Notes On Problem At Pollensa Bay

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1991

Motive for Murder/Crime: Wealth

Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1. Problem At Pollensa Bay

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

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Betty Gregg (Basil’s girlfriend)

The Chesters (Adella and Basil)

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

Nina Wycherley (Parker’s acquaintance)

Parker Pyne

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

 

2. The Second Gong

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

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

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

Cast:

Diana Cleves (Hubert’s adopted daughter)

Digby (the butler)

Geoffrey Keene (Hubert’s secretary)

Gregory Barling (a financier, a suitor for Diana)

Hercule Poirot

Hubert Lytcham Roche (the victim)

Harry Dalehouse (Hubert’s nephew)

Joan Ashby (Harry’s friend)

John Marshall (Hubert’s agent)

Mrs. Lytcham Roche (Hubert’s wife)

Inspector Reeves

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

 

3. Yellow Iris

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

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

 

Cast:

Anthony Capell (Poirot’s acquaintance)

Barton Russel (an American millionaire)

Hercule Poirot

Senora Lola Valdez (an Argentine actress)

Luigi (the restaurateur at the club Jardin des Cygnes)

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

Stephen Carter (of foreign service)

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

 

4. The Harlequin Tea Set

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

Mr. Satterthwaite to Mr. Quin

 

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

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

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

The Harlequin Tea Set

 

Cast:

Beryl Gilliat (Simon’s second wife)

Harley Quin

Dr. Horton (Thomas’s friend)

Inez Addison (Thomas’s granddaughter)

Mr. Satterthwaite

Thomas Addison (Mr. Satterthwaite’s old friend)

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

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

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

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

 

5. The Regatta Mystery

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

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

 

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

Cast:

Evan Llewellyn (Pyne’s client)

Eve Leathern (Samuel’s daughter)

Isaac Pointz (Hatton Garden diamond merchant)

Mrs. Jane Rustington

Leo Stein (Isaac’s business partner)

The Marroways (Sir George and Lady Pamela)

Parker Pyne

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

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

 

6. The Love Detectives

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Inspector Melvin Curtis

Harley Quin

Jennings (the deceased’s valet)

Lady Laura Dwighton (the deceased’s wife)

Colonel Melrose (the local chief constable)

Paul Delangua (Lady Laura’s lover)

Mr. Satterthwaite

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

 

7. Next To A Dog

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

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

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

Cast:

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

Arthur Halliday (Joyce’s would-be husband)

Mrs. Barnes (Joyce’s landlady)

Joyce Lambert

Terry the dog

The Twist: Joyce Lambert breaks her engagement to Arthur Halliday

 

8. Magnolia Blossom

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

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

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

Cast:

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

The Darrels (Richard and Theodora)

Vincent Easton (an auditor)

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

 

 

Notes On While The Light Lasts

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1997

Motive: Wealth, jealousy and rage

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

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

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

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

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

Isle of Man, UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

The riddle for Alan Everald from his daughter

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

Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson is Agatha Christie’s favourite

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

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

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

Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson

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

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

Plot:

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

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

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

Cast:

Allegra Kerr (Maisie’s  friend)

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

Maisie Wetterman (Rudolf’s daughter)

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

The unnamed doctor in West Africa

The Twist: John Segrave dies in West Africa

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

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

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

What will Levitt do next?

Cast:

Jake Levitt (the blackmailer)

Miss Jones (Olga’s secretary)

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

Syd Danahan (Olga’s manager)

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

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

Plot:

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

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

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

Cast:

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

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

Nurse Lariston (a nurse at a mental ward)

Vivien Lee (nee Harper, Gerald’s wife)

The Vicar

A hotel receptionist at County Arms in Skippington

The Twist: Clare Halliwell survives

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

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

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

It is an extraordinary glass: a ruby stone.

