A girl is drowned to death at a a Halloween party after boasting that she’d witnessed a murder — a claim that absolutely everybody discounted as the girl was a compulsive liar. Hercule Poirot, however, finds it highly significant: the murderer must have heard the girl’s claim and killed her to so she wouldn’t say more.
Somewhat solvable. If the girl didn’t actually see the murder (she didn’t — again, she was a liar), then someone did and she was simply parroting it. It’s established that that’s how she always acted. It had to be someone not at the party or else she couldn’t very well have made the claim and not have been called out on it. That narrows it down to one person. The murder victim was similarly easy to deduce (indeed, the “town witch” all but says it, but it was spelled out pretty clearly before that) but the murderer could have been any number of people.
Elsie Guteman, the wealthiest woman in America, marries Mike Rogers, a penniless nobody in England. They take up residence in Gipsy’s Acre, a reputedly cursed house. My copy of this slim novella is 186 pages long and the murder doesn’t occur until page 135 — Elsie winds up dead in what might be a horse riding accident but it looks fishy. Narrated by Mike and with no detective character, I kinda all along was running with the assumption that it was a Roger Ackroyd situation and that Mike himself did it — because of the way the story is presented more than anything else — and that’s exactly what it was.
Poirot, retired from the detective game, is vacationing on the Cornish coast when he makes the acquaintance of a woman named Nick who, curiously, seems always to just avoid being murdered. A bullet just misses her while she talks to Poirot.
I had my suspicions early on and was fairly convinced that Freddie was being setup to take the fall, but it wasn’t until the chocolate boxes that it all became clear.
Aboard the plane from Paris to Croydon are eleven passengers, two stewards, and one maid.
Jane Grey, a manicurist, won one of the lesser prizes in the lottery and used her winnings to visit Le Pinet and try her hand at roulette. The Countess of Horbury is very familiar with the casino floor herself — much, much too familiar than Lord Horbury’s pocket book will support. The Hon. Venetia Kerr, who’s nothing but country life and horse-sense, would have made Horbury a better match, as they both know, but there’s no way the Countess would grant a divorce. On the male side are the Duponts, father and son archeologists, too engrossed in an argument about the dating of near-eastern pottery to notice much. Clancey is busy in his own mind, as well — he’s a murder mystery author plotting a new book. Ryder is making moon eyes at Jane, sitting opposite him, and doing little else. Medical doctor Bryant cleans his beloved flute, while dental doctor Gale laments that nobody pays any attention to dentists. Finally, Hercule Poirot sits bundled up almost to his eyes, and two rows back, Madame Griselle, that infamous Parisian money-lender and blackmailer, sloops forward over her coffee cup, dead from a snake venom dart apparently launched at her neck from a South American blowpipe.
One of the recurring questions is how nobody on the plane saw such a farcical proceeding of somebody getting up, loading a blowpipe with a feathered dart, taking aim at Griselle, and blowing. What distraction could have been so great to cover that? Of course, that’s just what the murderer wants everyone to waste their time on — that’s why they planted the blowpipe. The poison was simply injected directly into the blackmailer’s vein by someone who could get close enough to do it without attracting attention. I didn’t need all that many clues to spot the culprit. The way the character is written and the way they behave instantly from the moment the crime is discovered and until the reveal marks them as the murderer. For that matter, just reading the brief character introductions above, you’ve probably spotted who did it, too.
With Christie, you’ve got Poirot stories on the one hand and Miss Marple stories on the other hand, but a tiny, vestigial third hand clutches a little collection of one-offs that probably make up my favorite of Christie’s murder mysteries.
Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent and Bobby, the younger son of the village vicar, were playmates as children and remain close friends. It’s a quiet place where nothing really happens, until one day and unidentified man falls from a cliff to his death. It’s deemed an accident, but the more Bobby and Frankie look into it, the more convinced they become that it was murder and that the “sister” who claimed the body was actually part of a drug smuggling ring.
It’s an involved plot with impersonations and forgeries, and kidnappings and murders that I couldn’t possibly summarize in a few lines, but in the end, though the culprit gets away, Frankie and Bobby come out on top.
