#54 – A Pocket Full of Rye

Rex Fortescue, his wife, and parlourmaid are all murdered in quick succession by a killer who has made only one mistake that they couldn’t possibly have foreseen – Gladys, the maid, used to work for Miss Marple and she will let nothing get in the way of her duty to help solve the very wicked murder of her former employee.

Grains of rye were found in Rex’s jacket pocket, Adele had been eating bread and honey for tea, and a clothes peg had been clipped onto Gladys’ nose – Miss Marples believes these are all connected to the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence”.

She is aided by Inspector Neele, who is delightfully described as:

“a highly imaginative thinker, and one of his methods of investigation was to propound to himself fantastic theories of guilt which he applied to such persons as he was interrogating at the time.”

And yet despite this quality, even he cannot put together a theory for what has happened, and it is Miss Marple with her comprehension of human character who sees her way once again to the truth.

I think this book is the first time where Miss Marple’s role is clearly marked out as Nemesis when Inspector Neele thinks:

“that Miss Marple was very unlike the popular idea of an avenging fury. And yet that was perhaps exactly what she was.”

This case is extremely personal for Miss Marple – we have come along way from the parlour game solving of “The Thirteen Problems” – which is seen in some of the most powerful last lines in a Christie:

“The tear rose in Miss Marple’s eyes. Succeeding pity, there came anger – anger against a heartless killer.”

But even this over-ridden by the satisfaction of a job well done – she could not have saved Gladys from her fate, but she has played in her part in seeing her murderer is not unpunished:

“And then, displacing both these emotions, there came a surge of triumph – the triumph some specialist might feel who has successfully reconstructed an extinct animal from a fragment of jawbone and a couple of teeth.”

The solution, for me, is ingenious – it is at once ludicrous and yet perfectly fits this particular set of characters.

Recurring character development

Miss Marple

She is tall – at least from Crump’s perspective  – but light and spare.

Inspector Neele recognises that although she doesn’t look like the popular idea of an avenging fury, that is exactly what she is. This foreshadows her later role as Nemesis.

Her maids come from St Faith’s Home.

Her house is called Danemead.

Signs of the Times

Post-war rationing is still in evidence. Miss Grosvenor’s legs are “encased in the very best and most expensive black-market nylons”. The Fortescue’s have no scruples and can get hold of as much butter, eggs, and cream as they want.

When Rex Fortescue is taken ill there is confusion as to who to call. Possibly a hospital but which one – “It has to be the right hospital or else they won’t come. Because of the National Health, I mean. It’s got to be in the area.” Whether people at this time would really have been confused is unclear. The main problem is that for reasons of respectability they don’t immediately call 999.

When told that the dead man’s pocket contained cereal, Inspector Neele asks if it is breakfast cereal and mentions Farmer’s Glory and Wheatifax. Googling the former I found some promotional wooden figures which had been issued in the 1930s. The brand was owned by Alley Brothers and was a form of toasted wheat flakes, claimed to be the first British breakfast cereal. Searching for the latter only returns the passage from the book in various translations.

Inspector Neele was brought up at the lodge at the gates of Hartington Park, now taken over by the National Trust. The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty was formed in 1895 and given statutory powers in 1907. It became the owner of many country houses and stately homes in the mid-1900s as owners could not afford the upkeep or the death duties.

Miss Ramsbottom wonders if Inspector Neele has come about the wireless licence. My Grandma who was born in 1920 always referred to the radio as the wireless. A wireless licence was introduced in the UK in 1923 at a cost of 10 shillings per year following the creation of the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1922. No licence to listen to the radio was required from 1971 onwards.

Sergeant Hay feels that “Alice in Wonderland” is the type of content that would appear on the Third Programme, to which he does not listen. This was the third of the BBC’s radio networks after the Home Service and the Light Programme and ran from 1946 to 1967 after which it was replaced by BBC Radio 3. It was deliberately highbrow, criticised as being elitist for reasons such as broadcasting “two dons talking” but was supported by Ellen Wilkinson, the Education Secretary, who had written “The Division Bell Mystery” in 1932.

Miss Ramsbottom’s father was a strict Plymouth Brother. The Brethren movement actually began in Dublin in 1827 before being introduced to England in  1831 at Plymouth.

Percival suggests that Lance might climb Mount Everest. Although this book was published in December 1953 after the world’s highest mountain had been conquered in the May, it was probably written before anyone had succeeded in doing so.

Mention is made of the wonders that M and B makes in treating pneumonia. Sulfapyridine is an antibiotic which was commonly known as M&B 693 as that was the code given to it by May & Baker, the chemical company whose chemist, Lionel Whitby, discovered it.

References to previous works

Inspector Neele becomes aware of Miss Marple’s reputation during the case and when he mentions it, she replies that Sir Henry Clithering is a very old friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#54 – A Pocket Full of Rye – WITH SPOILERS

Rex Fortescue, his wife, and parlourmaid are all murdered in quick succession by a killer who has made only one mistake that they couldn’t possibly have foreseen – Gladys, the maid, used to work for Miss Marple and she will let nothing get in the way of her duty to help solve the very wicked murder of her former employee.

Grains of rye were found in Rex’s jacket pocket, Adele had been eating bread and honey for tea, and a clothes peg had been clipped onto Gladys’ nose – Miss Marples believes these are all connected to the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence”.

She is aided by Inspector Neele, who is delightfully described as:

“a highly imaginative thinker, and one of his methods of investigation was to propound to himself fantastic theories of guilt which he applied to such persons as he was interrogating at the time.”

And yet despite this quality, even he cannot put together a theory for what has happened, and it is Miss Marple with her comprehension of human character who sees her way once again to the truth.

I think this book is the first time where Miss Marple’s role is clearly marked out as Nemesis when Inspector Neele thinks:

“that Miss Marple was very unlike the popular idea of an avenging fury. And yet that was perhaps exactly what she was.”

This case is extremely personal for Miss Marple – we have come along way from the parlour game solving of “The Thirteen Problems” – which is seen in some of the most powerful last lines in a Christie:

“The tear rose in Miss Marple’s eyes. Succeeding pity, there came anger – anger against a heartless killer.”

But even this over-ridden by the satisfaction of a job well done – she could not have saved Gladys from her fate, but she has played in her part in seeing her murderer is not unpunished:

“And then, displacing both these emotions, there came a surge of triumph – the triumph some specialist might feel who has successfully reconstructed an extinct animal from a fragment of jawbone and a couple of teeth.”

The solution, for me, is ingenious – it is at once ludicrous and yet perfectly fits this particular set of characters.

Recurring character development

Miss Marple

She is tall – at least from Crump’s perspective  – but light and spare.

Inspector Neele recognises that although she doesn’t look like the popular idea of an avenging fury, that is exactly what she is. This foreshadows her later role as Nemesis.

Her maids come from St Faith’s Home.

Her house is called Danemead.

