Notes On One, Two Buckle My Shoe

Rating: 4.3 out of five

Year of Publication: 1940

Motive for Murder: Identity

Plot:

First scenario:

Miss Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, who lived abroad for many years, has come back to London and spots her old friend’s husband. He does not recognise her, thinking that she has mistakened him another man.

A woman’s body is found inside a fur chest in her flat – her face dismembered. She wears a green dress, a pair of cheap stockings and the buckle on one of her black patent leather shoes. She is Sylvia Chapman according to her dental record and the flat belongs to her. Nonetheless, the porter identifies her as Miss Sainsbury Seale, whom visited the other woman a month ago.

1930’s buckle black leather shoes for women. Are they worn by Miss Sainsbury Seale?

One morning, outside Mr. Morley’s practice Poirot stands and a black cab pulls over. A woman wearing a brand new black patent leather shoes gets off. One of the buckles is caught on the door and fell onto the pavement. He picks it up, having noticed a pair of good quality stockings which does not seem to match with the provincial-looking green dress and the yellow hair.

A few hours later Inspector Japp phoned to ask about Poirot’s dentist. For Henry Morley has committed suicide after the sleuth left.  In the afternoon they interview Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, of whom Poirot has met outside the deceased’s home. Two days afterwards, she is reported missing.

A bullet is believed to be intended for Alistair Blunt.  On the grounds of his country home a newly-employed gardener is allegedly to have fired at Blunt but missed.  Frank Carter denies the allegation. Ballistic result shows that the bullet in Mr. Morley’s head is the same as the one fired at Blunt.

Moreover, Blunt was seen by Mr. Motley as well. A distinguished City banker, he is a low-profile figure despite his great influence in Britain’s economy.  As one of the richest men in England, he is used to when some people are keen to talk to him on the pretext of having acquainted with his late wife, a Jewess heiress.

The last patient seen on that day dies from overdose of anaesthetic, which might explain the motive of suicide.

Second Scenario:

Poirot is very happy; he does not have to see his dentist for another six months. Standing outside Henry Morley’s practice, he sees a black cab stops nearby. A woman’s ankle protrudes, wearing a pair of good quality stockings and new black patent leather shoes. As she gets off, the buckle of her shoe caught on the door and falls onto the pavement. Poirot picks it up and gives it to her with a bow.

A few hours later he is notified about Mr. Morley’s shooting himself in his room. After visiting the crime scene, the sleuth and Inspector Japp interviews Mabelle Sainsbury Seale in her hotel. Just like Poirot, she thinks that the suicide is unfortunate. Yet, with a sigh he also notices that the buckle has not been sewn.

Two days later she has been reported to have disappeared in the evening after the interview. Another patient, Mr. Amberiotis, has died from the overdose of local anaesthetic. Hence the explanation of the dentist’s death.

A decomposed woman’s body found inside a fur chest in a flat draws Poirot’s attention. For she wears the same dress as Miss Sainsbury Seale’s the day he met her and the same type of shoes. But they are well worn and the buckle is not missing.   Nonetheless, the dental record says the body was Slyvia Chapman, one of Mr. Morley’s patients. How has she been dressed as the other woman? Poirot thought.

Alistair Blunt has a near miss when a bullet was aimed at him. At that time, he was walking with Poirot in the garden of his country home. The detective recognises the shooter as the fiance of Mr. Morley’s secretary. Frank Carter has a grudge against the dentist. Interestingly, a witness saw him enter the dentist’s room on the day of the murder around the estimated time of death. More importantly, the bullet fired at Blunt and the one lodged inside Mr. Morley’s head come from the same pistol. Nevertheless Carter denies having intended to kill Blunt nor murdered Morley.

When the late dentist attended Poirot he mentioned about a big banker whom he would see next. Quiet and unassuming, Blunt’s name in the City bears huge reputation. He plays a great role in keeping Britain solvent. He attracts the public when he married a heiress twenty years his senior. It was a happy marriage and she died naturally a few years ago.

What connects Mr. Morley’s patients with the dentist’s suicide? Is it true that Blunt has been actually the target?

Highlights:

Head or tail? I present two ways of looking at the case, depending on the angle a reader might choose. How does it begin? The moment Mr. Morley is found dead or the day Poirot picks up a buckle of a woman’s shoe outside the dentist’s home?

This is the book in which the plot is carefully arranged to conceal the murderer as much as possible. The unrelated occurrences, the victims’ characters, the witnesses’ statements and the small important clues are interwoven to create a certain impression about the mere suicide of a senior dentist.

In Harry Brown (2009), the death of an old friend in the hands of rough kids in a London Estate triggers an ex-marine man to take matters into his own hands. Mr. Morley’s death, however, is neither the beginning nor the climax; his murder is a must as part of another killing plot.

Nevertheless, I could not help to wonder as to why the murderer having mentioned to Poirot about meeting Miss Sainsbury Seale one day outside his home. Had he not stated the fact, her disappearance and Mr. Amberiotis’s killing would not have been linked to the dentist’s.

His character bears a touch of Dr. James Sheppard; a middle-aged bachelor who lives with a sharp-witted spinster sister. He was criticised to have employed an Irish man as a partner (more is in The Most Fascinating Character). Besides, he made an enemy in Frank Carter, having interfered with the secretary’s personal life after she lent some money to the fiancé who had been on the dole.  Is he a nice man whose bite is nothing compared to his bark or a ruthless, selfish person?

Yet, Poirot knows better about Mr. Morley. Most significantly, the sleuth is always right. As Japp is in doubt whether it would have been wise to have suggested murder when it is not conclusive, the Belgian responds with a shrug. ‘I think so – yes. Anything suggestive that he [Alfred, the page boy who found the body] may have seen or heard will come back to him under the stimulus, and he will be keenly alert to everything that goes on here.’

