Vintage Reading Challenge – December 2018

Love Lies Bleeding by Edmund Crispin

Fulfils “Where – at a school”

Dr Stanford, headmaster of Castrevenford School, is worried: one of his boys has been getting too close to a girl from Castrevenford High School for Girls, some acid from the chemistry lab has gone missing, and tomorrow is Speech Day. His day gets significantly worse when he is notified of two violent deaths in the space of five minutes.

Series’ sleuth Gervase Fen is already on the scene, having been invited at the last minute to give out the prizes. Why does he find a folded square of blotting paper of interest? Why is he convinced that a disappearance will lead to another body? And how much will the dribbling Mr Merrythought impede his progress?

This was another title I bought specifically to complete the reading challenge but this time it was an unqualified success.

A solid mystery is surrounded by brilliant, comic writing, but this is necessarily tempered in places by the serious business of murder, especially where children are involved. One self-referential example is:

“I’ve seen your photo in the papers,” the young woman proceeded, “and I’ve followed all your cases.”

“Ha!” Fen exclaimed, much pleased. “That’s more than Crispin’s readers manage to do.”

I think most readers will have fun with this book but I would advise avoiding the Pan Classic Crime version (not shown here) with its spoilerific cover and even the list of chapters.

Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith

Fulfils “When – during a recognised holiday”

“Adrian Gray was born in May 1862 and met his death through violence, at the hands of one of his own children, at Christmas, 1931.”

This is a promising start and similar to Christianna Brand’s  Green for Danger where we are given a closed circle of suspects in the first chaper, but here the identity of the killer is actually revealed less than a quarter of the way through the book.

This is then no puzzle-based mystery, rather a depressing study of a crime, where both victim, killer, and the majority of the family members are deeply unpleasant people, with few redeeming features.

Although I was not that engaged in the middle section, the ending did bring about an interesting resolution of sorts, and some of the characters were well-drawn, with Sergeant Ross Murray, purely due to his back story, deserving cases of his own.

Despite the general grimness there is some levity and I loved this line which sums up the pompousness of a career politician:

“Richard invariably spoke as though he carried a reporter in his waistcoat pocket.”

And for the bibliophile there are these wonderful words:

“I’ve discovered a dormant hunger for books that I believe will swell eventually to a passion. I get pleasure just from handling them. I begin to find a room empty and spiritless if books don’t form part of the furnishing. I’ve even begun to buy books of my own.”

It’s the end…but the moment has been prepared for

Having exceeded my plans and successfully completed the 2018 challenge in full (and been fortunate enough to be a checkpoint prize winner) I have signed up for the expanded 2019 version and I will be tracking my progress here. So as well as the scheduled twenty-four Agatha Christie titles, the blog will also feature a number of impossible crimes from the pens of Anthony Boucher, John Dickson Carr, Hake Talbot, and Israel Zangwill, alongside generous helpings of Raymond Chandler, Michael Innes, Gladys Mitchell, Ellery Queen, Georges Simenon, and others, plus a trip into the future with the incomparable Isaac Asimov.

#24 – Death in the Clouds

Hercule Poirot and ten fellow travellers board a flight from Paris to London but at the end of the short journey one of them is dead. Poirot has been dozing so noticed nothing amiss at the time but he does find a poisoned dart on the floor near the dead woman and later the police find a blowpipe…down the side of his chair!

After the coroner prevents the jury from accusing Poirot of the crime, he is able to commence his investigation in earnest, crisscrossing the Channel as he explores the lives of the victim and his fellow travellers and finds that a number of them may have had a reason to kill.

An interesting aspect of this case is that we see the impact that being a suspect in a high profile crime has on their lives; from Jane Grey benefitting initially from curious customers to Norman Gale losing cautious patients.