Signs of the Times

Post-war rationing is still in evidence. Miss Grosvenor’s legs are “encased in the very best and most expensive black-market nylons”. The Fortescue’s have no scruples and can get hold of as much butter, eggs, and cream as they want.

When Rex Fortescue is taken ill there is confusion as to who to call. Possibly a hospital but which one – “It has to be the right hospital or else they won’t come. Because of the National Health, I mean. It’s got to be in the area.” Whether people at this time would really have been confused is unclear. The main problem is that for reasons of respectability they don’t immediately call 999.

When told that the dead man’s pocket contained cereal, Inspector Neele asks if it is breakfast cereal and mentions Farmer’s Glory and Wheatifax. Googling the former I found some promotional wooden figures which had been issued in the 1930s. The brand was owned by Alley Brothers and was a form of toasted wheat flakes, claimed to be the first British breakfast cereal. Searching for the latter only returns the passage from the book in various translations.

Inspector Neele was brought up at the lodge at the gates of Hartington Park, now taken over by the National Trust. The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty was formed in 1895 and given statutory powers in 1907. It became the owner of many country houses and stately homes in the mid-1900s as owners could not afford the upkeep or the death duties.

Miss Ramsbottom wonders if Inspector Neele has come about the wireless licence. My Grandma who was born in 1920 always referred to the radio as the wireless. A wireless licence was introduced in the UK in 1923 at a cost of 10 shillings per year following the creation of the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1922. No licence to listen to the radio was required from 1971 onwards.

Sergeant Hay feels that “Alice in Wonderland” is the type of content that would appear on the Third Programme, to which he does not listen. This was the third of the BBC’s radio networks after the Home Service and the Light Programme and ran from 1946 to 1967 after which it was replaced by BBC Radio 3. It was deliberately highbrow, criticised as being elitist for reasons such as broadcasting “two dons talking” but was supported by Ellen Wilkinson, the Education Secretary, who had written “The Division Bell Mystery” in 1932.

Miss Ramsbottom’s father was a strict Plymouth Brother. The Brethren movement actually began in Dublin in 1827 before being introduced to England in  1831 at Plymouth.

Percival suggests that Lance might climb Mount Everest. Although this book was published in December 1953 after the world’s highest mountain had been conquered in the May, it was probably written before anyone had succeeded in doing so.

Mention is made of the wonders that M and B makes in treating pneumonia. Sulfapyridine is an antibiotic which was commonly known as M&B 693 as that was the code given to it by May & Baker, the chemical company whose chemist, Lionel Whitby, discovered it.

References to previous works

Inspector Neele becomes aware of Miss Marple’s reputation during the case and when he mentions it, she replies that Sir Henry Clithering is a very old friend.

SPOILERS

The choice of Gladys as first murderer is brilliant for a number of reasons. Firstly she is a servant and S. S. Van Dine’s rules tell us that servants are not allowed to be murderers. Secondly she is connected to Miss Marple and just like Jessica Fletcher’s close friends and relations in “Murder, She Wrote” can’t possible be the killer, despite all the evidence against them – at least I’ve never seen one where they were!

So although she virtually confesses to Inspector Neele:

“I didn’t do anything. I didn’t really. I don’t know anything about it.”

He (and we) overlook the fact the she looks guilty and terrified because that is what witnesses, especially of her class appear to be.

Second murderer Lance Fortescue is so obviously a bad hat that again we overlook him as too obvious a red herring, especially as he has an alibi for the murder of his father – which we should have been immediately suspicious of!

I love the clue about the Russian truth drugs hidden amongst Gladys’ newspaper cuttings, which themselves are just another item within her room. It reminds me of other clues such as the contents of the passengers’ luggage in “Death in the Clouds” and the contents of Mrs Ascher’s room in “The ABC Murders” – the one bit of gold in a list of rubbish – and yet identifying the treasure is so hard to do.

The whole scheme works because of Gladys’ naivety – we are told by Miss Marple that “she was a very silly girl” and “the credulous type”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soapy Joe! It’s the Answers to the Inspector French Cryptic Crossword!

If you are still stumped after a week, here are the answers. The original puzzle can be found here.

Set-up

  1. The answers are all words or phrases taken from what I believe are the titles of the 30 novels featuring Inspector Joseph French.
  2.  English titles are used throughout.
  3.  Each title is only featured once.
  4.  In the case of single word answers, none are trivial e.g. of, it, he etc.
  5. Slight knowledge of one of books is required but there are no spoilers in the clues or solutions.
  6.  One Inspector French title has been replaced by a different Carter Dickson title – what is missing and what has been added?

Clues

Across

1. Has Heseltine hidden the trophy? (5) Golden ASHES

5 and 21 down. Customary question answered by genius (8,2,7) ANYTHING TO DECLARE?

6. Boy heard stealin’ (5) Young ROBIN Brand, Detective

8. Travels around to get here (7) Inspector French and the STARVEL Tragedy

9. A very loud tune is bad for the partnership (6) The AFFAIR at Little Wokeham

11. Hear music magazine is against us (5) ENEMY Unseen

13. I go to the loo (4) Sir JOHN Magill’s Last Journey

14. Footballer scores then stops playing (7) French STRIKES Oil

22. See 24

24 and 22. n (3,3,2,6,8) THE END OF ANDREW HARRISON

25. Before yet get there, change ye hat now (2,3,3) Death ON THE WAY

26. Peter is shorted to Max (6) Inspector French and the CHEYNE Mystery

27. Former quizmaster thanks right reverend insect (7) James TARRANT, Adventurer

28. Keeps all the pigs (4) The HOG’S Back Mystery 

29. Direct fashion designer inhales nitrogen (7) Mystery in the CHANNEL

30. Try opening old city with energy (7) Fatal VENTURE

Down

2. Two short men these days say nothing (7) SILENCE for the Murderer 

3. 150% (roughly 100) found in Buckinghamshire (8) Fear Comes to CHALFONT

4. Contains sack, perhaps? (4) The CASK – the non-French title – Crime at Guildford was omitted 

7. Lieutenant is cut down but retains his position (6) The Box OFFICE Murders

10. Unloading toffee carelessly but drug-free is possible outcome for 12 (5,8) FOUND FLOATING

12. Kasparov plays and gets rinsed (3,9) MAN OVERBOARD!

15. Ted, unshaded, could quickly suffer effect of severe heat-stroke (6,5) SUDDEN DEATH

16. A secret stage could be his acme (8,4) Inspector French’s GREATEST CASE

17. Port ruined Thomas Upton (11) Mystery on SOUTHAMPTON Water

18. C? (3,7) The SEA MYSTERY

19. Love according to the song guarantees itself (6,4) The LOSING GAME 

20. Jean proves to be ship-shape (4,6) The Loss of the “JANE VOSPER”

21. See 5 across

23. I have no more poison within (5) Antidote to VENOM

26. 102 men meet in London (7) The 12:30 from CROYDON

27. Constrained rocket (5) Death of a TRAIN

Soapy Joe! It’s the Inspector French Cryptic Crossword!