Cast:

Annie (the maid)

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

Charles Pease (Eric and Johnnie’s school friend)

Emily Endicott (the elderly aunt)

Eric Endicott (Nancy’s younger brother)

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

Granges (the butler)

Jean Endicott (Emily’s niece)

Johnnie Endicott (Nancy and Eric’s sibling)

Nancy Cardell (Emily’s niece)

Oscar Levering (Evelyn’s fiancé)

Roger Endicott (the eldest nephew of Emily’s)

The cook 

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

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

Plot:

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

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

Will she ever see the painter again?

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

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

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

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

Plot:

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

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

 

Cast:

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

Fenella Mylecharane

Juan Farakar

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

Mrs. Skillicorn (Myles’s housekeeper)

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Alan Everard (the portrait artist)

George  (the narrator, Alan’s friend)

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

Isobel Loring (Alan’s wife)

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

Winnie Everard (Alan and Isobel’s child)

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

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

Plot:

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

Will Poirot want to believe the woman’s instinct?

Cast:

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

Burgoyne (Major Rich’s valet/manservant)

Mr. Clayton (Marguerita’s husband)

Major Jack Curtiss (Clayton’s friend)

Marguerita Clayton

Major Rich (the Claytons’s friend)

The Spences (Major Rich’s friends)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cast:

Deidre Corzier (George’s wife)

George Corzier (Deidre’s second husband)

Tim Nugent (Deidre’s first husband)

Mr. Walters (the manager of the tobacco estate)

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

The Most Fascinating Character: Myles Mylecharane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your affectionate Uncle,

Myles Mylecharane’     

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

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 Seven Dials Mystery

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1929

Motive for Murder: Wealth (A Secret Formula)

Plot: ‘Inconsiderate, that’s what I call it,’ says Lord Caterham. He repeats the adjective in retrospective to his daughter, Bundle. ‘I don’t see why you’re so frightfully sensitive about it. After all, people must die somewhere,’ she responds. ‘They needn’t die in my house,’ her father remarks.

After two years abroad, they have come back to Chimneys to find that a young man died from sleeping pill overdose in Bundle’s room. The Brents’s stately home had been rented to a steel magnate, Sir Oswald Coote, who then invited seven people for a weekend party.

Bundle’s curiousity is aroused when she later discovers a letter written by the deceased, which omits the suggestion of his having committed a suicide.   Further on, she runs over a man while speeding in her car – or so she thought. ‘Seven Dials…tell…Jimmy Thesiger…’ says Ronny Devereux before his last breath. Seven Dials, where did I come across it before? She says in her head. Interestingly, the second dead man was also present at Sir Oswald’s party.

Are the deaths of the two young men related? She tells her father the latter occurence, which reminds him about the warning letters George Lomax, a senior politician who lives in an adjoining estate, has received from ‘Seven Dials.’ They are related to a party he will be having the following week. Bundle decides she must go, for Jimmy Thesiger will be among the guests.

Yet what happens in the party is more than the young woman has bargained for; a secret formula, another incident, sleeping enemies and a secret admirer.

The changing of the map of Europe after the First World War and periods of political turbulences in some of the countries are of Christie’s interest.

 

Highlights:

For readers who have been acquainted with the Brents, Bill Eversleigh and Superintendent Battle in The Secret of Chimneys, they might be familiar with Lord Caterham’s above remark. The book is not the sequel of its predecessor but the flourishing of Bundle as a character. Gone is Virginia Trevel, for  four years later Lord Caterham’s eldest daughter has grown to be a smart woman with the same indomitable spirit of Prudence Crowley’s and Anne Beddingfield’s.

Cherryl Campbell as Bundle Brent in 1981’s adaptation into a television series.

Amidst the meteoric rise of Hercule Poirot, the emerging power of these fearless female protagonists are most interesting. First and foremost, their individual ‘adventure’ begins by accident, having happened ‘on the spot’ or ‘in the thick of it.’