One of the first Christie’s that I ever read and so I have a strong liking for it, although on this re-reading I thought that the ending was a little rushed, with a lot of important police work having been done in the background, which is then all revealed at once. This highlights a key difference between Poirot, who begins with a firm idea about the case based upon a particular piece of evidence, which he keeps to himself, and then finds the evidence to support that conclusion, and someone like Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector French, who would investigate all the suspects in equal detail, begin to find evidence that pointed to a likely killer and then have had the flash of inspiration at the end to understand how the rest of the evidence fits together.

A good ending to the year and I look forward with relish to next year when we will find some of Christie’s best work and certainly her most consistent period of excellence.

Recurring character development

Hercule Poirot

Suffers from air sickness.

Has had previous encounters with both Inspector Fournier and M. Gilles, Chief of the Detective Force.

Inspector Japp

Speaks French slowly and carefully. In the David Suchet TV version he speaks no French at all.

Signs of the Times

The story is set in 1935.

Jane Grey’s trip to Le Pinet was financed from her winnings on the Irish Sweep. The Irish Free State Hospitals’ Sweepstake was a lottery established in 1930 to fund Irish hospitals. Lotteries at this time were illegal in the UK and a 1934 act prohibited the import and export of lottery related materials.

The murder occurs on a flight from Le Bourget to Croydon. Le Bourget was France’s only airport until Orly opened in 1932. It closed to international airline traffic until 1977. Croydon Aerodrome was the UK’s main airport until 1946 when London (now Heathrow) Airport opened.

During the flight Poirot eats “thin captain biscuits”. These are apparently a hard, fancy biscuit.

The Duponts have been excavating a site near Susa, Persia. Following a diplomatic request in 1935, Western countries started to refer to the country as Iran. The modern town of Shush is located at the site of the ancient city of Susa.

Daniel Clancy was constructing a perfect cross-Europe alibi with the assistance of Bradshaw. This is a possible homage to Freeman Wills Crofts whose “12.30 from Croydon”, featuring a death on an aeroplane, had been published the year before. Crofts was well known for his murderers having well-planned, seemingly unbreakable alibis.

The flight belonged to Universal Airlines. In reality this would have been Imperial Airlines.

Norman Gale says that Venetia Kerr would only kill an unpopular MFH which given the context must be Master of Foxhounds, the organiser of a local hunt.

Fournier refers to the “Stavisky business”. Alexandre Stavisky (1886-1934) was a fraudulent financier with links to the French government. He died from gunshots to the head; the official verdict was suicide but even at the time it was believed that he had been murdered, possibly on orders by those on high. The ensuing scandal caused the prime minister, Camille Chautemps, to resign.

The banned book, “Bootless Cup”, found in James Ryder’s luggage, does not exist.

Dr Bryant’s luggage includes “Memoirs of Benevenuto Cellini” and “Les Maux de l’Oreille”. The former is the autobiography a 16th century goldsmith; the latter is presumably a medical textbook on ear disorders.

Norman Gale’s luggage includes “La Vie Parisienne”, “The Strand Magazine”, and “The Autocar”. The first is a weekly French magazine published between 1863 and 1970; a new magazine with the same name has been published since 1984. The second is a monthly English magazine, most famous for publishing the majority of the Sherlock Holmes stories, which ran from 1891 to 1950. It was revived as a quarterly magazine in 1988. The third is a weekly English magazine, first published in 1895 and still going strong today.

The Duponts are going to speak to the Royal Asiatic Society. Formally the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, this was founded in 1824 and publishes a quarterly journal.

Venetia Kerr’s luggage includes two Tauchnitz novels, “Vogue”, and “Good Housekeeping”. Tauchnitz were a family of German publishers who published works by British authors in English for sale on the European market. Vogue began in the USA in 1892 as a weekly newspaper targeted at men. It was bought in 1905 by Condé Nast and switched to being a unisex magazine before being fully targeted at women. British Vogue was launched in 1916 and French Vogue in 1920. It went monthly in 1973. Good Housekeeping is another originally American magazine, first published fortnightly in 1885, moving to monthly in 1891, with a British edition launched in 1922.