Unfortunately, the lad is not the same vigilant and sharp Alfred Tuppence Beresford has engaged in The Secret Adversary. Then Poirot has been led to believe that the target was the banker, not the dentist. The mysterious Mr. Barnes, an ex-handler, suggests him that the murder attempt at the dentist’s is perfect because anyone will be powerless in the hands of a dentist.

Fashionable forties – women shoes with no buckles! Clearly, a large gleaming buckle on Miss Sainsbury Seale’s shoe is not Poirot’s cup of tea.

The confusion about the identity of the body in a fur chest is a clever subplot. Poirot’s method of identification might differ from the police, but nonetheless at that stage he still sees that Miss Sainsbury Seale is just a ‘collateral damage;’ someone at the place and at the wrong time.

Here we have the killer who is cruel, selfish and heartless. His crime has been unknown for many years, which can be jeopardised by a chance meeting with someone from the past. Personally, as a cold-blooded killer he is on the league with his equals in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Three-Act Tragedy, And Then There Were None, Murder Is Easy and Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. For they might be the least likely person despite their money and power. And yet in Poirot’s books all killers do the same mistake: to challenge the detective to catch themselves.

Be that as it may, it amazes me that the solution comes from a passing remark by a minor character, Jane Olivera (see Clues). Of which the element of coincidence is pinpointed and amplified while the sleuth attending a Sunday mass.

What is apparent to me from Olivera’s words are the likeliness to a villain’s in Sherlock Holmes’s A Case of Identity (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes). For both Christie’s and Conan Doyle’s have a great greediness in them. Also, an able accomplice who makes the plot successful.

It intrigues me most that this is the first book in which Poirot starts to question his little grey cells. ‘Is it possible that I’m growing old?’ he asks himself. His hesitation towards the path he has taken makes him once, humane and softer. In the end, he says to the killer, ‘…because not once, but many times, that idea had been suggested to me, had been forced upon me like a forced car.’ Has the War changed him?

Lastly, although the book was published in the bleakest year Britain had in the War, there are not any hints about it at all, ie. the bombing and the suffering of the ordinary people . Instead, Christie still discusses about the threat of fascism (the ‘Reds’) and I.R.A. I wonder if the authoress might have missed a number of irretraceable crimes occurred, which neither have been detected nor investigated properly. Or, might it have been the case that she had known some but had not decided to put them as one of her crimes?

 

The Twists:

-Hercule Poirot never actually meets Miss Sainsbury Seale

Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) in the dentist chair in 1992’s adaptation into television series.

-Mr. Amberiotis is a new patient of Henry Morley

-Slyvia Chapman’s shoes are well-worn whereas a search in Miss Sainsbury Seale’s room in the hotel does not show her having a pair of black patent leather shoes with buckles on them

– The murder weapon is foreign made from a certain part of Europe. The murderer is then known to have travelled once there.

-Albert Chapman is a pseudo name of Q.X. 612 and he has no wife

-Mabelle Sainsbury Seale has not met any of her old friends in the last seven days of her life

‘I’m afraid one does usually mentions the important people. We’re all such snobs at heart.’

Mrs. Adams to M.Poirot

Cast of Characters:

Mrs. Adams (Mabelle’s friend)

Agnes Fletcher (the housemaid at the Morleys)

Alfred (the page boy)

Alistair Blunt (the financier)

Mr. Amberiotis (who meets Mabelle on the ship leaving from India)

Mr. Barnes (also known as Albert Chapman, QX 912)

Frank Carter (Gladys’s fiancé)

Georgina Morley (Mr. Morley’s sister)

Gladys Nevill (Mr. Morley’s secretary)

Helen Montressor (Alistair’s second cousin)

Henry Morley (the dentist)

Howard Raikes (Jane’s boyfriend)

Jane Olivera (Alistair’s niece by marriage)

Mrs. Julia Olivera (Jane’s mother, Alistair’s niece by marriage)

Hercule Poirot

Mabelle Sainsbury Seale (who meets Mr. Amberiotis on the ship)

Mrs. Merton (Sylvia Chapman’s friend)

Mr. O’Reilly (Henry’s partner)

Mr. Selby (Alistair’s secretary)

The Most Fascinating Character: Mr. O’Reilly

An Irish man, he is first mentioned by Gladys Nevill and described as ‘a talk, dark young man, with a plume of hair that fell untidily over his forehead. He had an attractive voice and a very shrewd eye.’

O’Reilly respects his senior partner Henry Morley but is not fond of Georgina. In fact, they mutually dislikes one another; O’Reilly for Miss Morley’s patronising attitude whilst her suspecting the other of drinking due to his shaking hands while attending the patients. Nonetheless, her brother thought of the other man as an esteemed partner; a capable man in his line of work.

It is natural that he is first suspected of having killed Morley. For his death means the deceased’s patients become his and it is already a well-established practice which O’Reilly only maintains in future. As for Poirot, he suspects him due to a mark on the carpet in the deceased’s room. It is as if the body would have been dragged along it. Yet, had O’Reilly done it, he would have shot his partner in the room and there would not have been the need to remove the body.

Furthermore, it is suggested that he could have been an I.R.A member; an undercover agent who is sent to murder Alistair Blunt. Fortunately such is unfounded although his somewhat restless behaviour arouses suspicion. Towards the end of the book he meets Poirot in a liner company, during which he explains his mounting debts that are impossible to be settled. The choice is to leave the country and turns a new leaf in the USA.

Clues:

Sainsbury’s, a supermarket chain in the UK which was found in 1869. An inspiration for a character’s surname?

Conversation between Mrs. Adams(A) and Poirot(HP):

HP: Did Mrs. Adams know if Miss Sainsbury Seale had met Mr or Mrs Alistair Blunt at any time out there?

A: ‘Oh, I don’t think so, M. Poirot. You mean the big banker? They were out some years ago staying with the Viceroy, but I’m sure if Mabelle had met them all, she would have talked about it or mentioned them. I’m afraid one does usually mentions the important people. We’re all such snobs at heart.’

