody can guess what he will appear next. Interestingly. this unravelling of identity is done through three seemingly unrelated cases – a break for Poirot/Hastings in between- after a breakthrough in the case when a crucial witness appears and claims to know a certain man and his habit. Personally, such is a clever technique on the part of Christie’s. My objection is the too many characters and details in each sub-plot that might have thrilled but confused readers at the same time. And therefore those sub-plots could have been a short story in their own merits.

Admittedly, it is not one of my favourites of Christie’s. The details do interest me nevertheless with her political aptness about the changing map in Europe post-Ottoman Empire. At home she discusses the shadows of the Great War and its consequences to individuals. While social unrest and recessions blight the lives of many, she appears to remind readers that individuals/an organisation may seize the opportunity to take control of the rest. I wonder why she omits German and instead of ‘The Big Four’ it could have been ‘The Great Five.’

I only wish Christie knew how different the world is less than a century later; the bloody uprising in the Middle East, Turkey’s turning to its Islamic root and the waning US power might have arrested her.  Plus, she could have been surprised concerning the UK economy nowadays in which its condition is not pretty much different than in the roaring twenties’ era.

In hindsight, I recall the murder of Mr. Paynter (in the chapter of The Mystery of Yellow Iris) resembles the deaths of  the Crackenthorpes from food poisoning (4.50 From Paddington –see the Notes).  There lies the same question: when is the poison put into the food concerned – after or before the dinner? This recurring scene speaks volumes of Christie’s thoroughness in planning her plot to the minute details. Would her loyal readers be delighted by a recollection of a familiar thing thirty years afterwards?

Yellow Yasmine – the trailing plants often found in the neighbourhood in England.

Last but not least, her mentioning of yet another poisonous plant: Yellow Yasmine (Gelsemini Radix). Readers may remember other poisonous plants in other books for killing, namely Foxgloves (The Thirteen Problems),  Strophanthus (Triangle at Rhodes), Hemlock (Five Little Pigs) and Strychnine. Maybe I ought to put Torre Abbey be in my list of future destination.

The ending of the book is an open question to readers about the identity of One, Li Chang Yen. Poirot/Hastings never meets him and a line in the book states about his suicide. I am dejected. And what will occur to Four? Who is he after all?

In the meantime, I will look forward to putting my feet up for the upcoming The Big Four’s adaptation in the last Poirot series on ITV. What’s not to miss from the trio Poirot-Hastings-Japp and Patricia Hodge as Madame Olivier?

         

The Twists:

-Jonathan Whalley is killed on Monday and the village butcher usually delivers on Wednesdays and Fridays. The village weather has been warm before the murder but the leg of mutton Poirot found in the ladder at the victim’s cottage is still frozen.  Hence, Four’s presence at the crime scene.

-Miss Martin tells Hastings about the wrath of her employer, Abe Ryland, about a letter she accidentally read.

– John Ingles’s servant, who is aware of The Big Four, manages to warn Hastings about their headquarter in the Dolomites, Italy

-Cinderella, Hastings’s wife, is detained by The- Big Four

-Four has a habit of putting a piece of bread in his fingers and dabbing the crumbs

-Poirot brings Countess Vera Rossakoff’s child ‘alive’

-Poirot is temporarily died.

Lago di Carezza or Karersee in South Tyrol, Italy, where the headquarter of The Big Four is.

Cast of Characters:

-Ah Ling (Mr. Paynter’s Chinese servant)

-Captain Arthur Hastings

– Abe Ryland (the American millionaire)

-Monsieur Desjardeux  (the French Prime Minister)

-Flossie Monro (Four’s friend – see The Most Fascinating Character)

Countess Vera Rossakof and Hercule Poirot. She is the one Poirot fancies and their paths cross in some of Christie’s novels.