Lady Horbury’s luggage includes boracic powder. Better known as boric acid, this has a number of uses, including acting as an antiseptic.

Madame Giselle gave money to the Little Sisters of the Poor. This is an order founded in France in 1839 by Jeanne Jugan to care for the elderly.

Poirot has a picture of Lady Horbury taken from The Sketch. This was a weekly journal that ran from 1893 to 1959. Featuring photographs of society figures, it also contained short stories, including forty-nine by Christie herself.

M. Zeropoulos refers to “the most preposterous scarabs ever made in Czechoslovakia”. This country was created in 1918 on the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire and had a difficult history due to Nazi and Soviet invasions before splitting amicably into Slovakia and the Czech Republic (now in the process of becoming known popularly as Czechia).

Jane and Norman like Greta Garbo and dislike Katharine Hepburn. In 1935 Garbo (1905-1990)  was at the peak of her career, before retiring in 1941, whereas Hepburn (1907-2003) was at the start of a temporary decline before making a comeback and earning a third of twelve Best Actress Oscar nominations for “The Philadelphia Story” (1941).

Clancy notes that Jane does not use the Pitman system of shorthand. Sir Isaac Pitman (1837-1897) created his system in 1837. His brothers took it to the USA and Australia, but it was overtaken in the former by Gregg shorthand, and then more generally by Teeline.

Norman says that there is a saying about Irish eyes having been put in with a smutty finger. I can’t find where this comes from or quite what it means, but it is used in other works, including “Taken at the Flood” as cited by Clothes in Books.

References to previous works

Poirot recollects that he was once taken for a hairdresser (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd).

Inspector Fournier has heard about Poirot from Inspector Giraud (The Murder on the Links).

Poirot alludes to both Three-Act Tragedy and Murder on the Orient Express.

Vintage Reading Challenge

Poirot’s fellow passengers include a doctor and a dentist so fulfils “Who – in the medical field”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#24 – Death in the Clouds – WITH SPOILERS

Hercule Poirot and ten fellow travellers board a flight from Paris to London but at the end of the short journey one of them is dead. Poirot has been dozing so noticed nothing amiss at the time but he does find a poisoned dart on the floor near the dead woman and later the police find a blowpipe…down the side of his chair!

After the coroner prevents the jury from accusing Poirot of the crime, he is able to commence his investigation in earnest, crisscrossing the Channel as he explores the lives of the victim and his fellow travellers and finds that a number of them may have had a reason to kill.

An interesting aspect of this case is that we see the impact that being a suspect in a high profile crime has on their lives; from Jane Grey benefitting initially from curious customers to Norman Gale losing cautious patients.

One of the first Christie’s that I ever read and so I have a strong liking for it, although on this re-reading I thought that the ending was a little rushed, with a lot of important police work having been done in the background, which is then all revealed at once. This highlights a key difference between Poirot, who begins with a firm idea about the case based upon a particular piece of evidence, which he keeps to himself, and then finds the evidence to support that conclusion, and someone like Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector French, who would investigate all the suspects in equal detail, begin to find evidence that pointed to a likely killer and then have had the flash of inspiration at the end to understand how the rest of the evidence fits together.

A good ending to the year and I look forward with relish to next year when we will find some of Christie’s best work and certainly her most consistent period of excellence.

Recurring character development

Hercule Poirot

Suffers from air sickness.

Has had previous encounters with both Inspector Fournier and M. Gilles, Chief of the Detective Force.

Inspector Japp

Speaks French slowly and carefully. In the David Suchet TV version he speaks no French at all.

Signs of the Times

The story is set in 1935.

Jane Grey’s trip to Le Pinet was financed from her winnings on the Irish Sweep. The Irish Free State Hospitals’ Sweepstake was a lottery established in 1930 to fund Irish hospitals. Lotteries at this time were illegal in the UK and a 1934 act prohibited the import and export of lottery related materials.