HP: ‘She never did mention the Blunts- Mrs. Blunt in particular?’

A: ‘Never.’

HP: ‘If she had been a close friend of Mrs.Blunt’s probably you would have known?’

A: ‘Oh, yes. I don’t believe she knew anyone like that. Mabelle’s friends were all very ordinary people – like us.’

Agnes Fletcher to Poirot:

‘And it was then I saw him – that Frank Carter, I mean. Halfway up the stairs he was – our stairs, I mean, above the master’s floor. And he was standing there waiting and looking down – and I’ve come to feel more and more as though there was something queer about it. He seemed to be listening very intent, if you know what I mean?’

‘What time was this?’

‘it must have been getting on for half-past twelve, sir. And just as I was thinking: There now, it’s Fran Carter, and Miss Nevill’s away for the day won’t he be disappointed…’

Conversation between Jane Olivera(JO) and Poirot(HP):

JO: ‘Howard wants me to marry him. At once. Without letting anyone know. He says – he says it’s the only way I’ll ever do it – that I’m weak – What shall I do about it, M. Poirot?’

HP: ‘Why ask me to advise you? There are those who are nearer!’

JO: ‘Mother? She’d scream the house down at the bare idea! Uncle Alistair? He’d be cautious and prosy. Plenty of time, my dear. Got to make sure, you know. Bit of an old fish – this young man of yours. No sense in rushing things

HP: ‘Your friends?’

JO: ‘I haven’t got any friends. Only a silly crowd I drink and dance and talk inane catchwords with! Howard’s the only real person I’ve ever come up against.’

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Notes On Poirot’s Early Cases

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1974

Motive for Murder: Wealth / Woman / Identity

Highlights:

 ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ –

in The King of Clubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ghost I have seen

Maybe the devil: and the devil hath power

To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps

Out of my weakness and my melancholy,

As he is very potent with such spirits.

Abuses me to damn me

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

1.     The Affair At The Victory Ball

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

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

Commedia dell’ Arte masks

Cast:

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

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

Inspector Japp

Mrs. Mallaby (dressed as Pulcinella)

The Twist:

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

 

2.     The Adventure of The Clapham Cook

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

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

Cast:

Annie (the maid at the Todds‘s house)

Eliza Dunn (the missing cook)

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

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

The Twist:

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

 

3.The Cornish Mystery

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

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

Cast:

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

Mrs. Pengelley

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

The Twist:

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

 

4.     The Adventure of Johnnie Weaverly

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

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

What does Poirot mean in his last sentence?

Cast:

The Waverlys (the parents of the kidnapped boy)

The Twist:

Marcus Waverly knows that his wife never likes the butler

5.     The Double Clue

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

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

Cast:

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

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

Lady Runcorn

Countess Vera Rossakoff (one of the guests)

The Twist:

Countess Rossakoff does not intend to drop her cigarette case

 

6.     The King of Clubs

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

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

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

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

Will Poirot find the murderer?

Cast:

Count Paul Feodor (Valerie’s fiancé)

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

Valerie Saintclair (a famous dancer)

The Twist:

The Oglanders play the bridge without the king of clubs

 

7.     The Lemesurier Inheritance

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

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

Cast:

Gerald Lemesurier (Hugo’s younger son)

Hugo Lemesurier (Ronald’s father)

John Gardiner (Hugo’s secretary)

Mrs. Lemesurier (Ronald’s mother)

Roger Lemesurier (Vincent’s cousin)

Ronald Lemesurier (Hugo’s elder son)

The Twist:

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

 

8.     The Lost Mine

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

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

Does it make Lester a murderer nevertheless?

Cast:

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

Inspector Miller

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

The Twist:

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

 

9.     The Plymouth Express

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

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

Who has lied to Poirot?

Cast:

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

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

Inspector Japp

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

The Honorable Rupert Carrington (Flossie’s estranged husband)

The Twist:

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

 

10.                        The Chocolate Box

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

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Francois (the old servant)

Mrs. Deroulard (the deceased’s mother)

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

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

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

The doctor

The Twist: Mrs. Deroulard has cataract in both eyes

 

11.                        The Submarine Plans

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

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

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

Who has told the truth?

Cast:

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

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

Fitzroy (Lord Alloway’s secretary)

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

Leonard Weardale (Sir Harry’s son)

Leonie (Mrs. Conrad’s French maid)

Lady Juliet Weardale (Sir Harry’s wife)

The Twist:

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

 

12.                        The Third-Floor Flat

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

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

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

Cast:

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

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

Mildred Hope (Pat’s other friend)

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

The Twist:

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

 

13.                        Double Sin

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

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

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

Cast:

J. Baker Wood (the buyer)

Mary Durrant (the woman who loses the miniature)

The Twist:

Elizabeth Penn’s business is in a bad state

 

14.                        The Market Basing Mystery

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Miss Clegg (the deceased’s housekeeper)

Dr. Giles (the doctor who examines Walter Protheroe)

Inspector Japp

Constable Pollard (of Market Basing police)

The Twist:

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

 

15.                        Wasps’ Nest

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

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

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

Cast:

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

John Harrison (Poirot’s old acquaintance)

The Twist:

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

 

16.                        The Veiled Lady

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

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

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

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

Who is actually the woman?

Cast:

Lady Milicent Castle Vaughan (the client)

The Twist:

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

 

17.                        Problem At Sea

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

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

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

Cast:

Passengers on board the ship:

Ellison Henderson

General Forbes

Colonel John Clapperton (Adeline’s husband)

Kitty and Pam (two young girls)

The Twist:

John Clapperton before the war was a ventriloquist.