Next, if Poirot’s case lacks its political touch, it is espionage and conspiracy for Christie’s heroines. A young woman with her naivety and a thirst of adventure involved in a ‘manly’ affair is quite a breakthrough plot for a rising crime writer over eighty years ago; a make or break, so to speak.  As a matter of fact, through the heroine the notion for a feminine approach in solving a crime was cultivated. In other way, Christie seemed to take a calculated risk presenting Tuppence in her second novel as an esteemed partner of Tommy Beresford. Such was paid off, for the appearance of a palaenthologist daughter (Beddingfield) and a Lord’s daughter follow.

Furthermore, if it is ‘little grey cells’ and logical approach for Poirot, it is dinner and dancing for Bundle and a fake interest in politics. Head versus heart, although in a nutshell the principle is the same: sniff and follow the trail (and they’ll get somewhere).

As for Bundle, the fact that her background is distinctive from the archdeacon’s daughter (Crowley) and a prominent scientist’s (Beddingfield) is another Christie’s effort of breaking the mould of stereotypes. In the twenties, it is unheard of for an upper class woman to be embroiled in an ‘unlady-like’ matter. For readers who follow the Downtown Abbey Series, remember Dowager Countess of Grantham ‘s response  to her cousin’s middle daughter, Lady Edith Crawley, after she broke the news of having accepted an offer to write a column in the newspaper? Well, Bundle goes as far as driving a car is concerned. Nonetheless, both ‘Ladies’ (in its true sense) uses their assigned status to access the worlds that used to be shut for women.  Hence, Bundle’s success to persuade her aunt Marcia to let her in Lomax’s party.

Just as Virginia Trevel and Anthony Cade, Bundle is partnered with Jimmy Thesiger and Lorraine Wade. Christie’s repeating character’s name ‘Jimmy,’ ie. Jimmy McGrath in The Secret of Chimneys, is fascinating. Is he a friend or foe? Thesiger and Wade are both strangers to Bundle; Thesiger is apparently a friend to the two murder victims and Wade is one of the deceased men’s stepsister. In the reading, I wondered why it was not Bill Eversleigh, of whom Bundle had known, who became her partner.

It is worth looking at the dynamics between minor characters concerning the class issue. The variable perceptions of class are woven together in some chapters to show such division in English society that arguably is still a rife nowadays.  Christie as a ‘cook’ mixes the ingredients well and adds a pinch of salt here and there. On the one hand, there  the reluctant Lord Caterham, who sees himself quite unsuitable for pursuing life as a peer. On the other, George Lomax and Lady Marcia Caterham as the haughty aristocrats; while on the other spectrum is the self-made millionare Sir Oswald Coote and Lady Coote.  And yet, there is Macdonald the gardener, Chimneys’s housekeeper and a faithful Alfred (the ex-footman), who either challenges the expectations about their class or succumb to the demands of the other class. Bundle comes in the midst of it, having to juggle her balls so as to achieve her aims.

‘Ladies’ sign for women’s rest room.

Despite those above-mentioned issues, I am most intrigued with the usage of some words in the book, ie.  ‘woman’ and ‘lady.’ In British English, ‘Ladies’ for a women’s rest room and ‘Lady’ as in Bundle’s title do not bear the same weight compared to its use as an adjective, ie. a ‘lady friend.’

On a part of a chapter, Bundle was having a dinner with Bill Eversleigh. When he talked at length about  Babe St. Maur,  it is evident that Bundle’s is not in favour with his rambling about the actress, one of his lady friends. Later, as she was listening to her aunt Marcia describing  a Mrs. Macatta, a female Member of Parliament, the aunt’s tone of voice sounded her high appreciation towards the female politician. ‘A most estimable woman with a brilliant brain. I may say that as a general rule I do not hold with women standing for Parliament. They can make their influence felt in a more womanly fashion,’ says Marcia Caterham.

