Although he does not normally touch domestic cases, Poirot is persuaded by the actress Jane Wilkinson to discuss a possible divorce with her husband which he has previously refused to grant.
Poirot is therefore surprised when she is arrested for Lord Edgware’s murder as he had now agreed to divorce her – although no one else was yet aware of this fact – and she was out to dinner at the time of the crime – although this was due to a late change of plan.
With witnesses prepared to swear that Jane did visit her husband on the night of the murder can Poirot discover who has framed his client and bring them to justice?
A clever but quite unlikely solution is revealed in time – Poirot is able to take time out to work on something else – involving a piece of evidence that has to be considered three times before its full significance is understood and a motive that should have been much more evident to Poirot.
Recurring character development
Until Hastings’ account was published he had not been connected publicly connected with this case, which he considers to have been a failure.
When viewing a body he makes a vow and the sign of the Cross as he does so.
Both he and Hastings play bridge, but he is happier to play for higher stakes and has a good with Sir Montagu Corner.
During an exceptional case (a feather in his cap) he had to guess each suspect in turn like someone reading a detective story.
Has always been an admirer of Jane Wilkinson.
Still has his toothbrush moustache.
Signs of the Times
Japp is reminded of the Elizabeth Canning Case where two sets of witnesses swore that Mary Squires, an accused party, was in two different places at the same time. Canning (1734-1773) claimed to have been kidnapped and held prisoner for a month in 1753 and accused Squires and Susannah Wells of having been her captors. The latter were initially found guilty but on further investigation they were release and the former found guilty of perjury. This story was the inspiration for the highly recommended “The Franchise Affair” by Josephine Tey.
Hastings compares himself to the Light Brigade with the quote “mine not to reason why, mine but to do or die”. This is a paraphrase of a line in Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1854) which detailed the disastrous outcome of a miscommunication at the Battle of Balaclava which caused the British Light Brigade cavalry to make a frontal assault at the Russian guns.
References to previous works
Poirot recalls a case that Hastings was part of which involved a clue that was not believed as it was four feet long and not four centimetres. This may be a case that features in “Poirot’s Early Cases”. In “The Murder on the Links” Poirot remarks that a clue of two feet long is every bit as valuable as one measuring two millimetres.
Lady Yardly from “The Adventure of the Western Star – Poirot Investigates” recommended that the Dowager Duchess of Merton should consult Poirot.
Poirot takes some time out of the case to investigate the disappearance of an ambassador’s boots, a very similar case to that detailed in “Partners in Crime”.
Vintage Reading Challenge
Lord Edgware is stabbed to death so fulfils “How – death by knife/dagger”.
The next one in our series of the killer was never even included in the list of suspects because it’s “The One Where the Only Person Seen at the Crime Scene Actually Did It”.
The whole business of Carlotta Adams being able to successfully impersonate Jane Wilkinson up close for an evening is quite unlikely (so much so that in the David Suchet TV version they just cheat and the actress seen at the dinner is the one playing Jane, not Carlotta) but if it has succeeded in the short term, it is then likely, as happens, that the illusion cannot be sustained long term. It is poetic justice that it is Carlotta’s intelligence and knowledge of classical civilisation that helps bring her killer to justice. I think this is the first time that we see in a Christie novel the classic trope where someone realises something of importance (in this case that the Jane Wilkinson from the first dinner party would have recognised that the Judgement of Paris referred not to the French capital but to the Trojan prince being asked to decide which goddess should be given an apple of the Hesperides), manages to accidentally communicate that to the murderer, then dithers around so that they get bumped off before they can discuss it with the detective.
The use of Carlotta’s letter to her sister (the murderer overreaches themselves here and should just have destroyed it) is handled well. First we read the transcript where you can only see the join if you are looking for it, then we see the torn page, where the explanation is that the missing page has been torn off, then finally the significance of the missing corner which turns “he” into “she”.
And then there is the question of the motive which might be less obvious for the modern reader, but which to the Catholic Poirot should have been apparent much earlier: whilst a divorce would have been of benefit to Jane a year ago when she planned to marry someone else, now that she has her sights set on the Duke of Merton, it is of no use whatsoever, and yet Poirot completely ignores this point – if he had he might have seen through her alibi earlier.