 

 

18.                        How Does Your Garden Grow?

Plot:

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

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

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

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

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

Mistress Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With cockle-shells, and silver bells,

And pretty maids in a row

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

Cast:

Amelia Barrowby (the client)

The Delafontaines (Henry the husband and Mary the wife

Katrina Rieger (Russian, Barrowby’s nurse attendant)

Inspector Sims (of Rosebank police)

Miss Lemon (Poirot’s secretary)

The Twist:

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

Notes On Poirot Investigates

Rate: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1924

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

1.       The Adventure of The ‘Western Star’

Plot:

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

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

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

Is it true that the diamonds are cursed?

Cast:

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

Mary Marvell (the Hollywood actress)

Lord and Lady Yardly

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

 

2. The Tragedy At Marsdon Manor

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

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

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

Cast:

Captain Black (Mrs. Maltravers’s acquaintance)

Dr. Bernard (the deceased’s doctor)

Mrs. Maltravers

The Twist: Mr. Maltravers is not a Scientologist

 

3. The Adventure of The Cheap Flat

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

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

What does Poirot have in mind?

Cast:

Mr. Burt (of the US Secret Service)

Elsa Hardt (American, a concert singer)

Inspector Japp

Gerald Parker (Hastings’ s old friend)

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

The Robinsons ( the American newlywed couple)

The porter at Montagu Mansions

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

 

4. The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge

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

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

Cast:

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

Inspector Japp

Mrs. Middleton (the housekeeper)

Roger Havering (the nephew of Harrington)

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

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

 

5. The Million Dollar Bond Robbery

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

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

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

Cast:

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

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

Inspector McNeil

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

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

 

6.       The Adventure of The Egyptian Tomb

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

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

Cast:

Sir Guy WWaillard (Lady Willard’s son)

Mr. Harper (the secretary of the expedition)

Hassan (Sir John’s devoted native servant)

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

Dr. Robert Ames

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

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

 

7. The Jewel Robbery At The Grand Metropolitan

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

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

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

 

Cast:

Celestine (Mrs. Opalsen’s French maid)

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

The chambermaid

The valet

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

 

8. The Kidnapped Prime Minister

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

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

Poirot has twenty fours before the Conference commences at Versailles.

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

Cast:

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

Lord Estair (Leader of the House of Commons)

Inspector Japp

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

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

 

9. The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim

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

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Inspector Japp

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

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

 

10. The adventure of the Italian Nobleman

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

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

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

Cast:

Signor Ascanio (Italian)

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

Graves (the valet/butler to Count Foscatini)

Inspector

Robert – the lift attendant

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

 

11. The Case of The Missing Will

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

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

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

Cast:

The Bakers (the caretakers at Crabtree Manor)

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

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

 

Notes On Peril At End House

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1932

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Highlights:

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

James Warburton in Dead Man’s Folly

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act One: Nick’s passing from cocaine poisoning

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

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

Who is it going to be?

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

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

 

Cast of Characters:

Captain Arthur Hastings

Charles Vyse (Buckley’s cousin, a lawyer)

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

Frederica Rice (Buckley’s oldest friend)

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

Giles Buckley (Maggie’s father, a clergyman)

Hercule Poirot

Inspector Japp

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

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

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

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

Nick Buckley

Mr. Whitfield (Sir Matthew Seton’s lawyer)

 

The Twists:

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

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

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

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

-Rice is an cocaine addict.

The Most Fascinating Character: Jean Buckley

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

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

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

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

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

Clues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Miss Buckley didn’t.’

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

‘Lie low and cover his tracks.’

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

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

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

‘You think someone in the house-‘

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

Poirot and Hastings while visiting the Crofts in the lodge:

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

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

Notes On The 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 Murder in the Mews

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1937

Motive for Murder: Wealth and Hatred

The book consists of four crimes:

-Murder In The Mews

-The Incredible Theft

-Dead Man’s Mirror

-Triangle at Rhodes

Plots:

In Murder In The Mews, Hercule Poirot and Inspector Japp must unravel the intelligent mind of Jane Plenderleith. She is Barbara Allen’s housemate, of whom was found in her room with a bullet lodged in the head. There was neither a suicide letter found nor any finger prints on the gun. Moreover, the door and the windows in Allen’s room were locked.

Conduit Mews, London. A row of the small houses in Central London used to be stables for horses.

During the interview, Plenderleith shows remarkable calmness and self-control; her answers to Poirot and Inspector Japp are accurate and succinct.  She rejects the possibility of Allen having committed suicide and suggests that the windows could have been fastened from the outside; not from the inside as the Inspector had thought.

Her measured words, however, arouses Poirot’s curiousity. For she knows more than she has been willing to admit. More importantly, she is quite sure that Allen would not have used her own gun to kill herself.

In Dead Man’s Mirror, Sir Gervase Chevenix-Grove is dead before the sleuth arrives at the house. Poiror’s train was late.

When it dawns to the butler that he knows nothing about the presence of a private investigator and Sir Gervase has not come out yet from his study, something is amiss.

Having broken into the study, Sir Gervase was sitting with his head slumped opposite the writing table. The mirror in front of him is cracked. The room key is in his pocket and “sorry” is scribbled on a piece of paper.

Given his eccentricity his family is inclined to believe of him having taken his own life – so are the police.

Furthermore, nobody but the murderer knows about Sir Gervase’s invitation for the Belgian to spend a weekend in the house.  In spite of police’s verdict on suicide, Poirot remains unconvinced. For he believes that it is not in the nature of the deceased, a proud man with a huge wealth and apparently in a good mood, to have shot himself in the head. To Major Riddle, the chief constable, he says,’ Strange alteration of moods in Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore! He is preoccupied – he is seriously upset- he is normal – he is in high spirits! There is something very curious here! And then that phrase he used, ‘Too late.’

Later Poirot becomes fascinated to what he has found in the dustbin: a brown paper bag with an orange in it. More importantly, a witness’ statement of having heard a loud bang; of which she thought was the first gong for dinner.

Who has the strongest motive to kill Sir Gervase? A penniless nephew who will benefit from his will? An adopted daughter who has married someone against Sir Gervase’s wish? Was it his agent – who has secretly tied the knot with Ruth Chevenix-Gore? Or his old friend, who still loves his wife and is devoted to her?