The murder occurs on a flight from Le Bourget to Croydon. Le Bourget was France’s only airport until Orly opened in 1932. It closed to international airline traffic until 1977. Croydon Aerodrome was the UK’s main airport until 1946 when London (now Heathrow) Airport opened.

During the flight Poirot eats “thin captain biscuits”. These are apparently a hard, fancy biscuit.

The Duponts have been excavating a site near Susa, Persia. Following a diplomatic request in 1935, Western countries started to refer to the country as Iran. The modern town of Shush is located at the site of the ancient city of Susa.

Daniel Clancy was constructing a perfect cross-Europe alibi with the assistance of Bradshaw. This is a possible homage to Freeman Wills Crofts whose “12.30 from Croydon”, featuring a death on an aeroplane, had been published the year before. Crofts was well known for his murderers having well-planned, seemingly unbreakable alibis.

The flight belonged to Universal Airlines. In reality this would have been Imperial Airlines.

Norman Gale says that Venetia Kerr would only kill an unpopular MFH which given the context must be Master of Foxhounds, the organiser of a local hunt.

Fournier refers to the “Stavisky business”. Alexandre Stavisky (1886-1934) was a fraudulent financier with links to the French government. He died from gunshots to the head; the official verdict was suicide but even at the time it was believed that he had been murdered, possibly on orders by those on high. The ensuing scandal caused the prime minister, Camille Chautemps, to resign.

The banned book, “Bootless Cup”, found in James Ryder’s luggage, does not exist.

Dr Bryant’s luggage includes “Memoirs of Benevenuto Cellini” and “Les Maux de l’Oreille”. The former is the autobiography a 16th century goldsmith; the latter is presumably a medical textbook on ear disorders.

Norman Gale’s luggage includes “La Vie Parisienne”, “The Strand Magazine”, and “The Autocar”. The first is a weekly French magazine published between 1863 and 1970; a new magazine with the same name has been published since 1984. The second is a monthly English magazine, most famous for publishing the majority of the Sherlock Holmes stories, which ran from 1891 to 1950. It was revived as a quarterly magazine in 1988. The third is a weekly English magazine, first published in 1895 and still going strong today.

The Duponts are going to speak to the Royal Asiatic Society. Formally the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, this was founded in 1824 and publishes a quarterly journal.

Venetia Kerr’s luggage includes two Tauchnitz novels, “Vogue”, and “Good Housekeeping”. Tauchnitz were a family of German publishers who published works by British authors in English for sale on the European market. Vogue began in the USA in 1892 as a weekly newspaper targeted at men. It was bought in 1905 by Condé Nast and switched to being a unisex magazine before being fully targeted at women. British Vogue was launched in 1916 and French Vogue in 1920. It went monthly in 1973. Good Housekeeping is another originally American magazine, first published fortnightly in 1885, moving to monthly in 1891, with a British edition launched in 1922.

Lady Horbury’s luggage includes boracic powder. Better known as boric acid, this has a number of uses, including acting as an antiseptic.

Madame Giselle gave money to the Little Sisters of the Poor. This is an order founded in France in 1839 by Jeanne Jugan to care for the elderly.

Poirot has a picture of Lady Horbury taken from The Sketch. This was a weekly journal that ran from 1893 to 1959. Featuring photographs of society figures, it also contained short stories, including forty-nine by Christie herself.

M. Zeropoulos refers to “the most preposterous scarabs ever made in Czechoslovakia”. This country was created in 1918 on the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire and had a difficult history due to Nazi and Soviet invasions before splitting amicably into Slovakia and the Czech Republic (now in the process of becoming known popularly as Czechia).

Jane and Norman like Greta Garbo and dislike Katharine Hepburn. In 1935 Garbo (1905-1990)  was at the peak of her career, before retiring in 1941, whereas Hepburn (1907-2003) was at the start of a temporary decline before making a comeback and earning a third of twelve Best Actress Oscar nominations for “The Philadelphia Story” (1941).

