Imagine, if you will, being a famous female mystery author. You’ve been publishing for over forty-five years, and you’ve become more than a bit tired of your fans’ favorite detective, the egg-headed Hercule Poirot. What’s a person to do? Try a mystery where there’s no murder, only a confused, drugged twenty-something who is sure she’s committed one. Poirot, of course, has his suspicions early on:
“She is not one who can cope with difficulties. She is not one of those who can see before hand the dangers that must come. She is one of whom others will look round and say, ‘We want a victim. That one will do.'”
I enjoyed this one very much, and intend on acquiring a paper copy. It is quintessential Christie, and while somewhat rooted in the time period (those dirty, sexually ambiguous youth of the 60s is a frequent topic of conversation among the more mature), at least it wasn’t offensively so. Poirot is present from page one, and mystery writer and friend Mrs. Oliver appears not long after. I can’t help but feel as if Christie was having a bit of meta fun in this one, playing off her detective and alter ego against each other. Poirot has just finished a literary magnum opus and feels he needs a new challenge (!). When Mrs. Oliver happens to be involved in this non-mystery, she leaps in, certain ‘real’ detectives ‘do’ things. There’s also the usual commentary about authors and being famous. See what I mean by meta?
“‘Who told this girl about you, Monsieur Poirot?’
‘No one, so far as I know. Naturally, she had heard about me, no doubt.’
Mrs. Oliver thought that ‘naturally’ was not the word at all. What was natural was that Poirot himself was sure that everyone had always heard of him. Actually large numbers of people would only look at you blankly if the name of Hercule Poirot was mentioned, especially the younger generation.”
It’s definitely a slow progression, seeing how there isn’t precisely a known murder. It has the feel of a character study, a more full one than some of her early books. Reminds me perhaps, just a bit, of Crooked House, although the people here are far less eccentric. Many feel quite real, and quite of their time period. There’s more than a little indirect commentary when Poirot uses the pretense of an old war connection to meet with the elderly Sir Roderick. They engage in their remembrances, and after Poirot leaves, Sir Roderick confides to his assistant that he can’t remember who the man is at all, but humored Poirot out of the war connection. It’s a story built on those kind of moments. The build is definitely a ‘think, think,’ kind of story, not at all an action one.
For me, it was a four star read, but I read Christie for very different reasons than most. I’ve been reading her works for over three decades now, and I’m almost positive I’ve read all of the Poirot and Marple more than a few times. Still, I was never methodical about it, so I’m always kind of hoping to run into one I might have missed. Because of that, most the stories never reach the type of suspense a brand-new mystery does–not that they aren’t good, or enjoyable as one watches the intricate puzzle pieces click into place–but I don’t need to finish them. As I’ve aged, I’ve noted that Christie often relies on a cultural characterization of ‘madness’ that is more than a bit outdated. However, on reflection, I realize it’s more often a red herring, like something her readers expect her to address but she then subverts. I mostly read Christie because she’s really a marvelously intricate character writer who does so much with a few choice words. It’s a pleasure for the little grey cells.