Some Christies are very absorbing, but Five Little Pigs (alternate American title: “Murder in Retrospect”) left an emotional gap that was never was quite bridged. Perhaps because this was the last book in her “prolific Poirot period” (try saying that three times fast) and she was stretching plotting boundaries, this feels more constructed, a more deliberate challenge to Poirot.
Poirot’s famous ‘little grey cells’ are put to the test when a young woman comes to him begging him to solve the murder of her father, Amyas, a famous painter. Although her mother, Caroline, was tried and convicted, she left her daughter a note claiming she didn’t do it, but it was in her best interest that her mom went to jail and the child sent away to relatives. Luckily, seventeen years later, the five principles are still alive and intrigued enough by the ‘foreign gentleman’ to share their account of that time.
There is the best friend of the murdered man, Phillip Blake, now somewhat corpulent (“This little pig went to the market”) and his brother, Meredith Blake (“stayed at home”) who loved his hobbies of herbal medicines and accidentally prepared the poison that killed Amyas. There is Elsa Greer, the young woman who the murdered man was having an affair with, (“had roast beef”), and who is now on her third marriage and a Lady. The remaining piggies are Cecilia Williams, the economizing governess (“had none”) and Angela Warren, Caroline’s wild younger half-sister (“went ‘Wee! Wee! Wee!’ all the way home”).
Despite being part of the nursery rhyme titles–a catch if I ever heard one–I do not recall ever reading this book, and after this read, I can see why it wouldn’t stick. Although the construction of the plot and story is academically clever, it just didn’t seem all that interesting. Perhaps because we didn’t get to know Caroline or her daughters quite as well, and they should be the emotional center of the story, since they are the hook that draws Poirot in? Poirot first spends a great deal of time with the former detective, then visits the piggies, and then reads their accounts of the day, and then pieces it all together. As an intellectual exercise, intriguing, but as a story, it just failed to capture more than mild curiosity.
As a writing aside, though I often love Christie’s economy of words, there are far too many ‘–‘ in the dialogue here to make me a happy reader. Perhaps she was thinking then of dialogue as performance, but for me it ended up feeling choppy. Here’s a bit from page three:
“You’ve got to understand–exactly–where I come in. I was five years old at the time it–happened. Too young to know anything about it. I remember my mother and my father, of course, and I remember leaving home suddenly–being taken to the country. I remember the pigs and a nice fat farmer’s wife–and everybody being very kind–and I remember, quite clearly, the funny way they used to look at me–everybody–a sort of furtive look.”
I hear your thoughts, and sadly, no; that is not just the one character’s voice. That’s occurs in most of the dialogue, and even internal ones, whether it’s Meredith thinking to himself or Poirot.
So, a serviceable enough book, but for me, an emotional miss. Not one I’d be seeking to add to my personal Christie collection for re-read.