Clancy notes that Jane does not use the Pitman system of shorthand. Sir Isaac Pitman (1837-1897) created his system in 1837. His brothers took it to the USA and Australia, but it was overtaken in the former by Gregg shorthand, and then more generally by Teeline.

Norman says that there is a saying about Irish eyes having been put in with a smutty finger. I can’t find where this comes from or quite what it means, but it is used in other works, including “Taken at the Flood” as cited by Clothes in Books.

References to previous works

Poirot recollects that he was once taken for a hairdresser (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd).

Inspector Fournier has heard about Poirot from Inspector Giraud (The Murder on the Links).

Poirot alludes to both Three-Act Tragedy and Murder on the Orient Express.

Vintage Reading Challenge

Poirot’s fellow passengers include a doctor and a dentist so fulfils “Who – in the medical field”.

SPOILERS

The solution to this case is essentially a combination of two Father Brown stories: one from “The Innocence of Father Brown” and the other from “The Incredulity of Father Brown”. Someone who has not been noticed and a weapon used in an unexpected manner.

The introduction of the wasp, whilst it provides one of the most memorable Christie covers – and inspired an episode of Doctor Who – I don’t think actually makes sense. We are told that the blowpipe could have been thrown out the window, rather than pushed down the side of a chair, and as the dart was delivered by hand, why not throw that away rather than having to risk recovering it later?

However I love the fact that the presence of the blowpipe forces us down the line of believing that the crime was committed from a distance and this leads to Fournier’s suggestion of a psychological moment where no one would notice the murderer’s actions. Although not used here, Christie would later use it to great effect in a similarly closed situation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First and Last Lines – Answers

Answers as promised – all Agatha Christie unless stated otherwise. Hope you had fun.

First Lines

  1. Bobby Jones teed up his ball… Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
  2. It was five o’clock on a winter’s morning in Syria. Murder on the Orient Express
  3. I am going to kill a man. The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake
  4. “Unsolved mysteries”. The Thirteen Problems
  5. No seaside town in the south of England is, I think, as attractive as St Loo. Peril at End House
  6.  It was New Year’s Eve. The Mysterious Mr Quin
  7. Joseph Higgins, postman, pushed his battered red bicycle up the long ascent that leads to Heron’s Park… Green for Danger by Christianna Bran
  8. That amiable youth J____ T_______ , came racing down the big staircase at C_______ two steps at a time. The Seven Dials Mystery
  9. The Spider began his career as a common criminal. Stop Press by Michael Innes
  10. It was close on midnight when a man crossed the Place de la Concorde. The Mystery of the Blue Train.
  11. Mrs F______ died on the night of the 16th-17th September – a Thursday. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
  12. It was 2pm on the afternoon of May 7th, 1915. The Secret Adversary
  13. “No trumpeters!” said his Lordship in a tone of melancholy and slightly peevish disapproval. Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare
  14. The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as “The S____ Case” has now somewhat subsided. The Mysterious Affair at Styles
  15. The September sun beat down hotly on Le Bourget aerodrome… Death in the Clouds

Last Lines

  1. P.S. Do you think they will put me in Madame Tussauds? Lord Edgware Dies
  2. It was G_______ who had placed the “clue” for the police to find. The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace
  3. Advertise or go under. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers
  4. “A title for the book you may never be able to write: ‘Seven Suspects’.” Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes
  5. So she held him, crouched at her knees, against her breast, huddling his head in her arms that he might not hear eight o’clock strike. Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers

First and Last Lines – A Christmas Quiz

Do you know which book the following are taken from? They have all appeared on my blog this year so you can find a crib sheet here.

This is just for fun so please don’t write any comments. I’ll post answers on Christmas Day and you can mark your own.

Happy Christmas to you all!

