Poirot reluctantly visits the dentists and later that afternoon Inspector Japp calls him to say that his dentist, Mr Morley, has just committed suicide. A motive is soon discovered and the case is closed until a fellow patient disappears.
Thus begins a very twisty case as Poirot negotiates his way through matters of State and those on both sides of the political divide.
An interesting read but built on a double coincidence and one key aspect of the solution is not explained. Small references in the text in order to fit with the nursery rhyme feel a little forced.
Recurring character development
Could always do without a cup of tea.
Sometimes discusses cases with his valet, George.
His phone number is Whitehall 7272 – likely a joke given that Scotland Yard’s was Whitehall 1212.
Signs of the Times
Mr Amberiotis refers to “casting your bread upon the waters” which is from Ecclesiastes Chapter 11.
Poirot thinks that his fellow patient in the waiting room wishes he had his Flit spray with him. This was a brand of insecticide launched in 1923 by the Standard Oil Company (later Esso). It contained 5% of the now notorious DDT.
Mr Morley believes that Alistair Blunt is the British answer to “their Hitlers and Mussolinis”.
The Reds and the Blackshirts would both like to see Blunt put out of the way.
Alfred, Mr Morley’s page-boy, is reading the fictional “Death at Eleven-Forty-Five”.
Japp wonders if Poirot thinks that they may find Miss Sainsbury Seale “cut up in little pieces like Mrs Ruxton”. On 15th September 1935 Buck Ruxton murdered his wife, Isabella, and their maid, Mary Jane Rogerson, in their home in Lancaster. Their dismembered bodies were discovered on 29th September 1935 in Dumfriesshire. Forensic entomology suggested that the remains had been there for 12-14 days. Some parts were wrapped in a special souvenir edition of the Sunday Graphic which had only been circulated in the Morecambe and Lancaster region. Ruxton was tried, found guilty, and hanged in 1936.
Miss Sainsbury Seale collects for the Zenana Missions. Under the purdah system in India, women were confined to special quarters in the home called zenana, where unrelated males were forbidden to go. Female missionaries were able to visit women in the zenana, and as well as teaching them about Christianity also provided medical and educational services.
Japp says that “these things are all my eye and Betty Martin” meaning that they are a lot of nonsense. The origins of the phrase are unclear.
The porter refers to “that old cup of tea who came to see Mrs Chapman” where “cup of tea” is presumably rhyming slang for “lady”.
Japp says of the fur chest “we opened it up – and there was the lady! Mistletoe Bough up-to-date.” The Legend of Mistletoe Bough tells of a bride who hides in a chest in an attic and is then trapped and dies. She is not found at the time and many years later her skeleton is discovered. It first appears in print in 1822 in a poem called “Ginevra” by Samuel Rogers. In the 1830s it became a song called “Mistletoe Bough” by T. H. Bayley and Sir Henry Bishop.
Mrs Merton had discussed going to see the new Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire with Mrs Chapman. This may have been 1939’s “The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle”, the duo’s penultimate film together.
When they find that Mr Chapman works for the Secret Service, Japp says “Shades of Phillips Oppenheim, Valentine Williams and William le Queux.” All three were well-known thriller writers. Le Queux was best known for “The Invasion of 1910” written in 1906 which depicted Germany attacking an unprepared Great Britain. When war did come, he asked for, but was not granted, special police protection.
Japp has to stop the official investigation telling Poirot it is “Na Poo! It’s off.” This is army slang from the First World War, possibly a corruption of the French “Il n’y a plus” (there is no more).
The scripture sung in church is the beginning of Psalm 140.
Frank Carter is a member of the Imperial Shirts – they march with banners and have a ridiculous salute – clearly similar to Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.
References to previous works
Mention is made of the Herjoslovakian Loan. Herzoslovakia was at the centre of The Secret of Chimneys.
Poirot reminisces about Countess Vera Rossakoff who appeared in The Big Four .
Poirot has half the cabinet in his pocket because of the work he did in “The Case of the Augean Stables” one of the “Labours of Hercules”.
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Fulfils “How – death by shooting”.