-The Hallidays (the husband is the missing scientist)

-Captain Harvey (of the Intelligence Service)

-Hercule Poirot

-Inspector Japps (who identifies Mayerling as the agent whose whereabouts has been unknown for five years)

-John Ingles(a retired civil servant and an expert on Chinese politics)

-Miss Martin (Abe Ryland’s stenographer)

-Mayerling (the British agent)

-Mr. McNeil (Poirot’s lawyer)

-Madame Olivier (Three, a French scientist)

-Dr. Ridgeway (Poirot’s friend, who examines the dead bodies of Mayerling’s and Poirot’s)

-Robert Grant (the ex-convict, of whom Four frames for the murder of Jonathan Whalley)

-Dr. Savaronoff (a Russian chest player. He plays with an American rising star, Gilmour Wilson and Wilso dies shortly after the opening).

– Sonia Daviloff (Dr. Savaronoff’s niece).

– The Right Honourable Sydney Crowther (The Home Secretary)

-Countess Vera Rossakof (as Inez Veroneau, Madame Olivier’s secretary)

The Most Fascinating Character: Flossie Monro

She comes into the scene after Poirot receives a phone call from his lawyer that a woman has information about Claud Darrell, whose profile matches with Four. In fact, Monro once sounds to be Darrel’s ex-girlfriend, but she has not seen him any more after the war.

Poirot and Hastings then take her to a fine restaurant for lunch whereby, after a sumptuous meal, she is willing to tell him her private knowledge of Darrell. In the conversation she provides Poirot a crucial clue; his habit of fiddling with his bread at table. That in response to Poirot’s saying:’…Women are such wonderful observers – they see everything, they notice the little detail that escapes the mere man. I have seen a woman identify one man out of a dozen others – and why, do you think? She had observed that he had a trick of stroking his nose when he was agitated. Now would a man ever have thought of noticing a thing like that?’

Twenty minutes after they part, Monro is run over by Four.

Monro comes because of the reward money. Apparently she is, in Hastings’s term, in “exceedingly low water”. Probably out of jobs, she represents an army of other young independent women in Christie’s books failing to find employment, eg. Tuppence Beresford, Jane Cleveland or Anne Beddingfield to name a few. Thus, her great appreciation for a good meal.

Neither beautiful nor ugly, she is the kind of person who does her best to look well.  She lives in a squalid part of London that does not suit for a Lady due to its cheap rent. I wonder what makes her come to London and if anyone would miss her. Did Darrell persuade her to come with him to the capital? Or did they meet in London?

When seeing her in the morgue, Hastings describes her appearance: ‘….poor Flossie Monro, with her rouge and her dyed hair. She lay there very peacefully with a little smile on her lips.’

I am rather unhappy that she is not in the list on the cast of characters in the book’s adaptation.  Without her, Four would not be captured.

Clues:

Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings: (before Poirot leaving London for Rio De Janeiro)

‘…Tell me, what is commonly meant by the phrase, “The Big Four”?’

‘I suppose it had its origin at the Versailles Conference, and then there’s the famous “Big Four” in the film world, and the term is used by hosts of smaller fry.’

‘I see. I have come across the phrase, you understand, under circumstances where none of those explanations would apply. It seems to refer to a gang of international criminals or something of that kind; only –‘

‘Only what?’

‘Only I fancy that is something on a large scale. Just a little idea of mine, nothing more…’

Miss Martin to Arthur Hastings (as Arthur Neville, Abe Ryland’s new secretary):

[after she tells him of Ryland’s anger of her having opened his letter]

‘What was there in the letter, I wonder, to upset him so?’

‘Absolutely nothing – that’s just the curious part of it. I had read it before I discovered my mistake. I can still remember it word by word and there was nothing in it that could possibly upset anyone.’

‘You can repeat it, you say?’

‘Yes.’

Dear Sir – The essential thing now, I should say, is to see the property. If you insist on the quarry being included, then seventeen thousand seems reasonable. 11 per cent commission too much, 4 per cent is ample.