First Lines

  1. Bobby Jones teed up his ball…
  2. It was five o’clock on a winter’s morning in Syria.
  3. I am going to kill a man.
  4. “Unsolved mysteries”.
  5. No seaside town in the south of England is, I think, as attractive as St Loo.
  6.  It was New Year’s Eve.
  7. Joseph Higgins, postman, pushed his battered red bicycle up the long ascent that leads to Heron’s Park…
  8. That amiable youth J____ T_______ , came racing down the big staircase at C_______ two steps at a time.
  9. The Spider began his career as a common criminal.
  10. It was close on midnight when a man crossed the Place de la Concorde.
  11. Mrs F______ died on the night of the 16th-17th September – a Thursday.
  12. It was 2pm on the afternoon of May 7th, 1915.
  13. “No trumpeters!” said his Lordship in a tone of melancholy and slightly peevish disapproval.
  14. The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as “The S____ Case” has now somewhat subsided.
  15. The September sun beat down hotly on Le Bourget aerodrome…

Last Lines

  1. P.S. Do you think they will put me in Madame Tussauds?
  2. It was G_______ who had placed the “clue” for the police to find.
  3. Advertise or go under.
  4. “A title for the book you may never be able to write: ‘Seven Suspects’.”
  5. So she held him, crouched at her knees, against her breast, huddling his head in her arms that he might not hear eight o’clock strike.

#23 – Three-Act Tragedy

When the vicar dies at Sir Charles Cartwright’s cocktail party, the local doctor believes it to be from natural causes.

However when another attendee later dies from nicotine poisoning, the retired actor takes up the part of Sherlock Holmes with Mr Satterthwaite as his Doctor Watson. Hermione Lytton Gore acts as third sleuth but despite the efforts of the three, it is only Hercule Poirot who can shed illumination on a carefully stage-managed crime.

Regular readers may have wondered how I have selected the book covers to illustrate my posts. They are, as far as I can recall, the covers of the first copy of each book that I ever read. Wishing to avoid reading too much genuine French literature for my A-level “fiches de lecture” I picked up two Agatha Christie’s on a school trip to Cambrai, one of which was “Drame en trois actes”.

Reading a detective story in a language with which I was not fully familiar is probably partly responsible for my negative attitude to this story – by the end I knew who the murderer but only had a sketchy idea of how and why and having not understood everything properly did not have that moment when the scales fall from ones eyes and all becomes clear.

However, after a second re-read in English, I am still of the opinion that it is a bad book – I go into more detail in the spoiler version of this post – but it just doesn’t make sense. I don’t believe the killer would have acted as they did, either to carry out this particular plan, or when there were other avenues open to them to achieve their ends. They are made to fit the plot rather than the plot fitting the character.

One of the central elements is dealt with much more logically and effectively in another of Christie’s works; here it is interesting but not convincing.

Poirot is a peripheral figure; either Mr Satterthwaite should have solved the case alone – which would have been pleasing for Watson to have out-detectived Holmes – or with the aid of Harley Quin. This case with its lovers and links to the theatre would have been perfect for him to have provided at least a cameo as part of the conclusion.

Recurring character development

Hercule Poirot

Has met Mr Satterthwaite before but as far as I am aware this is undocumented.

Prefers sirop to whisky.

As a boy was poor, one of many children. Entered the police force and worked hard, making a name for himself. Was about to retire when the War came. Although now rich, he is not satisfied.

Has known five cases of wives murdered by their devoted husbands and twenty-two of husbands murdered by their devoted wives.

Has to build his card house from “Happy Families” cards following a mix-up in a shop.

Mr Satterthwaite

His house is on Chelsea Embankment.

Signs of the Times

The story is set in 1933, seventeen years after Stephen Babbington’s arrival in Loomouth in 1916.

Sir Bartholomew Strange received his knighthood in the recent Birthday Honours list. Birthday honours have been awarded in the UK to mark the sovereign’s birthday almost every year since at least 1860. After 1908 these were given on the sovereign’s official birthday, the first, second or third Saturday in June.

The spelling of Bortsch, rather than Borscht is used, for the type of soup.