In The Incredible Theft an extremely confidential document has gone missing after a dinner party at Lord Mayfield’s. The host has invited a number of people to stay over the weekend; a family of three the Carringtons and two women; one an old acquaintance and the other is a Member of Parliament.

Nonetheless, he is not keen at the idea of his old friend, Sir George Carrington, to involve Poirot in the “case of burglary” in the library. According to Lord Mayfield’s secretary, who last saw the document, he went out of the library having heard a scream of a woman’s. It occured around the time when the burglar came in, Interestingly, Lord Mayfield states that he saw a shadow from the terrace where he stood going towards the library.

Who screams and why? Meanwhile, Sir George’s son has learnt the existence of  bomber plan that is worth a fortune.  Also, an double agent among the guests. What does the agent want from Lord Mayfield?

In the last crime, Triangle At Rhodes, Poirot sees an impending murder during his holiday in Rhodes, Italy (before the Second World War). For among the guests in the hotel is a famous model –a trophy wife- who stays with her latest husband. Then there are the Golds; an extremely good looking Douglas and his wife Marjorie.

‘ I don’t believe it,’ says Pamela Lyall, one of the guests, when Poirot tells her about the killing plot. To this he remarks: ‘It’s in someone’s mind, mademoiselle. I will tell you that.’ Did Poirot imagine things: a husband’s utter jealousy; a man besotted by the flattering beauty of another woman and the simmering anger of a wife who sees little of her husband during their stay?

When Valentine Chantrys eventually dies from a heart poison, it is up to Poirot to make the murderer confess.

Rhodes Island, Greece. In 1920s it was part of Italy.

 

Highlights:

Two suicide cases are laid for the readers in Murder In The Mews and Dead Man’s Mirror. Are they indeed a suicide case or murders in disguise? Alternatively, a suicide disguised as a murder?

Christie has created an incredible character in Jane Plenderleith (see The Most Fascinating Character). As the predecessor of Miss Gilchrist (After The Funeral –see the Notes), Plenderleith has the similar aptness to a situation and is outwardly composed like Katherine Grey (The Mystery of The Blue Train).   Nonetheless, she is still a unique character owing to the authoress’s  paying attention to the minute details of each personae in her books.

To my mind Plenderleith is on a league with Amy Campbell; a Lady’s companion in the case of the kidnapping of Pekinese dogs (The Labours of Hercules – see the Notes). For Campbell understands what she is capable of; just as Plenderleith sounds to know what sort of games she is in. Both of them play it very well. Inspector Japp cannot make Plenderleith out, despite his having ealised that she has had “tricks” up her sleeve. In the end, Poirot has to confront Plenderleith regarding the two options she is obliged to decide : a man’s fate or her loyalty to the late Allen.

Dead Man’s Mirror unfortunately is a bit of disappointment. The plot, except for the names and the motive for murder, is very much the same as The Second Gong (published in 1932; one of the short stories compiled in Problem at Pollensa Bay, which was published post-humously in 1991).

Nonetheless, Christie tries to distinguish the very similar plot above by changing the opening. She begins Dead Man’s Mirror with Poirot contemplating whether to respond to Sir Gervase’s letter whilst Joan Asby’s rushing in The Second Gong reflects Susan Cartwell’s movement. Furthermore, the killing of Sir Gervase is done on an impulse as soon as the murderer hears Sir Gervase’s mentioning about Poirot and what might have been the consequences of the Belgian’s presence. What made me shudder was the realisation that it was a cold-blooded murder driven by hatred.

Triangle At Rhodes I suppose is the early version of Evil Under The Sun (1941), in which Arlene Marshall resembles Valentine Chantrys in appearance and attitude. Marjorie Gold in the short story represents Christine Redfern, of whom everyone is sorry. Pamela Lyall, a spinster who is interested in ‘human nature’ bears resemblances to Mrs. Gardener, the American tourist who is talkative.  Captain Kenneth Marshall, however, is as cool as a cucumber about his wife’s shameful behaviour. His conduct is a contrast to the short-tempered Commander Anthony Chantrys, Valentine’s husband. Which one is the murderer then: an indifferent husband or a jealous one?

The setting at Rhodes island, Greece is the most interesting aspect of the story after the method of killing by a heart poison. For the island used to belong to Italy following Treaty of Lausanne and after the Second World War has become part of Greek. I wonder whether Christie deliberately chose the biggest island among the Dodecanes island due to its history, which marks the end of the Ottoman Empire. Likewise, Santorini where Aristide Leonides originally comes from (Crooked House – see the Notes) has some interesting facts for readers to ponder over.

In hindsight, it is most intriguing that the English summer in the above-mentioned forties’ novel is sunny and mild throughout.  Did Christie have Rhodes in mind when writing the scenes at the imaginary Jolly Rogers Hotel? Readers might recall how treacherous the English summer in And Then There Were None (1939); that owing to the stormy weather in August no boats can leave to reach Soldier’s Island.

The Incredible Theft also has traces of The Secret Of Chimneys (1925), but Lord Mayfield is not Clement Edward Alistair Brent. The reluctant aristocrat,  who is Bundle Brent’s father (also appears in The Seven Dials Mystery) thinks that politics and politicians are not his cup of tea. For Lord Mayfield, however, his stand in politics is firm and entertaining guests is part of his being a senior politician. If Clement Brent feels the burden of having to be in the limelight as Marquis de Caterham, the Lord would not let anything to stop him from being the next Prime Minister.

What I like most from those four short stories are their remarkable sub-plots, much as they mean to deviate readers from guessing the murderers. Christie’s dropping of red herring is fantastic and it seems to be an easy thing when she does it.  Take the example of the screaming of Leonie, the French maid and Lady Julia Carrington’s plea to Poirot in The Incredible Theft. Both scenes are not important but if they were not in the plot the story would have lost its “charm.” Also they give the a flavour of the roaring twenties; the voice of a clever and beautiful maid (whose English is fluent) as well as what a mother would have prepared to do in order to protect her only son.