Exactly the same premise as the Gideon Fell crossword if you want to skip the rules.

Set-up

  1. The answers are all words or phrases taken from what I believe are the titles of the 30 novels featuring Inspector Joseph French.
  2.  English titles are used throughout.
  3.  Each title is only featured once.
  4.  In the case of single word answers, none are trivial e.g. of, it, he etc.
  5. Slight knowledge of one of books is required but there are no spoilers in the clues or solutions.
  6.  One Inspector French title has been replaced by a different Carter Dickson title – what is missing and what has been added?

Clues

Across

1. Has Heseltine hidden the trophy? (5)

5 and 21 down. Customary question answered by genius (8,2,7)

6. Boy heard stealin’ (5)

8. Travels around to get here (7)

9. A very loud tune is bad for the partnership (6)

11. Hear music magazine is against us (5)

13. I go to the loo (4)

14. Footballer scores then stops playing (7)

22. See 24

24 and 22. n (3,3,2,6,8)

25. Before yet get there, change ye hat now (2,3,3)

26. Peter is shorted to Max (6)

27. Former quizmaster thanks right reverend insect (7)

28. Keeps all the pigs (4)

29. Direct fashion designer inhales nitrogen (7)

30. Try opening old city with energy (7)

Down

2. Two short men these days say nothing (7)

3. 150% (roughly 100) found in Buckinghamshire (8)

4. Contains sack, perhaps? (4)

7. Lieutenant is cut down but retains his position (6)

10. Unloading toffee carelessly but drug-free is possible outcome for 12 (5,8)

12. Kasparov plays and gets rinsed (3,9)

15. Ted, unshaded, could quickly suffer effect of severe heat-stroke (6,5)

16. A secret stage could be his acme (8,4)

17. Port ruined Thomas Upton (11)

18. C? (3,7)

19. Love according to the song guarantees itself (6,4)

20. Jean proves to be ship-shape (4,6)

21. See 5 across

23. I have no more poison within (5)

26. 102 men meet in London (7)

27. Constrained rocket (5)

The Grid

Ah! This is where I have a slight problem – my technological limitations prevent me from creating this in a fashion that I can upload and even if I could my free WordPress site may not even accept it. The clues can be solved without a grid, you just won’t have the help of any letters from overlapping words.

However, if you would like a printable spreadsheet grid and clues, please send me your email address via the Contact page at the top of the screen and I will email them to you.

Enjoy!

Last Seen Wearing: 1952 v 1976

I had thought it would be fun to do a comparison between two books that I expected to be quite different, especially being able to compare Colin Dexter’s very male gaze to something more feminine from Hillary Waugh, only to find that I’d fallen into a common GAD trap and that whilst we never discover the gender of Sarah Caudwell’s Hilary Tamar, Hillary Waugh is definitely a man. So my bubble was deflated to begin with and then I thought that a compare and contrast was too much like an English literature assignment and hard to do without spoilers.

However having taken notes and having done a lot of reading recently, taking time out to do a little writing will be a nice diversion.

Last Seen Wearing (1952) by Hillary Waugh

Marilyn Lowell Mitchell, hereafter referred to by everyone as Lowell (an odd-sounding girl’s name to my ear) has disappeared by the end of the first page of the book, having last been seen by her roommate just before lunch.

The authorities of Parker College are anxious to avoid a scandal – which could cover a range of wrong-doing, after all young ladies can’t leave campus wearing jeans! – and so the police aren’t called in until the next day.

That is the beginning of a painstaking investigation as the police hunt for the missing girl – dead or alive – searching for witnesses, tracing every man mentioned in her diary, draining the campus lake, theorising and re-theorising, having small breakthroughs before finding themselves once more at a dead end.

This is no fairly clued mystery but an account of an overworked, local police force trying to do their best. They may appear hardened but that is just for public appearances, consider this description of Chief Ford:

“‘That Ford,’ said Mitchell bitterly to his wife as they took off their things, ‘he’s inhuman. This is just a job to him, like finding a pocketbook. He doesn’t give a damn about Lowell as a person. He’s only looking for her because he’s supposed to.’

Perhaps Carl Mitchell was right. Perhaps Chief Ford was lacking in human sympathy. The signs that he wasn’t were hard to find. For once he did not chastise his daughter for still being up when he got home at midnight. He stared at her bending over her books a little longer than necessary and kissed her good night a little more tenderly. That was all.”

The slightest piece of information may be of use to them, so they can’t afford to ignore anything, however unimportant it may seem:

“Monroe said, ‘Now don’t tell me you think that’s a clue!’

‘No, I don’t think it’s a clue, but I don’t know that it’s not a clue either. What you people can’t get through your heads  is that under normal conditions you wouldn’t pay any attention to something like that, but normal conditions don’t exist on that campus. A girl disappeared from there, which means something is wrong about that campus. Therefore anything that goes on there the least bit different from the ordinary, I want to know about it. If a girl breathes different even, I want to know why.'”

It’s not glamourous, it’s not about sitting back and waiting for inspiration:

“‘There’s nothing else we can do. Hell, Burt, you know police routine. It’s leg work, leg work, leg work. It’s covering every angle. It’s sifting a ton of sand for a grain of gold. It’s talking to a hundred people and getting nowhere and then going out and talking to one hundred more.'”

This dogged approach, via a young lady rejoicing in the fantastic name of Mildred Naffzinger, leads them to the truth, although the ending is somewhat abrupt.

Last Seen Wearing (1976) by Colin Dexter

Schoolgirl Valerie Taylor disappeared two years, three months and two days ago. The officer in charge of the original missing-person inquiry died recently and so when a letter signed with her name is received, Inspector Morse is put on the case.

Although a policeman, Morse has no use for procedure, preferring instead to follow his personal flights of fancy, and if occasionally legwork is required, these tasks can be given to the long-suffering Sergeant Lewis.

During the course of his investigation Morse changes his mind several times on the key question of whether Valerie is dead or alive – and things become even more complicated when a murder in the present occurs.

There was a discussion on the GAD Facebook group recently about whether there was a point to quotations at the beginning of chapters, which Dexter uses in this book (possibly in all his books). In at least one case in this novel the quotation draws the reader’s attention to something that may be important. As Morse is a crossword fiend (his more acceptable hobby) these are sometimes cryptic clues and one corker that we get here is “We’ll get excited with Ring seat (10)” apparently one of Dexter’s favourites. The answer in ROT13 is Jntarevgrf.

Having read this before I was sure I knew what was going on and yet I still questioned myself at the end – had I remembered correctly or was what I thought was the final truth just a false solution? This just goes to show how Morse himself goes back and forth between possible outcomes.

As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Dexter applies a very male gaze, and Morse has a keen interest in the naked female form, represented in this book by a strip club and Danish pornographic magazines (this is an element of the character that the ITV series steered away from), and from what I remember, sex is often a possible motive in a number of books in the series. But if that aspect doesn’t put you off, then this is a good classically styled mystery that will keep you guessing to the end.