Yours truly,

Arthur Levesham

Poirot to Hastings (about the murder of Mr. Panyter):

‘…..There was no trace of powdered opium in the curry served to Mr. Paynter, but acting in obedience to the suspicions Dr. Quentin [Four] had aroused, the old man eats none of it, and preserves it to give to his medical attendant, whom he summons according to plan. Dr. Quentin arrives, takes charge of the curry, and gives Mr. Paynter an injection – of strychnine, he says, but really of yellow yasmine – a poisonous dose. When the drug begins to take effect, he departs, after unlatching the window. Then, in the night, he returns by the window, finds the manuscript, and shoves Mr. Paynter into the fire. He does not heed the newspaper that drops to the floor and is covered by the old man’s body. Paynter knew what drug he had been given, and strove to accuse the Big Four of his murder. It is easy for Quentin to mix powdered opium with the curry before handing it over to be analysed.’

Notes On They Came To Baghdad

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1951

Motive for Murder: Evidence

Plot: Victoria Jones’s mimicking her boss’s wife goes a little bit too far and she is to resign with immediate effect. In need of money and a thirst of adventure, a chance meeting with a man in the park brings about her taking up a role as a company for an American woman heading for Baghdad.

What begins as the young woman’s infatuation to a man turns to be a mixing-up in the murder of a British agent at a hotel in the country. As a witness, she is a target. Yet, her life is still worth its while until the highly confidential information can be retraced from her.

In the meantime, Richard Baker is on his way to Kuwait. In Basrah, he bumped into an old school friend dressed as an Arab with a strange manner. Little did Baker realise afterwards that the piece of folded paper put into his pocket was the half-part of the information sought by the ‘Arab’’s enemies. Nor does he know that his life is in danger already.

With an impending international conference on peace is due in a few days’ time in the capital, the Intelligence would need the evidence concerning a multi-national organisation, of which with money and power has an agenda to retain conflicts between America and Rusia.

Who did the man Baker meet? Can Edward, the reason of Jones’s presence in Iraq, help?

 

Highlights:

The Cold War might have been a difficult time as the division between two opposing ideologies of the ‘Iron Curtain ‘East and the ‘Freedom’ West had grown rapidly. To Christie’s mind, however, the changing of the political map had not only been fascinating but opened up a new kind of ‘game’ in the world of crime of hers. After the Great War, the political upheavals mostly affected Europe; after the Second World War the impacts were much bigger like ripples of waves that gather its force and push many countries to decide their leaning either to the West or the East.

Max Mallowan’s discovery in Ur, Iraq as a young archaeologist begins his long-standing devotion and love to Agatha Christie, the then newly-divorced woman on a crossroads in her life. Christie visited Irak for the first time in 1928.

Furthermore, this is the book written prior to Korea War (1950-1953) and therefore there is a touch of hope on Christie’s part for the world peace. Nonetheless, like many of her generation, Victoria Jones is oblivious to current affairs and instead attracted to a Prince Charming and decides to follow him to Baghdad – despite the fact that she then just knows his first name. Of course in the fifties subtlety is still regarded as of vital; to reach the man she has to find her own ways there.  Her meeting with the unassuming old Mr. Dakin and a dead body in her hotel room alter her views about the world. Awakened by a proper lecture, Jones is made to understand that money goes side by side with politics and a human’s life costs less than the Intelligence obtained (see Clues). It is captured in a chapter, which is lengthy but not stuffy, in depth but using plain English. I suppose there had been a message Christie had aimed at that time to have done such; she might have believed the importance to educate her readers, particularly women for not detaching their minds from current affairs.  Personally I feel that she had wanted women to see politics as their territory, too.

It is intriguing how those issues give way to a different facet of a seemingly carefree shorthand typist. Jones’s character might resemble her predecessors Anne Beddingfield (see Notes The Man In The Brown Suit), Tuppence Beresford and Bundle (see Notes On The Secret of Chimneys and Notes On The Seven Dials Mystery).  Jones in ‘the thick of it’; being an accidental agent  recruited on the spot, her abduction, her getting away from her captors and more importantly her concluding the affair. With a sprinkle of romance and naivety   Jones grows up to be a woman and finds her soul mate in the end.

