Bobby Jones, having duffed his golf ball into the sea, is surprised to find a dying man on a cliff ledge. While his playing partner goes for assistance he is left to find a photography of a beautiful woman in the man’s pocket and to hear his final words “Why didn’t they ask Evans?”
The inquest returns a verdict of accidental death but following an attempt on his life Bobby and his friend, Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent begin their own investigation. This involves faking a road traffic accident, impersonation of a chauffeur and a solicitor, various flirtations, before they get to the bottom of a ruthless conspiracy and eventually learn the meaning of the dead man’s words.
This is an entertaining romp, in the mould of “The Secret Adversary”, with Bobby and Frankie as Tommy and Tuppence Mark II.
This is the first Agatha Christie I ever read as for some reason that is what my Dad picked off the shelf when I asked to try one, although other early reads were then “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” and “Peril at End House”.
Signs of the Times
Bobby Jones is not “the American-born master of the game”. Robert “Bobby” Tyre Jones Jr. (1902 – 1971) was a successful amateur golfer who later co-founded the Masters Tournament at Augusta National. In 1930 he became the only player to win the original golfing Grand Slam (The Amateur Championship, The Open Championship, The US Open, and the US Amateur).
Bobby’s father quotes Shakespeare to the effect that a serpent’s tooth, etc. The full quote from “King Lear” is “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child”.
“The Third Bloodstain” is one of Bobby’s favourite works of fiction and he has also enjoyed “The Case of the Murdered Archduke” and “The Strange Adventure of the Florentine Dagger”. These are all fictional works but the first title has been used by Kel Richards for a 1995 novel and “The Florentine Dagger” is a 1935 film noir.
Reference is also made to a novel of Ouida’s and “John Halifax, Gentleman”. Ouida was the pseudonym of Maria Louise Ramé (1839-1908) who wrote more than forty novels and the latter is an 1856 novel by Dinah Craik (1826-1887).
Roger has bought his nephew a Hornby train. Frank Hornby patented the construction toy set Meccano in 1901 and his company made their first clockwork train under the Hornby brand in 1920.
When discussing whether people have a double Adolf Beck and the Lyons Mail are mentioned. The former was the unfortunate victim of a case of mistaken identity, serving five years in prison for frauds which he had not committed. His innocence was only established in 1904 when he was tried a second time for similar crimes. The latter was a 1931 film based on Charles Reade’s 1854 play “The Courier of Lyons” which itself was based on a historical case of mistaken identity where it is possible that Joseph Lesurques was executed in place of André Dubosq.
The Wells’ story referred to about a prince building a palace around his wife’s tomb is “The Pearl of Love” (1925) by H. G. Wells.
Frankie tells Bobby to stop droning on as though he were recommending a case to the Girls’ Friendly Society. This is an organisation founded in 1875 with the original aim of addressing the problems of working-class out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Now its three bullet points are: confidence, growth, and friendship.
Mr Spragge wags his finger at “You Bright Young People”. Also known as Bright Young Things, this was the nickname given by the tabloid press to a group of bohemian aristocrats and socialites in the 1920s.
The Dorcas Society get a surprise at the end of the book. This is a group, normally church based, with a mission of providing clothing to the poor.
References to previous works
The title is similar to the overheard suggestion that helps Poirot solve the case in “Lord Edgware Dies” – “If only they’d asked…”
Vintage Reading Challenge
Fulfils “Where – in a locked room”.