The Realm of the Impossible edited by John Pugmire and Brian Skupin

26 tales of impossibilities from over 20 countries plus 12 real-life impossibilities – there’s a lot to like in this 430 page anthology. Here are my highlights:

Jacob’s Ladder by Paul Halter – a man dies from wounds consistent with falling from a great height but from where did he fall? I enjoyed the Biblical connection to both the problem and the solution.

The Case of the Horizontal Trajectory by Joseph Skorvecky – the equations for the parabolic trajectory, which were once very familiar to me, make an appearance, although the policeman has to get his daughter to work them out for him. This story is worth it for the last line alone.

House Call (taken from The Mohicans of Paris) by Alexandre Dumas père – a nice piece of detection, especially experimenting with a ladder, from an author best-known for adventure romances such as “The Three Musketeers”.

The Martian Crown Jewels by Poul Anderson – a sci-fi mystery where the solution is in keeping with and dependent on the setting.

The Miracle of Christmas Eve by Szu-Yen Lin – a charming tale of the magic of Santa Claus and the love that a father has for his son.

The “Impossible” Impossible Crime by Edward D. Hoch – Charles and Henry are living in the middle of nowhere so when one of them is shot, the other must be the murderer, surely?

The Locked Tomb Mystery by Elizabeth Peters – utilises the historical setting of Ancient Egypt really well.

Deadfall by Samuel W. Taylor – another two men stranded in the middle of nowhere by an unfortunate accident whose friendship quickly unravels. I found this quite unsettling.

The Lure of the Green Door by Rintaro Norizuki – a house full of rare books, a link to a strange H. G. Wells story and an as yet unfulfilled prophecy of a man who killed himself in a locked room – or did he? An absolute gem.

The Witch Doctor’s Revenge by Jochen Füseler – thirteen years ago a witch doctor swore vengeance on the two men he held responsible for his execution – specifically that thirteen years later they would die in the same way that he did and then vanish into thin air and never be seen again. So what is Heinrich Faust supposed to do when the curse is fulfilled? The reason why everything falls out as it does is excellent -as is the inclusion of the German compound noun “Polizeihauptwachtmeisteranwärter”.

Burn Me! It’s the Answers to the Henry Merrivale Cryptic Crossword!

If you are still stumped after a week, hopefully this will put your mind at rest. The original puzzle can be found here.

Set-up

  1. The answers are all words or phrases taken from the titles of the (according to Wikipedia – but don’t go looking them up now!) 22 novels featuring Henry Merrivale.
  2.  English titles are used throughout.
  3.  Each title is only featured once.
  4.  In the case of single word answers, none are trivial e.g. of, it, he etc.
  5. No knowledge of the books is required and there are no spoilers in the clues or solutions.
  6.  One Henry Merrivale title has been replaced by a different Carter Dickson title – what is missing and what has been added?

Clues

Across

1. Swear that French priests moved (5) The CURSE of the Bronze Lamp

4. Oxford (or Cambrige) cereal that’s never been seen (7) The UNICORN Murders

7. Sounds like you are Wallace’s civil servant (6) The READER is Warned

8. Madge Lind becomes golden boy (6,3) The GILDED MAN

11. “Stew, evil may stew” is how Hal presented Jane and Anne (2,4,5) MY LATE WIVES

12. Gladys contains herself (4) She Died a LADY

15. Gain stock market opening (6) The Judas WINDOW

17. See 6 down (2,3,5)

19. People sit here to watch fights (5) Death in Five BOXES

20. Under a sailor – and full of them! (9) Death in the SUBMARINE Zone

22. Knockout drink (5) The PUNCH and Judy Murders

Down

1. Partners make love here (5) The Plague COURT Murders 

2. Serious measure for the dead (9) A GRAVEYARD To Let

3. Red Rum comes back and makes a killing (6) And So To MURDER

5. Before unknown religious house (6) The White PRIORY Murders

6. Death-Watch but on a grander scale (3,8,2,3,5) THE SKELETON IN THE CLOCK

9. She plays a lone hand (8) He Wouldn’t Kill PATIENCE

10. Monarchists’ cars (9) The CAVALIER’S Cup

13. Hear frank cop get the point (6) The Third BULLET – the non-Merrivale title – Seeing is Believing was omitted

14. Number in attendance (3) The TEN Teacups

16. Galahad leaves 15 across alone… (5) The Red WIDOW Murders

18. …but is heard after dark (5) NIGHT at the Mocking Widow

21. Ruse covers 15 across (5) Behind the Crimson BLIND 

#53 – After the Funeral – with a Special Guest

For my latest Agatha Christie review I was joined on 9th May 2020 by Brad from ahsweetmysteryblog to discuss everything that happened “After the Funeral”. If you are familiar with the book then click here to get the full spoilerific version.

Countdown John: You’ve said on your post recently this is the best Poirot which is a big claim. So when did you first read it – early, late, middle?

Brad: I was probably 13 or 14. I think it was one of the first. The first Poirot I read was “Murder on the Orient Express” and this came pretty soon after that and at that time I loved it but I didn’t think it was the best Poirot. I didn’t know there were 31 other Poirots. That feeling has come about because I’m a grown up and I’ve read them all so many times. And is it the best? It’s all personal but it’s my favourite Christie and my favourite Poirot by far.

So I came to it later in my reading of Christie. My parents had a reasonable number on their shelves which I had got through and then we got a number from a friend of theirs who was getting rid of them, possibly because they were now duplicates. How would you describe it in a non-spoilerish way? 

When I first read the Bantam paperback they tried to describe Christie in a more modern way. This is the case of the corpse with its head bashed in and the greedy nieces hungry for money – they made it kind of sensationalist. But really it’s the last great, classically clued Christie. There are some good Christies that come after it but none of them with that sense of the cluing. It’s the last great family mystery. Every time I say this I think of Ordeal by Innocence which is such a different experience but it does have a really interesting family but feels like a really different kind of mystery. I was just listening to the All About Agatha podcast and they had just done After the Funeral and the next book A Pocket Full of Rye which is another family mystery and it’s so inferior as a family mystery in my opinion. So it’s the last great family mystery and the last great clued mystery. From then on she loosened up.

I was thinking how it starts with the butler, Lanscombe, the last of the family retainers, similar to Tressilian in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, and I was thinking is this the last country house mystery or the last family one? And I thought of A Pocket Full of Rye which is family based but different although I like it a lot (which I will go into next month) but that has a more modern setting. And Ordeal by Innocence does have a very different tone in what it is saying and how the plot works.

It’s got a very different butler, A Pocketful of Rye, Mr Crump, who is very Dickensian – a bad butler. I didn’t understand it as a kid, but in that opening chapter Lanscombe is setting us up for the end of this era, the end of GAD. The end of the feeling of old time mysteries with servants. They’re not going to be able to afford him or the house or the staff any more. We’ve all seen that on Downton Abbey. But this time it’s about money. No one can afford an estate any more, not after the war. So you’re not going to have country house mysteries any more in that way.