Sounds so Christie’s? Yes and No. No, because of the more open approach to men by women; that Jones going to an unknown territory entirely on account of a man is quite a progressive move for the era.  Compared to Bundle’s jealousy to the lady friends of Jimmy Eversleigh’s, Jones’s determination to find her man would have been unheard of in the late twenties.

The setting is another interesting thing. Iraq might have been chosen owing to the country’s association with Christie’s meeting her second husband Max Mallowan there when she went for the first time in 1928. Her fond memories are reflected in the plot; that Jones goes to Baghdad as a ‘nurse’ to an American woman who has broken her leg. Likewise, Christie had an accident in Athens on her way back to England and the young archaeologist who was much younger than her had agreed to accompany her to England. In the story Jones is rescued by Richard Baker, a young archaeologist as she has lost her way on the desert after her lucky escape from the captors.

The image of Agatha Christie when accompanying Max Mallowan digging in Chagar Bazar, Syria between 1935 and 1937

All the same it is not a straightforward romance between Baker and Jones.  Anne Scheele comes to scene first; a secretary to an oil magnate with a wealth of access to information and influential figures in finance and politics. The Intelligence keeps an eye on her, as well as another party. Her movement is followed closely until she disappears after visiting her ill sister in a nursing home. Is it purely a luck that her appearance is similar to Jones?  And who is she working for? Yet it is only the Mastermind who knows how Scheele looks life in flesh.

Like a puppet master the Mastermind remains in the shadow while his puppets act and play their part, masking their identities to others. Mr. Dakin, Sir Rupert Crofton Lee and Anne Scheele are not who people think they are and therefore there lie the twists. Coupled with Christie’s similes in the narrations, it is not easy to pin down the double-meaning words and sentences of the characters until the end.  Is it the words of a dying man to be believed? How about a note of recommendation dated back eighteen months before? Or what lays beneath a quote of a Shakespeare’s poem?

What I am fascinated about is the dynamics between Mr. Dakin and Jones. He is frank and almost totally honesty about the situation. And they grow trust rapidly. I believe that Jones’s naivety and her somehow seeking a father figure to the other are plausible. Yet, I am not convinced that the reality would be the same.  More importantly, wouldn’t it be a risk, having laid bare most facts to a ‘raw agent’ such as Jones. Anyhow, perhaps Mr. Dakin is an exception.

At any rate ‘the war’ Christie ‘proposed’ in the plot did occur. I wonder how she might have felt reading about what had occurred between North and South Korea. Surely it was not her fault but a warning – or better: her advice- had been given, particularly after the 1947 war between Israelis and Palestinians. I am just glad she did not see the tiresome Iraq-Iran War (1980 – 1988) because it would have very much broken her heart .

 

The Twists:             

-Henry Carmichael passes half of the information to Richard Baker and the other to Victoria Jones

-Sir Rupert Crofton Lee kills Henry Carmichael

-Victoria Jones remembers that Sir Rupert has a small ‘boil’, ie. a distinguished mark on the back of his neck

-Anne Scheele disappears after she visits her sister in a nursing home in London

-Victoria Jones is kidnapped after a picnic with Edward at the ruins of Babylon

-Victoria Jones’s appearance resembles Anne Scheele

 

Cast of Characters:

Anne Scheele (the secretary to Mr. Morghantal, a magnate in oil business)

Mrs. Cardew Trench (of whom Victoria meets in Tio Hotel)

Catherine (a Syrian who works at the Olive Branch)

The Clipps (who hires Victoria as a companion for Mrs. Clipps to Baghdad)

Captain Crosbie (of British Council)

Dakin (works in an international oil company in Baghdad)

Edward (the secretary to Dr. Rathbone)

Gerard Clayton (British Consul in Basra)

Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton Clipp (the US citizens, of whom the wife is the one Victoria accompanies)

Henry Carmichael (a British agent on the run for crucial information he holds)

Lionel Shrivenham (of British Embassy in Iraq)

Marcus Tio (the proprietor of Tio Hotel in Baghdad)

Dr Rathbone (Edward’s boss, Director of the Olive Branch)

Richard Baker (British archaeologist who digs outside Basra, Henry’s school friend)

Sir Rupert Crofton Lee (the great traveller, of whom Victoria is on the same plane to Baghdad)

Victoria Jones (the protagonist)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Marcus Tio

The proprietor of the Tio Hotel is involved in the case because of the dead body of Henry Carmichael, the British Agent who died from stabbing in Victoria Jones’s room. Without asking and doing as he was told, Carmichael’s body is then disposed. He carries on about his business as usual afterwards.