By the same token, the dialogues are intriguing; each suspect reveals their private knowledge to the detective on a number of things. For instance, from Colonel Bury readers know about an illegitimate daughter of Sir Gervase’s late brother.

To sum up, Christie’s short stories are more gripping than her novels’.

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Jane Plenderleith (Murder In The Mews)

Barbara Allen and her were housemates; they used to live together for five years. They met on a Nile cruise, liked each other and Allen agreed to Plenderleith’s proposal of sharing a small house. Both got along well and were respectable, as other witnesses state to Poirot and Inspector Japp.

Juliette Mole stars as Jane Plenderleith in 1989’s novel adaptation into the Poirot series.

When asked about Allen’s background, Plenderleith mentions about Allen’s past of having had an ex-husband. He had a bad reputation and Allen wanted to forget him. Before her death Allen was engaged to Charles Laverton-West, an M.P.  It was something Plenderleith not very much excited about nevertheless. To her mind the fiancé was pompous and self-important; yet she defends his innocence.

Furthermore, she tells Poirot about Allen’s revolver and the existence of Major Eustace, of whom a family living nearby at no.18 saw him enter the house and leave at 10.20 pm. Poirot is intrigued, however, by Plenderleith’s remark on the possibility of Allen having taken her life using the gun she kept. ‘..Even if Barbara did kill herself, I can’t imagine her killing herself that way.’

Who did she suggest having killed the housemate – Major Eustace? Why?

The following is Cast of Characters and The Twists in each stories.

  1. Murder In The Mews

Cast of Characters:

–          Barbara Allen (nee Armitage, the deceased, living at no.14 The Mews)

–          Charles Laverton-West (Barbara’s fiancé)

–          Major Eustace (Barbara’s former lover)

–          Hercule Poirot

–          Mr and Mrs James Hogg (Barbara and Jane’s neighbour – living at no.18)

–          Inspector Jameson

–          Jane Plenderleith (Barbara’s housemate)

–          Inspector Japp (of Scotland Yard)

–          Mrs. Pierce (the daily woman at no.14 The Mews)

The Twists:

–          Barbara Allen was overdrawn; two hundred pounds to self withdrawn three months before her death and another two hundred pounds hours on 5th November.

–          The blotting paper in Allen’s room is not being used yet

–          There are cigarette butts in the crime scene but not a smell of smoke

–          Major Eustace smokes Turkish cigarettes

–          Major Eustace’s chuff link is found in the crime scene

–          The Mystery of Missing Attache Case of Jane Plenderleith’s

2. Dead Man’s Mirror

Cast of Characters:

Colonel Bury (The Chevenix-Gores’s old friend)

Mr. Forbes (the family lawyer)

Hugo Trent (Sir Gervase’s nephew, the son of his late sister)

Captain John Lake (Sir Gervase’s estate agent and Ruth’s husband)

Miss Lingard (the researcher who stays at the house to help Sir Gervase write a book about the old family)

Major Riddle (the local chief constable)

Ruth Chevenix-Gore (Sir Gervase and Vanda‘s adopted daughter)

Susan Cardwell (Hugo’s friend who is invited for the dinner)

Vanda Chevenix-Gore (Sir Gervase’s wife)

The Twists:

-Ruth Chevenix-Gore is the illegitimate daughter of Anthony Chevenix-Gore, Sir Gervase’s brother who killed in the (first world) war.

– Poirot shows Susan Cardwell the trick of the French windows to give impression of their being fastened from the inside

-Susan Cardwell heard the gunshot, which she then perceived as the sound of the first gong dinner

– Miss Lingard picks up something when everyone rushes to break into the study

3. The Incredible Theft

Cast of Characters:

Mr. Carlile (Lord Mayfield’s secretary)

Sir George Carrington

Lady Julia Carrington (Sir George’s husband)

Mademoiselle Leonie (Mrs. Vanderlyn’s French maid)

Mrs. Macatta, M.P.

Lord Mayfield (the host of the dinner party, a.k.a. Sir Charles McLaughlin)

Reggie Carrington (Sir George and Lady Julia’s son)

Mrs. Vanderlyn (an American acquaintance)

The Twists:

-Lord Mayfield is short sighted but said to have seen a shadow coming from the library

-Reggie Carrington happens to kiss Leonie

-Lord Mayfield is reluctant at engaging Poirot in the investigation

-Leonie cannot find her mistress’s bag before they depart

-Mrs. Vanderlyn asks Lord Mayfield to post a letter as she leaves the house

4. Triangle At Rhodes

Cast of Characters:

Commander Anthony Chantry (Valentine’s husband)

G-Strophanthin, a poisonous cardiac glycoside is extracted from strophanthus plants. Valentine Chantrys dies from strophanthin poisoning.

General Barnes (a retired army officers, one of the hotel guests)

The Golds (Douglas, the husband and Marjorie, the wife)

Hercule Poirot

Pamela Lyall (Poirot’s acquaintance, English)

Sarah Blake (Pamela’s friend, English)

Valentine Chantry (a famous model and a trophy wife)

The Twists:

-Hercule Poirot warns Marjorie Gold to leave the island

– Commander Anthony Chantry’s jealousy to Douglas Cameron leads to his threat to Cameron

-Anthony Chantry passes a glass of Pink Gin to his wife before she dies from a heart poison (strophanthin)

– A packet of strophanthin is found in Douglas Cam

Notes On The ABC Murders

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1936

Motive for Murder: Jealousy and Wealth

Plot: A serial killer puts Poirot’s mind to a test when his first letter to the sleuth came, warning him about a killing happening. On the date and place stated, Mrs. Ascher, who runs a newspaper stall in Andover, is found dead in the early hours. After the second letter, Betty Barnard, who works in a seaside cafe in Bexhill, is strangled. Sir Carmichael Clarke meets his fate as he takes his evening walk in Churston. Yet, the fourth victim’s last name begins with ‘E’ in Doncaster. Does the murderer jump a letter? Or did he make a mistake?