In the recent books there have been a number of references to post-war fixed incomes having become lower for the middle classes, Miss Marple even, as mentioned in the previous book They Do It With Mirrors, can only maintain her standard of living thanks to the kindness of her nephew, a successful author. 

In They Do It With Mirrors, and it is interesting that it comes before this book, you see what is happening to these houses now. People have to take them over and turn them into schools or prisons or offices or apartments. And it’s funny because that is to me a far inferior book to this one. It’s got some good things in it and whilst it makes use of the house, the juvenile delinquents do nothing for me.

In After The Funeral, the house is no longer going to kept on by the family following Richard’s death. When Poirot goes undercover he is posing as a representative of a fictitious refugee organisation who plan to turn the house into an institute of some kind. 

He’s saying let me take this beautiful country home and fill it with foreigners and the younger generation could care less, they just want to get it off their hands – it’s a real sign of a whole new England. I don’t know that she was making a negative stance of it but Poirot’s alias gives us a chance to look at what was going on in that world, how it was all breaking down, not just the class structure but how the neighbourhoods were going to become integrated.

It’s a nice link back to The Mysterious Affair at Styles where Poirot himself arrived as a Belgian refugee from the First World War.

So, the story begins, as the title say, after the funeral of Richard Abernethie who has died, seemingly after a short illness. Although the doctors said he could have lived on for some time, they’re not surprised. He seemed to have lost the will to live after the recent death of his son and heir. The family have congregated back at the house when his sister drops a bomb into proceedings when says (the tagline on the back of the copy I first read) “But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” Everyone is confused as to where that idea comes from but she rows back and everyone goes home thinking that she is a little bit batty and that’s just the kind of thing that she says.  

But the next day Cora is found brutally murdered, possibly the victim of a burglary gone wrong, or perhaps she has been silenced. Entwhistle, the family solicitor begins his own investigation into whether there is a link between the deaths of Richard and Cora, but ultimately has to call in Hercule Poirot to find out what has happened.

After this we went into great spoiler detail but ultimately this is an excellent Christie and I would definitely recommend reading it and then coming back to see the rest of our discussion.

Recurring character development

Hercule Poirot

Solved a small domestic problem for a Continental butcher who in return is now “sympathetic to him in the matters of the stomach”. It appears that he may be getting more than his ration book would allow.

Some friends of Helen Abernethie knew him, though she had assumed he had died long ago.

Goes undercover at Enderby as M. Pontarlier of UNARCO (his made up United Nations Aid for Refugee Centre Organisation).

Signs of the Times

“‘Suddenly, at his residence’ that’s what it said in the paper.” said Cora, nodding her head. Although standard wording when announcing a death, possibly a hat-tip to Christianna Brand’s 1946 novel “Suddenly at His Residence” aka “The Crooked Wreath”.

Mr Entwhistle thinks about a number of famous murderers including Seddon and Nurse Waddington. Frederick Seddon (1872-1912) poisoned his lodger Eliza Mary Barrow and was found guilty, mainly because he chose to give evidence in his own defence and did so very arrogantly and condescendingly.  Dorothea Waddingham (1899-1936) turned her house into a nursing home and killed two of her patients with morphine.

In connection with Cosmetics and Beauty, Miss Gilchrist mentions Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein. Florence Nightingale Graham (1881-1966) started to trade under the name Elizabeth Arden in 1910 when she founded the Red Door salon in New York. By 1929 she owned 150 salons across Europe and the USA. Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965) started her business in Australia making Crème Valaze before moving to London and then New York. Arden and Rubinstein became life-long rivals, although the latter said in a somewhat backhanded compliment “with her packaging and my product, we could have ruled the world”.

George Crossfield may be involved in black market activity and Miss Gilchrist is lavish in dispensing Timothy and Maude’s tea and sugar ration.

Rosamund talks about a revival of “The Miracle”. This is a wordless play from 1911 by Karl Vollmöller which tells the story of a wayward nun.

References to previous works

Mr Goby, who had previously appeared in The Mystery of Blue Train, is used here organise the investigation into the circumstances and movements of the suspects.

There is a slightly spoilerish reference to Lord Edgware Dies.

Inspector Morton remembers Poirot from the Pangbourne Case. I can’t remember if that was the location of one the earlier novels or short stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#53 – After the Funeral – with a special guest AND SPOILERS

For my latest Agatha Christie review I was joined on 9th May 2020 by Brad from ahsweetmysteryblog to discuss everything that happened “After the Funeral”.

Countdown John: You’ve said on your post recently this is the best Poirot which is a big claim. So when did you first read it – early, late, middle?

Brad: I was probably 13 or 14. I think it was one of the first. The first Poirot I read was “Murder on the Orient Express” and this came pretty soon after that and at that time I loved it but I didn’t think it was the best Poirot. I didn’t know there were 31 other Poirots. That feeling has come about because I’m a grown up and I’ve read them all so many times. And is it the best? It’s all personal but it’s my favourite Christie and my favourite Poirot by far.

So I came to it later in my reading of Christie. My parents had a reasonable number on their shelves which I had got through and then we got a number from a friend of theirs who was getting rid of them, possibly because they were now duplicates. How would you describe it in a non-spoilerish way? 

When I first read the Bantam paperback they tried to describe Christie in a more modern way. This is the case of the corpse with its head bashed in and the greedy nieces hungry for money – they made it kind of sensationalist. But really it’s the last great, classically clued Christie. There are some good Christies that come after it but none of them with that sense of the cluing. It’s the last great family mystery. Every time I say this I think of Ordeal by Innocence which is such a different experience but it does have a really interesting family but feels like a really different kind of mystery. I was just listening to the All About Agatha podcast and they had just done After the Funeral and the next book A Pocket Full of Rye which is another family mystery and it’s so inferior as a family mystery in my opinion. So it’s the last great family mystery and the last great clued mystery. From then on she loosened up.

I was thinking how it starts with the butler, Lanscombe, the last of the family retainers, similar to Tressilian in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, and I was thinking is this the last country house mystery or the last family one? And I thought of A Pocket Full of Rye which is family based but different although I like it a lot (which I will go into next month) but that has a more modern setting. And Ordeal by Innocence does have a very different tone in what it is saying and how the plot works.

It’s got a very different butler, A Pocketful of Rye, Mr Crump, who is very Dickensian – a bad butler. I didn’t understand it as a kid, but in that opening chapter Lanscombe is setting us up for the end of this era, the end of GAD. The end of the feeling of old time mysteries with servants. They’re not going to be able to afford him or the house or the staff any more. We’ve all seen that on Downton Abbey. But this time it’s about money. No one can afford an estate any more, not after the war. So you’re not going to have country house mysteries any more in that way.

In the recent books there have been a number of references to post-war fixed incomes having become lower for the middle classes, Miss Marple even, as mentioned in the previous book They Do It With Mirrors, can only maintain her standard of living thanks to the kindness of her nephew, a successful author. 