As an entrepreneur, Tio seems to know well how to run the business. Superficially he is a jolly personality; to his guests his jokes are rather silly and his mannerism is gay and bubbly.  At heart he is a terribly serious man. It is not by chance that the premises has become a meeting point for influential figures in British politics in Baghdad and the venue for an international peace conference. For his discreetness appears to be the key and moreover he is willing to play part for the sake of protecting his clients’ interests.

There is not much about his background and what makes him decide to run such a hotel. Was he one of Mr. Dakin’s recruit? Nor is his relationship with Mr. Dakin. I wonder to what extent is his knowledge about Dr. Rathbone and the Olive Branch.

Readers, what nationality is he, do you think?

 Clues:

Richard Baker:

He remembered how the Arab had clutched him when he stumbled. A man with deft fingers might have slipped this into his pocket without his being aware of it.

He unfolded the paper. It was dirty and seemed to have been folded and refolded many times.

In six line of rather crabbed handwriting, Major John Wilberforce recommended one Ahmed Mohammed as an industrious and willing worker, able to drive a lorry and minor repairs and strictly honest – it was, in fact, the usual type of chit or recommendation given in the East. It was dated eighteen months back, which again is not unusual as these chits are hoarded carefully by their possessors.

Victoria Jones:

The young man lay just as she had left him. But now his face was a queer greyish colour and his eyes were closed. Then, with a sharp catch in her breath, Victoria noticed something else  – a bright red stain seeping through on to the blanket.

‘Oh, no,’ said Victoria, almost as though pleading with someone. ‘Oh, no- no!’

And as though in recognition of that plea the wounded man opened his eyes. He stared at her, stared as though from very far away at some object he was not quite certain of seeing.

His lips parted  – the sound was so faint that Victoria scarcely heard. She bent down. ‘What?’

She heard this time. With difficulty – great difficulty, the young man said two words. Whether she heard them correctly or not Victoria did not know. They seemed to her quite nonsensical and without meaning. What he said was, ‘Lucifer….Basrah…’

Dr. Rathbone to Victoria Jones:

‘Why did you come and work here, Victoria? Because of Edward?’

Victoria flushed angrily.

‘of course not,’ she said indignantly. She was much annoyed.

Dr. Rathbone nodded his head.

‘Edward has his way to make. It will be many many years before he is in a position to be any of use to you. I should give up thinking of Edward if I were you. And, as I say, there are good positions to be obtained at present, with a good salary and prospects – and which will bring you amongst your own kind.’

‘But I really am keen on the Olive Branch, Dr. Rathbone.’

He shrugged his shoulders then and she left him, but she could feel his eyes in the centre of her spine as she left the room.

Notes On A Caribbean Mystery

Rating: four out of five

Year or Publication: 1964

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot: Mr.Rafter is not an amiable fellow; the nearly octogenarian English man speaks in a forthright manner, barks orders and does not care less for small talks with the guests in Golden Palm Hotel. But he is very rich.

When a guest dies mysteriously, it is to him Miss Marple turns to; after all there is more than one can do when they have money in their hands.  Then a maidservant is stabbed and she knows too well that another life is in imminent danger.

Meanwhile, rumours have it that Lucky Dyson married her husband Greg just over a month after the demise of his first wife, Gail. Prior to her death Lucky was Gail’s carer during her illness. More importantly, Lucky was in charge of the other’s medicine. Gail’s death results in Greg having inherited a vast fortune. Did Greg have nothing to do with Gail’s death?

Time is essential as Lucky is found drowned in the small hours.