An old man without long to live calls all his family together for one last Christmas, which is surprising given how much they hate one another. Old Simeon even hates Alfred, who’s always had a dog-like devotion to his father. Most of his other children have been estranged for decades. Simeon uses the opportunity to remind them that they’re all disappointments and he hopes that at least one of his illegitimate offspring isn’t a failure. That night, Simeon’s throat is cut. His door was locked from the inside and the windows were bolted so that they couldn’t be opened more than a few inches. No one unaccounted for entered or left the house. Who did it?
The clues dropped are rather strong — those by Simeon himself about other children he might have being suggestive, and those about son Harry, family friend Stephen, and police superintendent Sugden all looking alike downright giving the mystery away. I suppose the red herrings resulting from the diamond heist might muddle things, but I figured all along that was just a diversion and had nothing to do with the reason for the murder. I found it odd and rather telling that Sugden didn’t suggest that when rattling off possibilities for why the diamonds weren’t in the safe.
Also, Poirot’s screaming was inaudible from a few doors down but a carnival noisemaker could be heard all the way downstairs?
Elinor receives an anonymous letter warning her that Mary Gerrard is trying to usurp her place in Laura Welman’s household. Laura had always taken a strong interest in Mary, sending her the best schools and abroad for her education, and really treating her as if she were her own child. Now that he’s had a stroke and is bedridden, Mary is with Laura constantly.
When her aunt dies interstate, Elinor inherits the whole of the £200,000 estate. It had always been expected that she and her cousin Roddy would each be willed half of it and that it wouldn’t matter anyway because they intended to marry. Now that seems to be dashed as Roddy confesses he doesn’t love Elinor and won’t simply marry for money. He’s not sure if he loves Mary, but he thinks he might.
Mary is poisoned to death. Only three people could have done it — Elinor, Nurse Hopkins, or Mary herself — but the only one with a motive is Elinor. Laura Welman’s body is exhumed and it’s discovered that she, too, was poisoned with a morphine overdose.
Not the most difficult mystery in the world. Laura treated Mary like her own daughter; I suspected right away that that’s what she was. Enter Lewis and there you go. Who is the murderer? Well, only two real possibilities, the doctor who engaged Poirot’s services (not though that would rule him out) or Nurse Hopkins. The one would be motivated for love, the other for money. When needle marks are discovered on Hopkins’s arm it rather suggests she’s acquainted with morphine.
A group of acquaintances meet on Tuesday. Each presents an unsolved mystery that they personally know the answer to while the others try to guess. Invariably, Miss Marple guesses right by connecting it to some local bit of intrigue — she’s lived in the village her whole long life, and however small, a single village is a microcosm for the world. But the Tuesday Club, really, is just a loose framework for a short story collection. Most are well under twenty pages, a few do go on longer. At the end, Miss Marple has a chance to put her money where her mouth is and solve the mystery of Rose Emmott: whether it was suicide or murder, if the latter, to find out who did it.
Inscription: Stamped on the front endpaper “Fisher’s Bookshop & Circulating Library” in blue ink.
At a party hosted by a retired actor, a vicar dies after drinking a cocktail. He was a kindly old man without an enemy in the world — who would want to kill him? It was murder: some time later, at another party, a well known psychiatrist dies in much the same manner, and autopsies prove that both were killed by a massive nicotine overdose. Hercule Poirot must solve the mystery, beginning with finding out how the first victim was related to the second… or, perhaps, how he wasn’t.
Inscriptions: This is another of Margaret E. Breckens’s books, signed and dated on the front flyleaf, Nov. 28, 1944.
Mr. Shaitana, an eccentric who likes to model himself after Mephistopheles, invites Hercule Poirot to a bridge party. He’s a collector of many things and wants to show Poirot his rarest collection of all: his murderers. The four other guests, he says, have all killed in the past and gotten away with it.
But Shaitana, it turns out, wasn’t really an immortal evil — he’s proved quite mortal indeed when, at the party’s close, he’s found stabbed to death with a stiletto dagger. No one else entered the room and nobody left. One of the guests must have done it, but a motive is lacking, they’re largely unacquainted with each other, and none of them had more than the slightest familiarity with Shaitana. Is it the manly Major Despard, the timid Miss Meredith, the jovial Dr. Roberts, or the bridge champion Mrs. Lorrimer?
Good ending, very Clue-ish to give it away a bit, but for the one who actually did in Shaitana, the set up and reveal there was very well done.
Inscription: on the front fly leaf, Margaret E. Breckens, Dec. 10, 1944