In They Do It With Mirrors, and it is interesting that it comes before this book, you see what is happening to these houses now. People have to take them over and turn them into schools or prisons or offices or apartments. And it’s funny because that is to me a far inferior book to this one. It’s got some good things in it and whilst it makes use of the house, the juvenile delinquents do nothing for me.

In After The Funeral, the house is no longer going to kept on by the family following Richard’s death. When Poirot goes undercover he is posing as a representative of a fictitious refugee organisation who plan to turn the house into an institute of some kind. 

He’s saying let me take this beautiful country home and fill it with foreigners and the younger generation could care less, they just want to get it off their hands – it’s a real sign of a whole new England. I don’t know that she was making a negative stance of it but Poirot’s alias gives us a chance to look at what was going on in that world, how it was all breaking down, not just the class structure but how the neighbourhoods were going to become integrated.

It’s a nice link back to The Mysterious Affair at Styles where Poirot himself arrived as a Belgian refugee from the First World War.

So, the story begins, as the title say, after the funeral of Richard Abernethie who has died, seemingly after a short illness. Although the doctors said he could have lived on for some time, they’re not surprised. He seemed to have lost the will to live after the recent death of his son and heir. The family have congregated back at the house when his sister drops a bomb into proceedings when says (the tagline on the back of the copy I first read) “But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” Everyone is confused as to where that idea comes from but she rows back and everyone goes home thinking that she is a little bit batty and that’s just the kind of thing that she says.  

I’m thinking a couple of years before this, we had Taken at the Flood, which is the same kind of idea where a patriarch dies and everybody’s been dependent on him or were expecting that their lives would be made better after his death. He ‘s going to settle his fortune on them and they are all going to do OK. But in Taken at the Flood everybody lives close to each other – they’re all still connected to each other and they receive Gordon Cloade’s largesse. But here they’re not a close family, they know each other but no one has seen Cora in twenty years. It doesn’t seem that Rosamund and Michael are in any way close to Susan and Greg – they’re completely different kinds of couple. Timothy and Maude are off in their own little world where she is trapped taking care of him and the only one who seems to float from person to person is Helen because she’s stayed close to Richard. And then George is the black sheep. So it’s a weird group that comes together. You couldn’t do this trick with the Cloade family because no one would be fooled by Cora, no one could pretend to be Cora.

The next day Cora is found brutally murdered, possibly the victim of a burglary gone wrong, or perhaps she has been silenced. Entwhistle, the family solicitor begins his own investigation into whether there is a link between the deaths of Richard and Cora.

And that is why the passage at the end of chapter 3 is so interesting. I remember reading this – when I was a kid and read Agatha Christie I almost never got them right, I was always surprised, I was surprised by this one – where it shows them all going home and wondering about what’s going on and at the end of the chapter there is this scene at the buffet at Swindon where “the lady in wispy mourning and festoons of jet was eating bath buns and drinking tea and looking forward to the future. She had no premonitions of disaster. She was happy.” And what I took from that is that Cora said what she did deliberately. She threw that bomb into the funeral to cause some kind of trouble. Now they never say the name “Cora” so we don’t know who it really is but we think it’s Cora – it sounds like Cora, she’s dressed like Cora, she knows what she just did and I thought that was just chutzpah, a nice Jewish word, chutzpah on the part of Christie to kind of rub it in our face – and not only that she doesn’t like the tea – it’s like saying look at me, look at me! I love that.  She manipulates us into thinking maybe it wasn’t just Cora running off her mouth but that she had a purpose in doing that and before we can find out what that purpose is somebody kills her. So I interpreted that as maybe she knew who the killer was – we find out later that Richard visited her – maybe she’s a blackmailer.

I can’t remember how I would have seen that when I first read it as I read even more quickly then than I do now so I wouldn’t have picked up on the significance of her not being named, whereas reading it again and comparing it to the rest of the chapter where everyone else is named, it’s so obvious.

I think I’m a very slow reader because of Agatha Christie. I used to read quickly and missed everything. All those verbal clues that we just read right through. I started to read much more methodically and it’s killing me because I can’t get through a book any more.

I’m deliberately reading more slowly with my Christie re-reads as I’m taking notes and thinking more about them. And in other GAD reading I’ve slowed down a little to think about where the story is going but not too much as I still want to be surprised. I love the fact that this book works because we are readers of mystery fiction. When Cora puts the idea out that Richard was murdered we go “of course he was” because this is a detective story – we are expecting a murder to have happened. And then the second murder confirms the first murder and then there is an attempted poisoning and finally someone is hit over the head so we have a sequence of four murders/attempted murders. There is the trope that is over a hundred years old that says where do you hide a murder – amongst a series of murders. But this is a step on from that because you hide a murder amongst an imaginary series of murders.

Yes, you either hide a murder in a series of unrelated murders or you make everyone believe that the real murder is a side effect on a fake murder or an unimportant murder – Cora had to die only because Richard died – and then nobody is looking at why Cora had to die.

When the police initially look into Cora’s murder, they say that if it wasn’t for what had happened after the funeral, that the companion would be the prime suspect. And then there is the attempted poisoning of Miss Gilchrist, which makes it seem that she is in danger.

I’m grateful that I didn’t read this at this agefor the first time as now when someone gets poisoned and doesn’t die that makes them rise to number one on my list. So why don’t we see that? I think part of it is because for me Miss Gilchrist is one of the greatest characters Christie created. She’s just so great. I believe her. They talk quite openly about the idea of two women getting queer, getting weird together because they’re trapped, they’re lonely, they don’t know what’s happening and so things go wrong between them. They consider Miss Gilchrist but then she’s so disarming and the whole thing with the wedding cake and sticking a piece under your pillow and all that – it’s all so sweet, that I just dismissed her.

I think the touch of having the cake under the pillow because she’s managed to save the evidence in a subtle way. She hasn’t brought it to anyone’s attention. The doctor has worked it out for himself, that although she is past the age where marriage is likely, it is something that she might have done, and so he is the driving force in having it tested. 

And there are two other reasons for me not to suspect Miss Gilchrist. Number one, Cora’s murder is so brutal – you think it’s the work either of a man or a younger woman – someone ruthless, Rosamund could do it, George could do it, or either of the husbands. It’s hard to imagine Helen or Maude or Timothy doing it. Christie does this in other books – pushing you towards the younger generation when actually it is one of the older characters. Number two is that Miss Gilchrist has no connection to Richard so if you buy into the idea that Cora was killed because of Richard then it doesn’t make any sense. Even if it was separate then you’re dealing with two murderers – someone who murdered Richard and Cora knows that – and then Miss Gilchrist just kills her, that seems so un-Christie-like as everything usually goes together so well. So I never suspected Miss Gilchrist.

I never did either. Someone recently posted something on Facebook saying that the brutal manner of the murder did not fit with the identity of the murderer. But I think it’s violent because it is someone pretending to be a criminal who is caught in the act. I think also, because of what is shown at the end that there was a tension between Miss Gilchrist and Cora who she sees as a very stupid woman, who thinks she knows about art but can’t recognise a Vermeer. There is a genuine hatred and frustration there which at the point of the murder spills out. 