 

Highlights:

The clear blue sky and the peaceful surrounding of the imaginary St. Honore do not put Miss Marple’s mind at ease any more. Thousand miles away from England, she feels alone.  Not only does she try to find a murderer among the hotel guests but also a dangerous killer who already got away with his crimes. Moreover, who would trust her saying that Major Palgrave was about to show her a snapshot of a murderer earlier in the day before he died?

Enter Mr. Rafter, an unlikely partner in crime. Miss Marple sees a shrewd mind and wealth beyond his rude addressing that come handy. The rest is a collaboration of minds as they compare notes and take actions against someone who blends himself well among the guests.

The plot sees Christie’s attention to detail and her mastering the art of gossiping.  The opening chapter is intriguing although it appears to be a mere dialogue between two hotel guests. Its significance lies on the fact that Major Palgrave is then killed and it is to Miss Marple to whom he spoke.

Furthermore, what makes the scene tickle readers’ ‘little grey cells’ is how stories spread through the grapevines and more importantly gossiping is part of human nature – not women’s in particular. Then Major Palgrave does it; yet as a character he is an unreliable voice. To Mr. Rafter there is no mentioning about the snapshot and he is quite sure about it.

The Major’s death apparently is the reason to believe in some truths in his tales. Then Miss Marple’s inquiry into the questionable photograph comes to nothing, for there are not any images among the Major’s personal items.

And how about Victoria Johnson’s story? The maidservant notices that a bottle of tablets for high-blood pressure is in the Major’s room a day after his death. For she is not aware of it before.  Besides, she knows to whom it belongs. Is that what triggers her killing? Or perhaps her seeing the opportunity to blackmail the murderer?

Knowledge can be such a dangerous thing, especially the one which comes with the full realisation long after it is done. To my mind the subplot on the Dysons goes well as a reference to the actual murderer plus the confession of an accessory (see Clues).

What holds the story is the dynamic between Miss Marple and Mr. Rafter. Splendid as it is, it is also comical. On the one hand is a disabled man bound in the wheelchair, who does seem eccentric at face value but generous at heart. On the other is an ‘old pussie’ who is able to put aside her feelings and make ‘allowances’  to the other’s forthright manner. (see the dialogue in the right box).

Miss Marple (Julie McKenzie) and Mr. Rafiel (Anthony Sher) in 2013’s novel adaptation for television. “We’ve been discussing the murder here,” said Mr. Rafter.  Esther Walters looked slightly startled. She turned her head towards Miss Marple. “I’ve been wrong about her,” said Mr. Rafter, with characteristic frankness. “Never been much of a one for the old pussies. All knitting wool and tittle-tattle. But this one’s got something. Eyes and ears, and she uses them.” Esther Walters looked apologetically at Miss Marple, but Miss Marple did not appear to take offence. “That’s really meant to be a compliment, you know,” Esther explained. “I quite realise that,” said Miss Marple. “I realise, too, that Mr. Rafter is privileged, or thinks he is.” “What do you mean—privileged?” asked Mr. Rafter. “To be rude if you want to be rude,” said Miss Marple. “Have I been rude?” said Mr. Rafter, surprised. “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you.” “You haven’t offended me,” said Miss Marple, “I make allowances.”

 

Esther Walters comes into the scene; a loyal secretary who knows how to handle her employer.  You will see later why I have chosen her as The Most Fascinating Character; partly because she represents a sort of woman that is a world apart from the glamorous Lucky Dyson or the quiet intelligent Miss Preston. Nonetheless, there is more about her than just being a secretary to a millionaire.

As regards to the twists in the plot, Lucky Dyson’s death will remind readers to Cora Lansquenet (After The Funeral). For at first Dyson is perceived as another woman –the intended victim- due to similar height and build, until Miss Marple notices Dyson’s hair colour. As for Lansquenet, nobody realises that it is not her until Helen Abernethie realises the way the other turns her head in the wrong way.