Andover Train Station -Francis Firth’s Collection

What are the motives of ending the lives of an elderly woman, a young ordinary woman, a collector of Chinese porcelain and ceramics and a man in the cinema? For neither the victims are related nor knew one another. One thing for sure, an ABC railway guide is always placed near the body of each victim.

Meanwhile, Alexander Bonaparte Cust finds a knife with blood in his pocket. He cannot remember why it is there nor a man who stumbled on him in the cinema earlier. During the police search in his London bedsit, eight copies of ABC are found. As the Belgian meets him face-to-face he says, ‘But you do know, don’t you that you committed murders?’ Mr. Cust responds, ‘I know.’ ‘But- I am right, am I not? – you don’t know why you did them? ‘No,’ Mr. Cust says. ‘I don’t.’ What does Poirot have in mind?

‘Isn’t it? Why people want to go abroad to the Riviera when they’ve got this!I’ve wandered all over the world in my time and honest to God, I’ve never seen anything as beautiful!’ (Franklin Clarke to Captain Hastings about Churston) . The image is Churston Cove, a popular destination round the English Riviera.

Highlights:

As I finished the book, I had believed that the book title could have been “Mr. Cust’s List.’ – yes, a bit like ‘Schindlers’ List.’ Yet, Christie had her own idea having decided to call the title differently. As a matter of fact, being a Poirot’s case, it suits the sleuth’s keenness at symmetry and structured mind.

At the time of the publication of the book, another Poirot’s was also launched on the market (Death In The Clouds). Both came out in the same year, 1936, and they are distinctive in terms of the nature of the murders and the circumstances entailed. On the one hand, Madame     is killed because On the other, Mrs. Ascher is murdered without any apparent reasons.

Furthermore, what interests me most is the profile of the murderer. Personally, the book plot seems to resonate with The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd (1926) in terms of identifying the murderer. As a minor character says, the murderer is a sort of person that nobody notices. Or perhaps would not have been perceived possible to commit a crime?

This reminds me to one of the short stories in The Mysterious Mr. Quin (1930):The Bird With The Broken Wing. For the killer is a quiet man; that “it was a standing joke that …..was a real ‘invisible man’.  Yet his motive is clear and the opportunity is provided by the unprecedented murder weapon that belongs to the victim. Nonetheless, how about the crime temperament; the third factor that would make someone kill according to Poirot?

Just as in After The Funeral, the murderer in the book is a minor character, who remains in the background. They are there among other suspects, observing things unobtrusively as they progress.

It is most intriguing how selective attention is deployed in the plot. For the characters see facts from a certain angle and come to a different conclusion as a result. Suspicion runs high to ‘a man dressed shabbily, wearing glasses and rather stooped,’ which emanates from the witnesses’ statements.

In this regard I applaud Christie’s craft in twisting her readers’ minds with lies, mixed truth and nothing but the truth (yet the latter aspect comes from the most suspicious character). Perceptions towards people play an important part; it is much easier to give negative thoughts to a lone man which behaves strangely than to a man who dresses smartly and looks confidence in his conduct.

The ultimate question is: how will the above issues help in the investigation? For  both Poirot and the police (Inspector Crome and Inspector Japp) are still in the dark as regard to the pattern; a theory which the sleuth has strongly believed exist.

The chapter ‘A Conference’ in which the discussions about the pattern with reference to various cases are worth looking at.

 

Prince John of the United Kingdom, who died at the age of thirteen in 1919, suffered from epilepsy, just like Christie herself.

My utmost appreciation to Christie, of whom the issue of epilepsy is raised in the book. For all it is worth it makes the difference, for in the thirties there were misunderstanding as to the treatment of the condition.

Many people who suffered would have been singled out and chances were they might have been treated unfairly as a human being (see The Most Fascinating Character). Her concerns are evident and moreover she seems to have wanted to point out that an epileptic person is as sane and as intelligent as a healthy person. Likewise, the look of a psychopath is as good as a ’normal person.’

It is a psycopath’s response to a verdict that sets them apart nevertheless. ‘Your theory is absurd!’ the murderer says to Poirot after his triumphant explanation in front of an audience. In the short story referred previously, the killer that come up as to why are: ‘..Nobody ever noticed what I was doing. I thought – I thought I’d have the laugh of them….’

Most importantly, the book shows the humble part of Poirot; his admitting  limited knowledge on the case and  making jokes to Hastings about his ‘failure’ to identify the killer sooner.

If there is any criticism, it is my being put off by the recurring setting of murders in the English seaside towns. I may be rather sensitive, for a killer can be anywhere. Yet regrettably, it did give me ‘a little idea’ when I was in the English Riviera recently (May 2013 half-term with my children).  I could not have done what Christie could have: to have plotted an intimate crime in a serene surrounding of Greenway.

Be that as it may, I put down the book with thoughts aplenty about conformity in society and people’s judgment to one another. I ask myself: do I have a fair judgment to some? Have I been biased or wrongly judged someone in the past?

The Twists:

-The said company which has employed Mr. Cust as a silk stocking seller is a fake one

– The company’s instruction to Mr. Cust, typewritten, is traced back to a typewriter which belonged to Mr. Cust himself

-The third letter to Poirot comes on the day the murder occurs as a result of a mistake in the recipient address

-Lady Clarke saw Thora Grey talk to a man on the front doorstep on the day her husband, Sir Carmichael killed

-Betty’s mother buys some pairs of silk stocking from a door-to-door seller on the day Betty was murdered

-Mrs. Fowler, who lives next to Mrs. Ascher, mentions a seller of silk stockings the day the other died.