Yes, I mean she hated Cora. It’s perhaps the weakest part of the book that Cora has got this valuable painting by a fluke. But it brings home to Miss Gilchrist what an idiot Cora is, especially about art which is something that she really did know about because of her father.

The position of Miss Gilchrist as a live-in companion is interesting, with the class issues that are involved and the insecurity of that role. She’d lost her tea-shop because of the war – she’d had something and she lost it and is forced into taking this position, not quite as a servant – she certainly doesn’t see it that way (or if she does she doesn’t admit that to others) – she doesn’t do the “rough” – another lady comes in to do what are presumably the more menial tasks.  When she goes to Timothy and Maude’s she is a little bit above the cook and the cook does defer to her. She says she has never been trained for anything, although she has tried a couple of jobs that haven’t worked out, similar in some ways to Dora Bunner in ” A Murder is Announced”. But at least Dora has a friend from the past in Miss Blacklock who is willing to take her in and the relationship is not quite as unequal.

Miss Gilchrist’s status as companion brings out one of my favourite clues in the book. Companions are always fluttering about and people try to ignore them. I’m thinking of Miss Lawson in “Dumb Witness” – everyone looks at her like “who is this woman?” And she’s always chatter-chatter-chatter. And that is what Miss Gilchrist does – always trying to be pleasant and chattering away. So when there’s the incredible scene where they’re sitting around the dining table discussing who’s going to get what because Richard didn’t specify that. So who’s going to get the Spode and who’s going to get this and that. And Miss Gilchrist just wants to chime in. She wants to be a part of things even though she knows people don’t really pay much attention to her. So she casually says “Oh, yes. The wax flowers look lovely on the green malachite table.” And that’s the  greatest clue! Christie set that clue up so well because the breaking of the flowers happens in a really dramatic scene where Helen hears something, so we’re focussing on that and not on the flowers. And so step by step Miss Gilchrist incriminates herself because she wants to be a part of things. She wants people to pay a little attention to her and to play her part in making people feel good.

As you say the flowers were to do with Helen, and Susan and Rosamund are warring over the table, so neither element has anything to do with Miss Gilchrist and yet they are pointing to her. And this is where Poirot is vindicated when earlier he thought to himself “There would have to be conversation. Much conversation. For in the long run, either through a lie, or through truth, people were bound to give themselves away.” Here because Miss Gilchrist admits to knowing something that she couldn’t possibly have known or thinking back to a specific earlier title someone doesn’t know something that they should. Either way, having too much or too little knowledge will give rise to a clue. 

On the “All About Agatha” podcast they were complaining that in “They Do It With Mirrors” there were no mirrors – it was just a metaphor for a magic act – but here there is a mirror issue with Miss Gilchrist being a reflection of Cora rather than Cora herself which is what Helen notices and the podcasters felt this was a stupid clue. They felt “does anyone pay attention to that” and I don’t know, I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt in a murder mystery. Stuff happens that doesn’t happen in real life. I guess there is a point there that after twenty years of not seeing her, would Helen really recognise that Cora was doing everything in reverse, the trick with the head and all that? What do you think?

I think it works as a clue. It is said that when she felt something was wrong it was when they were all looking at Cora, so that sense should have been about Cora rather than one of the other observers. I don’t think it is completely out there because I think we have all sorts of odd things in our memories which we don’t often think about, but when something jogs it, we can have a sudden realisation. I have no problem with it as a clue.

We also have the appearance of sinister nuns who may be up to no good. One visited Cora’s house before the murder and then Miss Gilchrist is spooked by one at Timothy and Maude’s. 

That’s just weird. I went along with it as a kid. Actors are often murderers but here, which is refreshing, the actors are red herrings. So Rosamund and Michael, who could easily disguise themselves as nuns, could get a “Murder in the Cathedral” costume so it kind of plants that idea. Although for me, when I was thinking of who would dress up as a nun, I kept thinking of George. I just felt George Crossfield would cross-dress, you know, so that’s who I was always suspicious of in that regard. I couldn’t imagine Susan or Greg dressing up as nuns. So I guess the nuns keep getting brought up to give the idea of an outsider. You would know this better than me but do you think it has anything to do with anti-Catholic sentiment? Like a good God-fearing Church of England person would be suspicious of nuns?

I don’t think so. I think it is just the idea of a person being covered up apart from the face so that it is a good disguise. Just thinking about it now, having seen it mentioned on “Horrible Histories” yesterday, there was an idea in the Second World War that German paratroopers would disguise themselves as nuns.

One nun looks like another, so there is an anonymity about them. No one pays any attention to them as an individual, so it would be very easy for an innocent Miss Gilchrist to be fooled by someone passing themselves off as a nun.

Once they have all reassembled at Enderby and Poirot is thinking about motives for the murders and he goes through each person and says to himself “Even Miss Gilchrist might have contemplated murder if it could have restored to her the Willow Tree in its lady-like glory!” But the exclamation mark shows us that he thinks of it as a joke. But the tea-shop is mentioned all the way through.

It’s the best motive in murder mysteries. I love this motive. I know that Sophie Hannah loves it too as she wrote the introduction. But that’s brilliant writing. The fact that Christie lets Poirot say “here’s the case – if this old lady did it, she did it to get a tea-shop” and then we’re going  “well that’s ridiculous” and so we cross it off. I love that.

The only slightly surprising thing I find reading it now is that at the end is that Susan is shocked at Miss Gilchrist having committed a brutal murder for only five thousand pounds, and maybe that is just because she has received an inheritance so much greater, but in 1953 five thousand pounds would still have been a massive amount of money for most people. It’s going to get you more than just a tea-shop. I’m sure I’ve heard my parents talk about house prices in the early seventies still being a few thousand pounds.

I never considered that when I was young but there is a difference in class. To Miss Gilchrist five thousand pounds would be enormous and it would give her exactly what she wants. In a sense she’s not greedy, she doesn’t want to be rich, she wants to go back to doing what she did so well before the war ruined everything. The war ruined everything for a lot of older women. They got kicked out of jobs and lost whatever they had – their husbands, their sons, their livelihood because no one could afford to pay them. “A Murder is Announced” is another of my favourite books and one of my favourite scenes is when Dora Bunner is having tea with Miss Marple and talking about what her life became and I think that is what happened to Miss Gilchrist too and to just get something back makes for a huge motive. To not be stuck with this crazy lady who doesn’t pay any attention to her. Obviously we focus on the bigger motives because those inheriting from Richard are going to get a lot more.

It’s interesting thinking about that now, where we are with coronavirus, and the whole economic consequences that there will be from it, is thinking about what society is going to do for the people who have already lost jobs or are going to lose jobs. How as a society are we going to look after people? In the UK we have the unprecedented situation of the government paying 80% of the salaries of people who have been furloughed and can’t work but that can’t carry on indefinitely. After the Second World War there was a massive re-building programme. How are we going to do that this time round? 