In terms of the ending, it reminds me of the similar scene in A Murder Is Announced in which Miss Marple’s ‘little game’ is put in order. Mr. Rafter’s valet, Arthur Jackson, plays part in it although –again, surprisingly- he befriends the murderer. As the curtain falls in which a cunning plot is revealed, there is a lot of similarities about it compared to Patrick Redfern’s (Evil Under The Sun) and Michael Rogers’s (Endless Night).

 

The Twists:

-Major Palgrave does not have problems with his blood pressure

-The murderer removes a snapshot of himself from the Major’s wallet

-Edward Hillingdon is an accessory to the murder of Gail Dyson, Greg’s first wife

-Mr. Rafter grants £50,000 for Esther Walters in his will

-Lucky Dyson was meeting Arthur Jackson on the beach at the time she was murdered

-Arthur Jackson’s snooping in the Kendals’ room results in his suspicion about Molly’s face cream

 

Cast of Characters:

-Arthur Jackson (English, Mr. Rafter’s valet and masseur)

-Inspector Daventry (a constable in Jamestown)

-Colonel Edward Hillingdon (Evelyn’s husband)

-Esther Walters (Mr. Rafter’s secretary)

-Evelyn Hillingdon (Edward’s wife)

-Jane Marple

-Canon Jeremy Prescott (English)

-Joan Presscott (English, the Canon’s sister)

-Dr. Graham (a retired doctor in the island)

-Greg Dyson (American, who writes on butterflies, Lucky’s husband)

-‘Lucky’ Dyson (American, Greg’s second wife)

-Molly Kendal (English, Tim’s wife, who runs the hotel with her husband)

-Tim Kendal (English, Molly’s wife)

-Mr. Rafter (an English millionaire, who vacations in St. Honore every year)

-Dr. Robertson (the young doctor in the island)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Esther Walters

She is a widow who is employed by Mr. Rafter as his secretary. She follows his annual holiday to Caribbean and tends to his whims and tantrums. Although her employer is frequently rude to her, she does not seem to take notice and simply carries on her duties. Perhaps it is the generous salary and Mr. Rafter’s paying of her daughter’s school fee that make her bear his treatment.

To Miss Marple Mr. Rafter explains who Walters is as follows:

” She’s a good girl. First-class secretary, intelligent, good-tempered, understands my ways, doesn’t turn a hair if I fly off the handle, couldn’t care less if I insult her. Behaves like a nice nursery governess in charge of an outrageous and obstreperous child. She irritates me a bit sometimes, but who doesn’t?

There’s nothing outstanding about her. She’s rather a commonplace young woman in many ways, but I couldn’t have anyone who suited me better. She’s had a lot of trouble in her life. Married a man who wasn’t much good. I’d say she never had much judgement when it came to men. Some women haven’t. They fall for anyone who tells them a hard luck story. Always convinced that all the man needs is proper female understanding. That, once married to her, he’ll pull up his socks and make a go of life! But of course that type of man never does.

Anyway, fortunately her unsatisfactory husband died, drank too much at a party one night and stepped in front of a bus. Esther had a daughter to support and she went back to her secretarial job. She’s been with me five years. I made it quite clear to her from the start that she need have no expectations from me in the event of my death. I paid her from the start a very large salary, and that salary I’ve augmented by as much as a quarter as much again each year. However decent and honest people are, one should never trust anybody. That’s why I told Esther quite clearly that she’d nothing to hope for from my death. Every year I live she’ll get a bigger salary. If she puts most of that aside every year—and that’s what I think she has done—she’ll be quite a well-to-do woman by the time I kick the bucket. I’ve made myself responsible for her daughter’s schooling and I’ve put a sum in trust for the daughter which she’ll get when she comes of age. So Mrs. Esther Walters is very comfortably placed. My death, let me tell you, would mean a serious financial loss to her.”

 

As for Miss Marple, she notices that Walters is a kind of woman without sex appeal (in Miss Marple’s young days the other is  someone that ‘lacks come-hither in her eye’). The one who would not make a man turns his head and will be flattered when one does.

Be that as it may, Walters is a dark horse. She is a decent woman that will not make a pass at a woman’s husband and leers at a ‘potential.’ She craves for  attention nevertheless and she falls for one as soon as it is bestowed upon her. And who wouldn’t, having learnt that she will inherit £50,000 upon the death of Mr. Rafter – sooner or later?