Angela Sutcliffe was sometimes spoken of as Ellen Terry’s successor. Dame Alice Ellen Terry (1847-1928) was the leading Shakespearean actress of her day.

One of Sir Charles’ theatre roles was Aristide Duval, the Man with the Limp. There are a number of 1920s films called “The Man with the Limp” including one from 1923 written by Sax Rohmer and featuring his most famous creation, Dr Fu Manchu.

The lines of Tennyson that come to Mr Satterthwaite’s mind are from “Lancelot and Elaine”. She is the “lily maid of Astolat”.

Colonel Johnson says that “fans” is an American term. One derivation of “fan” is from “the fancy” to “fance” to “fan” with it being attributed to Charles Von der Ahe, owner of the St Louis Brown Stockings baseball team, in 1882.

The line of Burns quoted by Mr Satterthwaite are from “On the Late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations Thro’ Scotland”.

One of Mrs Babbington’s sons lives in Ceylon. Sri Lanka was called Ceylon by the British who occupied some coastal areas 1796 before taking full control in 1815. Independence came in 1948 but the name was not changed until 1972.

Mrs Dacres shows Egg a blue Patou. Jean Patou (1880-1936) was a fashioner designer and perfumier and founded of the House of Patou. The fashion business continued until 1987 but the fragrance brand still exists.

References to previous works

Poirot again travels on the Blue Train.

He refers to the events of “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”.

Mr Satterthwaite attempts to start telling Sir Charles about the events of “At theBells and Motley'” from “The Mysterious Mr Quin”.

Mr Satterthwaite’s romance, mentioned to Lady Mary,  is also detailed in “The Face of Helen” from the same collection.

Poirot admits to one failure, long ago in Belgium. This is “The Chocolate Box” from “Poirot’s Early Cases”.

Vintage Reading Challenge

Fulfils “How – death by poison”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#23 – Three-Act Tragedy – WITH SPOILERS

When the vicar dies at Sir Charles Cartwright’s cocktail party, the local doctor believes it to be from natural causes.

However when another attendee later dies from nicotine poisoning, the retired actor takes up the part of Sherlock Holmes with Mr Satterthwaite as his Doctor Watson. Hermione Lytton Gore acts as third sleuth but despite the efforts of the three, it is only Hercule Poirot who can shed illumination on a carefully stage-managed crime.

Regular readers may have wondered how I have selected the book covers to illustrate my posts. They are, as far as I can recall, the covers of the first copy of each book that I ever read. Wishing to avoid reading too much genuine French literature for my A-level “fiches de lecture” I picked up two Agatha Christie’s on a school trip to Cambrai, one of which was “Drame en trois actes”.

Reading a detective story in a language with which I was not fully familiar is probably partly responsible for my negative attitude to this story – by the end I knew who the murderer but only had a sketchy idea of how and why and having not understood everything properly did not have that moment when the scales fall from ones eyes and all becomes clear.

However, after a second re-read in English, I am still of the opinion that it is a bad book – I will go into more detail in the spoilers section below – but it just doesn’t make sense. I don’t believe the killer would have acted as they did, either to carry out this particular plan, or when there were other avenues open to them to achieve their ends. They are made to fit the plot rather than the plot fitting the character.

One of the central elements is dealt with much more logically and effectively in another of Christie’s works; here it is interesting but not convincing.

Poirot is a peripheral figure; either Mr Satterthwaite should have solved the case alone – which would have been pleasing for Watson to have out-detectived Holmes – or with the aid of Harley Quin. This case with its lovers and links to the theatre would have been perfect for him to have provided at least a cameo as part of the conclusion.

Recurring character development

Hercule Poirot

Has met Mr Satterthwaite before but as far as I am aware this is undocumented.

Prefers sirop to whisky.

As a boy was poor, one of many children. Entered the police force and worked hard, making a name for himself. Was about to retire when the War came. Although now rich, he is not satisfied.

