“Man, you’re nuts! None of their stories are going to agree! Don’t you grasp that elementary fact? No two people remember a thing in the same order anyway. And after all this time! Why, you’ll hear five accounts of five separate murders!”
“That,” said Poirot, “is what I am counting on. It will be very instructive.”
Sixteen years ago Caroline Crale was convicted for the murder of her husband Amyas. Shortly before her death she wrote a letter for her daughter to open when she turned twenty-one in which she swore her innocence. Carla Lemarchant believes her mother and so hires Hercule Poirot to find the truth.
The titular pigs are the five other people present on the day of the murder: Philip (best friend to Amyas) and his brother Meredith, Elsa Greer (Amyas’ mistress and subject of his final painting), Angela (Caroline’s half-sister) and her governess Miss Williams.
After speaking with legal counsel for the defence and the prosecution and the policeman in charge of the case, he interviews each of the five suspects and asks them to write their own accounts of the events leading up to Amyas’ death. And from these separate tales he manages to tell the story of what actually happened all those years ago.
When I first read this as a teenager I can’t remember being that impressed – probably because of the (deliberately) repetitive nature of the narrative but appreciated it much more when watching the David Suchet adaptation.
This re-read was much more enjoyable – seeing how everyone’s viewpoints build up a picture of Caroline and Amyas – and how Poirot is able to tease out the key truths hidden from most of the observers. As an exercise in psychological detection it is excellent.
Recurring character development
Was abroad at the time of the original case.
Signs of the Times
The year of the murder is deliberately not given but as the Blakes’ sister Diana married someone who had been a temporary officer in the war and as Poirot’s present day investigations sixteen years later make no mention of another war, it is reasonable to date it in the early 1920s.
Two of Amyas Crale’s paintings were in the Tate. The National Gallery of British Art was founded in 1897. In 1932 modern art was added to it and it was renamed the Tate Gallery after Henry Tate of the sugar manufacturers Tate & Lyle. From 2000 it has been known as Tate Britain.
Amyas’ mother gave him his name because she was a fan of Kingsley. Amyas Leigh is a character in Charles Kingsley’s 1855 novel “Westward Ho!”
Caleb Jonathan quotes “Rose white youth, passionate, pale” which is taken from Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.
Angela Warren lectures at the Royal Geographical Society which was founded in 1830 as the Geographical Society of London.
The day before the murder Meredith had read out a passage from the Phaedo, which is by Plato, describing the death of Socrates, who had been condemned to death for corrupting the youth of the city.
Elsa Greer quotes “And all my fortunes at thy foot I’ll lay and follow thee, my lord, throughout the world” which is spoken by Juliet to Romeo in the play by Shakespeare.
Miss Williams’ apartment contains a quarter-length bath, which sounds very small to me. She has a number of artworks on her walls including “Hope” an 1886 work by George Frederic Watts and “Primavera” by Sandro Botticelli (c.1445-1510).
Miss Williams is not impressed that Amyas Crale’s work is in the Tate because “so is one of Mr Epstein’s statues, I believe.” Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) was an American born British sculptor.
Meredith says “Tell that to the marines” when Amyas tells him he has no interest in Elsa Greer. As a Doctor Who fan I am familiar with the phrase which the Doctor uses in “The Day of the Daleks” to alert the Brigadier that all is no well but never really thought about what it meant. The full phrase is “tell it to the marines because the sailors won’t believe you” implying that the marines are gullible and would believe you’re lie. In America it gained a secondary meaning of telling the marines as they would do something about it.
References to previous works
Poirot introduces himself to Meredith Blake with a recommendation Lady Mary Lytton-Gore who appeared in Three-Act Tragedy.
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Fulfils “Who – An artist/photographer”.
Once again it is the least likely person who is the murderer. Whilst we believe Elsa may have tried to kill Caroline we can’t fathom why she would want to kill Amyas.
I love the idea of understanding memories in the light of unrelated later experiences as is the case where Angela realises the significance of Caroline leaving Philip’s bedroom. For me it is always when I realise how words that I’ve read, not always understanding, are actually pronounced e.g. Penelope is not Penna-lope but Pen-ell-oh-pee and a musical segue is not seeg but seg-way.