Clues:

 

Conversations between Edward and Evelyn Hillingdon:

“I helped her to commit a murder—”

 

The words were out. There was silence. Evelyn stared at him. “Do you know what you are saying?”

 

“Yes. I didn’t know I was doing it. There were things she asked me to get for her—at the chemist’s. I didn’t know—I hadn’t the least idea what she wanted them for. She got me to copy out a prescription she had . . .”

 

“When was this?”

 

“Four years ago. When we were in Martinique. When—when Greg’s wife—”

 

“You mean Greg’s first wife—Gail? You mean Lucky poisoned her?”

 

“Yes—and I helped her. When I realised—”

 

Evelyn interrupted him. “When you realised what had happened, Lucky pointed out to you that you had written out the prescription, that you had got the drugs, that you and she were in it together? Is that right?”

 

“Yes. She said she had done it out of pity—that Gail was suffering—that she had begged Lucky to get something that would end it all.”

 

“A mercy killing! I see. And you believed that?”

 

Edward Hillingdon was silent a moment, then he said: “No—I didn’t really—not deep down. I accepted it because I wanted to believe it—because I was infatuated with Lucky.”

 

“And afterwards—when she married Greg—did you still believe it?”

 

“I’d made myself believe it by then.”

 

“And Greg—how much did he know about it all?”

 

“Nothing at all.”

 

“That I find hard to believe!”

 

Edward Hillingdon broke out: “Evelyn, I’ve got to get free of it all! That woman taunts me still with what I did. She knows I don’t care for her any longer. Care for her? I’ve come to hate her! But she makes me feel I’m tied to her by the thing we did together.” Evelyn walked up and down the room then she stopped and faced him.

 

 

Major Palgrave talking to Miss Marple:

Major Palgrave speaks to Miss Marple about showing a snapshot of a murderer.

 

“Lots of chaps talking at the club one day, you know, and a chap began telling a story. Medical man he was. One of his cases. Young fellow came and knocked him up in the middle of the night. His wife had hanged herself. They hadn’t got a telephone, so after the chap had cut her down and done what he could, he’d got out his car and hared off looking for a doctor. Well, she wasn’t dead but pretty far gone. Anyway, she pulled through. Young fellow seemed devoted to her. Cried like a child. He’d noticed that she’d been odd for some time, fits of depression and all that. Well, that was that. Everything seemed all right. But actually, about a month later, the wife took an overdose of sleeping stuff and passed out. Sad case.” Major Palgrave paused, and nodded his head several times. Since there was obviously more to come Miss Marple waited. “And that’s that, you might say. Nothing there. Neurotic woman, nothing out of the usual. But about a year later, this medical chap was swapping yarns with a fellow medico, and the other chap told him about a woman who’d tried to drown herself, husband got her out, got a doctor, they pulled her round—and then a few weeks later she gassed herself. Well, a bit of a coincidence—eh? Same sort of story. My chap said: ‘I had a case rather like that. Name of Jones—(or whatever the name was)—What was your man’s name?’ ‘Can’t remember. Robinson I think. Certainly not Jones.’ Well, the chaps looked at each other and said it was pretty odd. And then my chap pulled out a snapshot. He showed it to the second chap. ‘That’s the fellow,’ he said. ‘I’d gone along the next day to check up on the particulars, and I noticed a magnificent species of hibiscus just by the front door, a variety I’d never seen before in this country. My camera was in the car and I took a photo. Just as I snapped the shutter the husband came out of the front door so I got him as well. Don’t think he realised it. I asked him about the hibiscus but he couldn’t tell me its name.’ Second medico looked at the snap. He said: ‘It’s a bit out of focus—but I could swear—at any rate I’m almost sure it’s the same man!’ Don’t know if they followed it up. But if so they didn’t get anywhere. Expect Mr. Jones or Robinson covered his tracks too well. But queer story, isn’t it? Wouldn’t think things like that could happen.”