Those might be small points for some readers, yet I wonder whether Christie did put the difference forward deliberately, owing to her Victorian upbringing. Moreover, the actress was described as a beauty whilst the aunt as ‘majestic in proportion’ and had a prominent personality. Needless to say, their contrast are apparent and later on in the book Bundle had to adjust her opinion about that ‘lady friend,’ for her success having transformed to a different persona.

What I least like is the ending, for two reasons. Firstly, as the whole “Seven Dials” affair is revealed,   the focus shifts from Bundle to two male minor characters (guess who!). There is a plausible reason behind that, yet I do not think it is justified. Secondly, the twist of Bundle being invited to join ‘Seven Dials’ and her decision to marry one of the ‘dials’. The twist and the holy matrimony themselves are wonderful and I appreciate Christie’s stand on this matter. Nevertheless, as the latter ending recurs in her other books as well – such is the case to Tuppence’s and Anne’s – I just wonder if a marriage is truly a woman’s path. Besides,  it is a shame that there is no further adventure for Mr. and Mrs. Eversleigh.

To sum up, The Seven Dials Mystery is Christie’s celebration to women’s brain and beauty.

The Twists:

–          The day before Gerald Wade’s death a prank is planned to wake him up. Eight clocks are then bought and set to go off one after another starting from six am the next day

–          Jimmy Thesiger notices later (after Wade was found dead)that the clocks have been moved  and the seven of them are arranged neatly in  a row on the mantelpiece

–          The missing clock, the eighth one, is found in the garden of Chimneys’s

–          Gerald Wade allegedly is in Germany between 1915 and 1918

–          Alfred, the ex-footman, is paid a hundred pounds to leave Chimneys for The Seven Dials Club

–          Bundle, with Alfred’s help, manages to slip into The Seven Dials meeting

–          Lorraine Wade, Gerald’s stepsister, turns up at Chimneys in the small hours

–          Jimmy Thesiger is shot following his account of having had a quarrel with a mysterious man on the grounds of Chimneys’s

–          Sergeant Battle is No. 7.

–          George Lomax proposes Bundle.

Cast of Characters:

Countess Anna Radzky (of Herloszovakia, George Lomax’s guest at Wyvern Abbey)

Alfred (the ex-second footman at Chimneys)

Superintendent Battle (of Scotland Yard)

Clement  Edward Alistair Brent (a.k.a. Lord Caterham)

Lady Eileen Brent (a.k.a. Bundle, Lord Caterham’s eldest daughter)

Honorable George Lomax ( a senior politician who owns Wyvern Abbey, an adjoining estate to Chimneys)

Gerald Wade (Bill, Jimmy and Ronny’s friend; Lorraine’s stepbrother)

Mrs. Howell (the housekeeper at Chimneys)

Jimmy Thesiger (Bill, Gerry and Ronny’s friend)

Lorraine Wade (Gerald’s stepsister)

Lady Marcia, Marchiones of Caterham (Lord Caterham’s sister-in-law)

Sir Oswald Coote (a steel magnate)

Ronald Devereux (Jimmy and Bill’s friend, Bill’s colleague at FCO)

Rupert Bateman (a.k.a. Pongo, Sir Oswald’s secretary)

Terence O’Rourke (Sir Stanley Dinby’s secretary)

Tredwell (The butler at Chimneys)

William Eversleigh (a.k.a. Bill Eversleigh, George Lomax’s secretary at FCO)

The Most Fascinating Character: Lord Caterham

He takes the title of Marquis of Caterham after the demise of his brother Henry eight years before. In The Secret of Chimneys, he is described as ‘a small gentleman, shabbily dressed, and entirely unlike the popular conception of a marquis. He had faded blue eyes, a thin melancholy nose and a vague but corteous manner.’

