Former stage actress Arlena Marshall turns the head of every man staying on Smugglers’ Island, including Hercule Poirot, and in consequence could be hated by any man or woman staying there. Although some of the guests feel that murder on holiday is unlikely Poirot knows that “there is evil everywhere under the sun”.
It is no surprise then when Arlena’s body is found in a secluded cove. It was likely that she was meeting an admirer – but who? Did they kill her or did someone else find her secret meeting place?
As usual Poirot weaves together disparate physical clues with the psychological character of the victim and the suspects to unmask a ruthless and very dangerous killer.
Another excellent entry in Christie’s Golden Era.
Recurring character development
For a seaside holiday wears a white duck suit. He isn’t in disguise, duck is a type of woven cotton fabric.
Horace Blatt has heard of him but “thought he was dead. Dash it, he ought to be dead” which implies a much older age than he is normally portrayed on screen at this point in his career.
A very wise friend in the police force once said to him “Hercule, my friend, if you would know tranquility, avoid women.”
Signs of the Times
Although published in 1941 this is clearly set pre-WWII and probably before the previous Poirot novel One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.
Major Barry saw Arlena in “Come and Go” before she left the stage. There is no contemporary play of that name but the title was used by Samuel Beckett in 1965 for his short play of under 130 words.
Linda’s possible reading choices from the book shop are “The Four Feathers” (1902) by A. E. W. Mason, know to GAD readers for his Inspector Hanaud novels, “Vice Versa” (1882) a comic novel by Thomas Anstey Guthrie in which the use of a magic stone effectively enables a father and son to swap bodies, and “The Marriage of William Ashe” (1905) by Mary Augusta Ward.
Inspector Colgate says that Marshall’s manner is similar to that of Wallace which lead the jury to bring in a Guilty verdict against him. William Herbert Wallace was tried for the murder of his wife Julia in 1931. The evidence was circumstantial and could be interpreted in different ways but he was found Guilty and it was said at the time by observers in court that his extraordinary composure had harmed his defence. The verdict was overturned on appeal but Wallace had little time to enjoy his freedom, dying in 1933. The case has never been solved.
Poirot says “do noble deeds, not dream them all day long”, a slight misquote from Charles Kingsley’s poem “A Farewell” (should be “things” rather than “deeds”).
Linda’s bookshelf contains a Bible, Shakespeare’s plays, The Marriage of William Ashe, The Young Stepmother (1861) by Charlotte Yonge, A Shropshire Lad (1896) by A. E. Housman, Murder in the Cathedral (1935) by T. S. Eliot, St Joan (1923) by George Bernard Shaw, Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell, and The Burning Court (1937) by John Dickson Carr.
Stephen Lane compares Arlena to Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, king of Israel, and Aholibah, a pejorative nickname for the city of Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel.
References to previous works
Mrs Gardener heard about Poirot from Cornelia Robson, who had met him during the events of Death on the Nile. Perhaps she retained her maiden name or possibly did not end up marrying Dr Bessner. Poirot also refers to that case when discussing this case with Hastings at a later date.
The Chief Constable of the area is still Colonel Weston who refers to the events of Peril at End House. Weston met Chief Inspector Japp again not that long ago.
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Fulfils “Who – An actor/actress”.
Christie puts a new spin on the love-triangle – it could have been the husband, Kenneth Marshall, or his old friend Rosamund Darnley, but in the end it is the couple with the strongest alibis, who have fallen out publically, but are working in tandem (even as I type that it brings back strong memories of a much earlier Christie).
The method is given to us in the first chapter several times as the uniformity of the sunbather is commented on:
“Nothing personal about them. They are just – bodies!”
“Today everything is standardised. That reminds me very much of the Morgue in Paris. Bodies – arranged on slabs – like butcher’s meat.”
The motive for murder seems slim – that Kenneth Marshall would have done “something” when he found out that Arlena had given Patrick most of her money – really I think the Redferns are a pair of psychopaths who enjoyed their first murder and want to experience that thrill again.