Number one, for me, I’m very lucky. As a teacher I’ve remained salaried even though I’m struggling teaching from home. I’m getting my monthly paycheck and that will continue as far as I can see until I retire and draw my pension. But I know that there are millions of people who aren’t getting a salary and are in a terrible situation. So I’m trying to give some money to organisations that can support them. Although there were thousands of people dying in WWII there was this cause to defeat Nazism that made people feel that they had to keep going even with rationing and the whole of the countries’ energies going to the war effort. We’re breaking down social structures by sending every able-bodied man to war. They made sacrifices because it was worth it. And right now for me, what’s boggling my mind is that I understand that our economy is in terrible shape, but the idea that we are willing to risk people’s lives to re-open the economy, it doesn’t make any sense to me. We have to feel this pain and deal with this pain and measures of relief within that situation until we are all safe to go back to work. And then the rebuilding will happen. After WWII our president set up many structures to re-build the world and give people work. They’re talking about the need for infrastructure and other things that will put people back to work after the virus. I find that tension between economic disaster and global health hard but interesting.

I’m also in a fortunate position as I can work from home which is going fine but I think generally it is better paid work such as office jobs which can be done from home and lower paid work such as retail, which was struggling before the pandemic, which can’t be done from home. I can stay safe at home, going out occasionally to shop for food and yet when the government say that it is safe enough people will need to put themselves on the line because they need to work and that doesn’t seem right.

In the book, it’s eight year’s since the end of the war but rationing is still in place, black market activity is taking place. The consequences of what we are living through now will last a long time and we are going to need to get our heads around that.

In a real life situation people suffered great loss during a crisis like WWII or the present times and they try to make use of what is around them to work their way back to some measure to be able to survive and thrive. I guess the big sin for Miss Gilchrist is that she saw an opportunity to jump back into what she had before because society was not set up so that she could. Particularly in 1953 who’s going to let a middle-aged woman have a loan? So she jumped at her chance and in doing that made choices – she’s a very sympathetic murderer, but she’s evil. You feel for her but she did the wrong thing. And she did it really well which makes it worse in a way.

It’s interesting that at the end of the book it’s implied that she may well end up in Broadmoor rather than going to prison because she’s lost her reason after being arrested but both Poirot and Mr Entwhistle agree that she was sane when she committed the murder. Her insanity is only a result of her being found out which is shown really well in the David Suchet adaptation where after she shows her contempt for Cora and gets angry when the policeman says she must come with him, she twists and changes in a Gollum-like manner and says “Oh, I’ve been very stupid, very stupid. I’m sorry, I’m sorry” and you see that mental breakdown from where she thought she had achieved her aim and now it has been taken away. I can’t remember that happening with any other Christie murderer who does go insane after the fact. 

I don’t ever remember feeling  this was about a killer in her books. As a kid, why would I care about a little old lady like that, but now that I’m getting closer to little old ladyhood myself, I’m like “yeah, you have dreams” and then the dreams are destroyed. A lot of people are going through this right now and their dreams are shattered. I’ve got so many kids like this – no prom, no graduation. But then no college, no job, what do I do? Her life was taken away from her by the war and I feel for her, I do, I feel for her. She tried to get it back. And for women in those days, how many options did she have? Especially lower middle class women.

The class thing does play into it. She tries some other work, but, without being too harsh, has she really tried. She sees it as common and below her station in life. There can be options if you want to take them. In one Christie a maid is actually a middle-class girl who needed work because her family has lost their money and she was prepared to do whatever was necessary to earn an honest living. But then she was younger.

We see other women who have become impoverished. Miss Barton in The Moving Finger has to take rooms with her maid and rent out her house because she can’t afford the upkeep any more so there was a lot of that happening. The other thing is that it is a matter of pride. There are several episodes where Miss Gilchrist bakes for people – Timothy complains about her but says “Boy! Can she cook” and she makes scones for Susan. Everyone loves what she makes and she takes great pride in that and she wants to share that artistry with other people. And Cora wouldn’t have appreciated any of it. She was so wrapped up in own craziness. She wouldn’t have suggested investing in Miss Gilchrist so that she could open a shop. Miss Gilchrist just wants to get some worth back in society.

Well we’ve covered a lot here. Any final thoughts?

This where we start to see Poirot’s reputation fading and this was mentioned in the podcast so I’m not being totally original. They look at him and go “who is this guy? Is he a hairdresser?” He’s no longer the world famous detective and so while we watch Miss Marple deal with the changes in her world in a more serious way for Poirot it’s all about these blows to his ego. People don’t appreciate him like they used to. Maybe it had happened a little bit in “Mrs McGinty’s Dead” but it’s really happening here that we are seeing that the younger generation have never heard of him. The older generation thought he was dead. So this book is a shift in how Poirot’s going to be depicted for the rest of Christie’s career.

Recurring character development

Hercule Poirot

Solved a small domestic problem for a Continental butcher who in return is now “sympathetic to him in the matters of the stomach”. It appears that he may be getting more than his ration book would allow.

Some friends of Helen Abernethie knew him, though she had assumed he had died long ago.

Goes undercover at Enderby as M. Pontarlier of UNARCO (his made up United Nations Aid for Refugee Centre Organisation).

Signs of the Times

“‘Suddenly, at his residence’ that’s what it said in the paper.” said Cora, nodding her head. Although standard wording when announcing a death, possibly a hat-tip to Christianna Brand’s 1946 novel “Suddenly at His Residence” aka “The Crooked Wreath”.

Mr Entwhistle thinks about a number of famous murderers including Seddon and Nurse Waddington. Frederick Seddon (1872-1912) poisoned his lodger Eliza Mary Barrow and was found guilty, mainly because he chose to give evidence in his own defence and did so very arrogantly and condescendingly.  Dorothea Waddingham (1899-1936) turned her house into a nursing home and killed two of her patients with morphine.

In connection with Cosmetics and Beauty, Miss Gilchrist mentions Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein. Florence Nightingale Graham (1881-1966) started to trade under the name Elizabeth Arden in 1910 when she founded the Red Door salon in New York. By 1929 she owned 150 salons across Europe and the USA. Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965) started her business in Australia making Crème Valaze before moving to London and then New York. Arden and Rubinstein became life-long rivals, although the latter said in a somewhat backhanded compliment “with her packaging and my product, we could have ruled the world”.

George Crossfield may be involved in black market activity and Miss Gilchrist is lavish in dispensing Timothy and Maude’s tea and sugar ration.

Rosamund talks about a revival of “The Miracle”. This is a wordless play from 1911 by Karl Vollmöller which tells the story of a wayward nun.

References to previous works

Mr Goby, who had previously appeared in The Mystery of Blue Train, is used here organise the investigation into the circumstances and movements of the suspects.

There is a slightly spoilerish reference to Lord Edgware Dies.

Inspector Morton remembers Poirot from the Pangbourne Case. I can’t remember if that was the location of one the earlier novels or short stories.