George Lomax lives near him and it is a pain for the former Clement Brent to have been realised of the importance of Chimneys and its playing part in the history. To be truthful, Lomax might remind him of her late brother, the ex-Secretary State of Foreign Affairs, for his constant reminder of keeping traditions of the upper class.  In all occasions Lord Clement will avoid Lomax at all cost and puts the pain to do so in the hands of his capable butler Tredwell. Naturally, he blames Lomax for the death of Prince Michael Obolovich of Herzoslovakia at Chimneys earlier, whilst simply remarks another death of a young man as ‘inconsiderate.’

More importantly, Lord Clement bears the traits of Prince Albert. For Queen Elizabeth’s father, a shy personality due to his stammer, became King George VI following the abdication of his brother Edward VIII in 1936. Just as Lord Clement, the new king seemed to be unsure about shouldering the responsibility of the continuing the House of Windsor in the precarious political situations in Europe. Yet he changed after 2nd September 1939.

When the murderer of the Czech Prince is caught, Lord Clement then decides to go abroad (see the right box).

John Gielgud (1904-2000) as Lord Caterham.
And when it’ all over:‘Bundle, is that car of yours in order?’ ‘Yes, Why?’ ‘Then take me up to towns immediately. I’m going abroad at once – today.’ ‘But, Father-‘ ‘Don’t argue with me, Bundle. George Lomax told me when he arrived this morning that he was anxious to have a few words privately with me on a matter of the utmost delicacy. He added that the King of Timbuctoo was arriving in London shortly. I won’t go through that again, Bundle, do you hear? Not for fifty George Lomaxes! If Chimneys is so valuable to the nation, let the nation buy it. Otherwise I shall see it to a syndicate and they can turn it into a hotel.’

Yet, as ‘history’ repeats in Chimneys, he begins to accept his fate and faces Lomax with the wits and dry humour readers did not come across before. Imagine his face when Lomax dares propose his beloved daughter towards the end of the book!

I have grown to like this man, for his thinking that life might have been more interesting as a ‘nobody.’ He is bothered by his status, although the wealth that comes with it is a comfort; his having three daughters to marry.  Similarly, King George VI had two daughters and the pressures he felt to ‘perform’ accordingly, particularly to reassure the nation in his seminal speech on the onset of the war, resonates with Lord Caterham’s ordeal.

If anything, both of them are the opposite to their extrovert elder brothers and their being in their shadow.

Anyone still fancy to be a Lord or being second in line to the throne?

Clues:

Bill Eversleigh (to Bundle):

‘’Well, as I was telling you, Babe’s pretty smart. You’ve got to be nowadays. She can put it over on most theatrical people. If you want to live, be high-handed, that’s what Babe says. And mind you, she’s the goods all right. She can act – it’s marvellous how that girl can act….’

Jimmy Thesiger (to Bundle and Lorraine Wade):

‘Listen you two. Gerry Wade was at the Foreign Office. He appeared to be the same sort of amiable idiot – excuse the term, but you know what I mean- as Bill Eversliegh and Ronny Devereux. A purely ornamental excrescence. But in reality he was something quite different. I think Gerry Wade was the real thing. Our Secret Service is supposed to be the best in the world. I think Gerry Wade was pretty high up in the service. And that explains everything! I remember saying idly hat last evening at Chimneys that Gerry couldn’t be quite such an ass as he made himself out to be.’

(to Bundle – after observing The Seven Dials meeting):

‘Eberhard was a Johnny who’d got some patent process he applied to sell. I can’t put the thing properly because I haven’t got the scientific knowledge- but I know the result was that it became so toughened that a wire was as strong as a steel bar had previously been. Eberhard had to do with aeroplanes and his idea was that the weight would be so enormously reduced that flying would be practically revolutioned – the cost of it, I mean. I believe he offered his invention to the German Government, and they turned it down, pointed out some undeniable flaw in it – but they did it rather hastily. He set to work and circumvented the difficulty, whatever it was, but he’d been offended by their attitude and swore they shouldn’t have his ewe lamb. I always thought the whole thing was probably bunkum, but now – it looks differently.’