Gordon Cloade omitted to make a new will after his surpise marriage and so his family, who he had been happily supporting, were left with serious money troubles following his untimely death during an air raid in 1944.
His widow Rosaleen inherited everything but the arrival in the village of Enoch Arden sets her and her brother against the rest of the Cloade family. The information he possesses, regardless of what it is, is of great value to both factions, but before he can share it he is found dead in his hotel from a blow to the head.
Enter Hercule Poirot, who happens to already have some information that could have a bearing on the case, but can he determine who Arden is and therefore who the murderer is?
This is a different take on the disinherited family from that normally seen in GAD: Gordon Cloade liked his family, supported them in their plans, and had intended this to continue after his death, yet by not updating his will was unable to do so. There is therefore some sympathy for the Cloade clan who are not a group of heartless, grasping individuals, particularly for Mrs Marchmont, who has worked hard during the war and is now exhausted, and for Jeremy and Frances who lost their only son and are now faced with financial ruin.
However as Poirot says “What happens to the ivy when the oak round which it clings is struck down?” This reveals the family in their true colours and the various levels of wrongdoing to which they will stoop to preserve what they believe to be their due.
Since “N or M?” which is set during the first year of World War II we have had six contemporary novels set pre-war but now we are finally post-war and it can be seen in almost every page.
This is a lesser known Christie, but is definitely a minor gem featuring many of her usual touches, which are still as light but deadly as ever.
Recurring character development
Has a young friend, Mellon, who is a member of the Coronation Club.
An article about him has appeared in “Picture Post”.
Is slightly acquainted with Superintendent Spence of the Oastshire police. Spence has heard Chief Inspector Japp speak of Poirot and his “tortuous mind”.
Goes to church to pray.
Signs of the Times
Mellon teases Major Porter that he may be sued for slander “For he enjoyed creating alarm and despondency in such places it was not forbidden by the Defence of the Realm Act”. Shortened to DORA, this was legislation created in 1914 at the start of the First World War which was re-adopted for the Second World War. It included the following: “No person shall by word of mouth or in writing spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm among any of His Majesty’s forces or among the civilian population”.
Mrs Lionel Cloade bought a copy of “Picture Post” instead of her usual “New Statesman”. The former was a photojournalistic magazine published between 1938 and 1957 and was a UK equivalent of the US “Life” magazine. The latter is a political magazine first published in 1913 and is still issued weekly.
Lynn Marchmont was a Wren during the war, that is a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, which existed 1917-1919 and 1939-1993.
Lynn searches through the adverts in the newspaper which as well as having “former Wrens” seeking work also mention “Ex-W.A.A.F.” This was the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, created in 1939 and re-named the Women’s Royal Air Force in 1949 until 1994 when it was merged with the Royal Air Force.
It is mentioned several times that taxes have increased since the start of the war with the Marchmonts’ fixed income (presumably from investments) being halved as a result. However precious stones have doubled in value.
Mrs Marchmont had worked with the W.V.S. during the war. The Women’s Voluntary Service was created in 1938 to recruit women into local Air Raid Precautions Services. It has undergone several name changes and is now the Royal Voluntary Service which helps people in both emergencies and with long-term needs.
Jeremy Cloade has “all those old Stanley Weymans in his bedroom”. Stanley J. Weyman (1855-1928) wrote historical romances, often set in France, such as “The House of the Wolf” (1889) and “Under the Red Robe” (1895).
David Hunter served in the Commandos. They were formed in 1940 as Winston Churchill desired that the British military forces be able to make quick in and out attacks on German-occupied Europe.
David and Lynn both think of “Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill” which is from Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “Requiem”.
Lynn thinks of the line “life and the world and mine own self are changed” which is from the poem “Mirage” by Christina Rosetti.
Clothes rationing is still in place but Lynn has extra demob coupons and so will be able to get more than just “new undies” which most brides have to make do with.
Petrol is rationed but the police have discretionary powers to allow additional use where necessary.
Kathie Cloade has (what I assume is) a cat called Madame Blavatsky named after the founder of Theosophy, a vague nineteenth century religion.
Rowley plans to install an Aga or an Esse in the kitchen. The Aga cooker was designed in 1922 by Nobel-prize winning physicist Gustaf Dalén. He was blinded by an explosion and thus forced to stay at home where he found his wife was exhausted by cooking. As is the way with men, rather than just helping with the cooking, he designed a better cooker to reduce her workload! The Esse stove was created in the nineteenth century. Both brands are still going today.
References to previous works
Enoch Arden chooses to stay, on Rowley’s recommendation, at the Stag rather than the Bells and Motley. “At the ‘Bells and Motley'” is one of the Harley Quin short stories.
Vintage Mystery Challenge
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune” is from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” so fulfils “What – Title with a literary allusion”.
Whilst we are looking at Enoch Arden and wondering whether or not he is Underhay, we ignore Rosaleen Cloade and the possibility that she might not be who she says she is.
Mrs Marchmont, referring to David Hunter, says: “If he really is her brother” when the question is actually “If she really is his sister”.
We think when Rosaleen says the money is not hers, that this is a moral question, when actually it is a legal one.
When finding a body the detective must always ask “Accident, suicide, or murder” it is delightful that we have all three within the same story.
It’s not possible to discuss the most serious aspect of this story outside of spoilers as it occurs too near the end. Lynn Marchmont tells Rowley Cloade that she no longer loves him and wants to marry David Hunter instead. His reaction is “But he’s not going to have you, do you hear? If you’re not for me, then no one shall have you” and he proceeds to strangle her and would have killed her but the arrival of Poirot.
Lynn’s eventual conclusion is that “When you caught me by the throat and said if I wasn’t for you, no one should have me – well – I knew then that I was your woman”.
This is the classic story of how domestic violence has been justified from time immemorial, and continues to be justified today – that a lover is a possession and that violence is a viable reaction to the possibility of losing that item. Rowley has reasons to be angry, but how he uses that anger is indefensible: both in punching Arden and strangling Lynn.
If you are involved in violence with someone close to you, either as recipient or perpetrator or even both, then I urge you to seek help and put yourself into a place of safety for your own sake and of those who love you. May we all know peace this Christmas.