-Mrs. Ascher, Betty Barnard and George Earlsfield are simply the casualties

Cast of Characters: 

Alexander Bonaparte Cust

Captain Arthur Hastings (Poirot’s sidekick)

Lady Clarke (the wife of Sir Carmichael, who is jealous of her husband’s treatment towards his secretary Thora Grey)

Donald Fraser (Betty Branard’s fiancé)

Franklin Clarke (the brother of Sir Carmichael Clarke)

Mrs. Fowler (the greengrocer’s wife, who lives next to Mrs. Ascher)

Chief Inspector Detective Crome (of Scotland Yard)

Hercule Poirot

Inspector Japp (of Scotland Yard, Poirot’s old friend)

Lily Madbury (Tom Hartigan’s fiancée, whose mother takes Alexander Cust as a lodger)

Sir Lionel (the Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard)

Mary Drower (Mrs. Ascher’s niece)

Megan Barnard  (Betty Barnard’s sister)

Milly Higley (Betty’s colleague at the cafe)

Thora Grey (Norwegian, the ex-secretary of Sir Carmichael Clarke)

Dr. Thompson (the doctor whom Poirot consults on the case)

Tom Hartigan (Lily Madbury’s fiancé)

The Most Fascinating Character: Alexander Bonaparte Cust

Is he a dangerous murderer with an ordinary superficial look, who possesses a lethally genius mind?

Or, is he man with ‘great names’ who is a failure and does not live up to his namesake? (see Clues)

During his interview with Hercule Poirot,Mr. Cust talks about his background. He describes his childhood and how he finds his ways about the world – albeit the edited version. He does not mention to the other having been dismissed from the Army due to his epilepsy. Rather, he said about the headaches that had rendered him forgetting anything .

After the war he managed to get a job as a clerk, but became jobless after the recession (in the early thirties). He tried to find jobs to no avail until an opportunity for selling silk shocks with a salary and commission came up. He is then given a list by the company for potential customers and places to sell.

It is most fascinating that he laments to Poirot about his names (see Clues). More importantly about his late mother, who gave him the ‘great’ names.

‘She was quite wrong, of course [to have high expectations about her son]. I realized that myself quite soon. I wasn’t the sort of person to get on in life. I was always doing foolish things – making myself look ridiculous. And I was timid – afraid of people. I had a bad time at school – the boys found out my Christian names- they used to tease me about them….I did very badly at school – in games and work and everything. ‘

Here is a tale of a domineering mother who thought of the world about her son but was very disappointed with the reality. She seems to have been hardly satisfied with her son until her death.  On the other side of the coin is an epileptic son, might have been felt as a ‘burden.’ The little boy then became a man with a sense of foreboding and the society did not accept him as he was. A sense of failure on his part develops afterwards, for he was not able to fulfil his mother’s high expectations.

I cannot imagine how miserable Mr. Cust is, as many people might have turned a cold shoulder at him. Thora Grey does not remember talking to him because she thinks that he is a sort of man that nobody notices. Betty Barnard’s mother remembers buying silk stockings for her daughter but does not recall that it was from a man who had come to Mrs. Barnard’s doorstep. Mrs. Fowler remembers seeing the same man outside Mrs. Ascher’s dwelling offering stockings but his look.

With epilepsy, it goes without saying that he was bullied in his youth. At school other kids smirked at him, which then lowered his self-esteem.  I wonder if he is an only child and had a male role model when he was young. Lily Marbury describes him as a kind of ‘soft, vague person, who would not hurt a fly.’

With what he has been through, do they make him a murderer?

Clues:

Alexander Cust (to Hercule Poirot):

‘..My mother was very fond of me. But she was ambitious – terribly ambitious. That’s why she gave me those ridiculous names. She had some absurd idea that I’d cut a figure in the world. She was always urging me to assert myself – talking about will-power…saying anyone could be master of his fate…she said I could do anything!’

‘I remember one man- I’ve never forgottenhim because of something he told me – we just got talking over a cup of coffee, and we started dominoes. Well, I felt after twenty minutes that I’d known that man all my life.’

‘It gave me a turn – a nasty turn.Talking of your fate being written in your hand, he was. And he showed me his hand and the lines that showed he’d have two near escapes of being drowned – and he had had two near escapes. And then he looked at mine and he told me some amazing things. Said I was going to be one of the most celebrated men in England before I died. Said the whole country would be talking about me. But he said – he said…’

Tom Hartigan (to Inspector Crome):

‘..Lily-my young lady- said as how she hoped he wouldn’t cop it from this ABC fellow going to Doncaster – and then she says it’s rather a coincidence because he was down Churston way at the time of the last crime. Laughing like, I asks her whether he was at Bexhill the time before, and she says she don’t know where he was, but he was away at the seaside – that she does know. And then I said to her it would be odd if he was the ABC himself and she said poor Mr. Cust wouldn’t hurt a fly- and that was all the time. We didn’t think no more about it. At least, in a sort of way I did, sir, underneath like. I began wondering about this Cust fellow and thinking that, after all, harmless as he seemed, he might be a bit batty.’

Hercule Poirot (in responding to Donald Fraser’s remark about the murderer):

‘…he had a tabular mind. His crimes were listed by alphabetical progression – that was obviously important to him. On the other hand, he had no particular taste in victims – Mrs. Ascher, Betty Barnard, Sir Carmichael Clarke, they all differed widely from one another. There was no sex complex – no particular age complex, and that seemed to me to be a very curious fact. If a man kills indiscriminately it is usually because he removes anyone who stands in his way or annoys him. But the alphabetical progression showed that such was not the case here. The other type of killer usually selects a particular type of victim – nearly always the opposite sex. There was something haphazard about the procedure of ABC that seemed to me to be at war with the alphabetical selection.’

‘One slight inference I permitted myself to make. The choice of the ABC suggested to me what I may call a railway-minded man. This is more common in men than women…’