Has known five cases of wives murdered by their devoted husbands and twenty-two of husbands murdered by their devoted wives.

Has to build his card house from “Happy Families” cards following a mix-up in a shop.

Mr Satterthwaite

His house is on Chelsea Embankment.

Signs of the Times

The story is set in 1933, seventeen years after Stephen Babbington’s arrival in Loomouth in 1916.

Sir Bartholomew Strange received his knighthood in the recent Birthday Honours list. Birthday honours have been awarded in the UK to mark the sovereign’s birthday almost every year since at least 1860. After 1908 these were given on the sovereign’s official birthday, the first, second or third Saturday in June.

The spelling of Bortsch, rather than Borscht is used, for the type of soup.

Angela Sutcliffe was sometimes spoken of as Ellen Terry’s successor. Dame Alice Ellen Terry (1847-1928) was the leading Shakespearean actress of her day.

One of Sir Charles’ theatre roles was Aristide Duval, the Man with the Limp. There are a number of 1920s films called “The Man with the Limp” including one from 1923 written by Sax Rohmer and featuring his most famous creation, Dr Fu Manchu.

The lines of Tennyson that come to Mr Satterthwaite’s mind are from “Lancelot and Elaine”. She is the “lily maid of Astolat”.

Colonel Johnson says that “fans” is an American term. One derivation of “fan” is from “the fancy” to “fance” to “fan” with it being attributed to Charles Von der Ahe, owner of the St Louis Brown Stockings baseball team, in 1882.

The line of Burns quoted by Mr Satterthwaite are from “On the Late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations Thro’ Scotland”.

One of Mrs Babbington’s sons lives in Ceylon. Sri Lanka was called Ceylon by the British who occupied some coastal areas 1796 before taking full control in 1815. Independence came in 1948 but the name was not changed until 1972.

Mrs Dacres shows Egg a blue Patou. Jean Patou (1880-1936) was a fashioner designer and perfumier and founded of the House of Patou. The fashion business continued until 1987 but the fragrance brand still exists.

References to previous works

Poirot again travels on the Blue Train.

He refers to the events of “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”.

Mr Satterthwaite attempts to start telling Sir Charles about the events of “At theBells and Motley'” from “The Mysterious Mr Quin”.

Mr Satterthwaite’s romance, mentioned to Lady Mary,  is also detailed in “The Face of Helen” from the same collection.

Poirot admits to one failure, long ago in Belgium. This is “The Chocolate Box” from “Poirot’s Early Cases”.

Vintage Reading Challenge

Fulfils “How – death by poison”.

SPOILERS

Murder as dress rehearsal! I don’t buy it – at least not the way that it is done. If you did, you wouldn’t call attention to whether there had been foul play or not – you’d just wait and see whether anyone else came up with suspicions. And why would you do it? If it went wrong, what would you then do about the real murder which you wanted to commit? You would need to invent a whole new method.

Sir Charles, I feel, would have been bolder and just carried out the murder of Strange in the way that he does, in the guise of Ellis. That would have been a good enough mystery on its own. A man of his vanity, who has not thought to destroy his chemical equipment would not need a dress rehearsal.

But given that he later sends the poisoned chocolates to Mrs de Rushbridger, why not cut to the chase and simply eliminate the unfortunate Mrs Mugg? He could have used his acting ability to get close to her and poison her in some way. Although Strange is aware of her existence, he is unlikely to notice her death, especially if it is not suspicious.

Poirot, although careful for Miss Wills’ safety, takes no precautions for the life of Mrs de Rushbridger, even though he knows her telegram is a fake, which seems rather careless and he doesn’t even seem to blame himself in any way for this.

The one element I did quite like was the use of the Happy Families cards to enable Egg to tell him Sir Charles real name. How deliberate was the use of Mugg – given that Sir Charles as an actor mugs for a living and that he was planning to make a mug of Egg, Mr Satterthwaite, and Poirot.