“I don’t understand what you mean by the ‘other clocks’. There are no other clocks in the sitting-room.”
A man is found murdered by a typist, who no one will admit to hiring, in the house of a blind woman, in a room into which four clocks, all stopped at thirteen minutes past four, have been left.
Colin Lamb, a member of “the Service”, is investigating an apparently different matter, and is on hand to meet Sheila Webb (body-finder) as she flees the scene.
He is allowed to join the police investigation by his friend, Detective Inspector Richard Hardcastle, and together they interview the inhabitants of Wilbraham Crescent to see if anyone can shed any light on who the dead man is, what he might have been doing there, and whether there is any connection to Colin’s spy case.
As with “Cat Among the Pigeons” Poirot is brought into the case for no good reason than to be able to sell this as a Poirot mystery.
That being said I still enjoyed it: meeting the different characters who live in the Crescent, especially one late on who comes straight out of a Hitchcock film, and there is a very neat clue that proves Poirot’s point that if you let people talk long enough they will inevitably give themselves away.
Sure there is a repeat of a classic Christie trick relating to the second murder and then a massively unnecessary coincidence at the end but overall it is an entertaining read.
And we are given this wonderful description of a secondhand bookshop on Charing Cross Road:
“I sidled through the doorway. It was necessary to sidle since precariously arranged books impinged more and more every day on the passageway from the street. Inside, it was clear that the books owned the shop, rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down.”
I look forward to being able to browse in such places again.
Recurring Character Development
His flat number in Whitehaven Mansions is 203. The entire block is being renovated.
Although it is a warm September he already has the electric fire on.
He has been reviewing a number of historical unsolved murders, some of which have been mentioned in earlier books, including the case of Adelaide Bartlett who was accused of poisoning her husband with chloroform in 1886. However there were no burns in Edwin Bartlett’s throat which implied the liquid had been drunk quickly, indicating suicide, and she was found not guilty.
Having dealt with true crime, he then turned his attention to detective fiction including “The Leavenworth Case” (1878) by Anna Katherine Green, “The Adventures of Arsene Lupin” by Maurice Leblanc, and “The Mystery of the Yellow Room” (1907) by Gaston Leroux, which he approves of from start to finish. He also refers to fictional writers Cyril Quain, Garry Gregson, Florence Elks, and Louisa O’Malley, who various people from the Golden Age Detection Facebook group have identified as being based on Freeman Wills Crofts, John Creasey, Craig Rice, and Elizabeth Daly. He is also keen on “John Dickson Carr or Carter (Garter in my copy) Dickson, as he calls himself sometimes”.
Dick Hardcastle says he has “A lot of moustache” and Colin agrees “Oceans of it” which supports Branagh’s facial fuzz over Suchet’s.
Signs of the Times
The story is set in 1964.
Mrs Curtin “doesn’t hold with the Common Market” and neither does her husband. The UK had applied unsuccessfully to join the European Economic Community in 1962 but did become a member in 1973.
“A faint sound of remote jangling was heard inside” when the door bell was pulled puts Colin in mind of “The Moated Grange”. This seems to be a reference to Tennyson’s 1830 poem “Mariana”.
Poirot mentions a village in Somerset which does actually exist, although there is a minor difference in the spelling.
References to previous works
Mrs Oliver does not appear in person, but her photo is one those hanging in Miss Martindale’s office.
Colin’s real surname is not Lamb and he is the son of a retired policeman who worked with Poirot. Given his rank the implication is that this is Superintendent Battle.
Poirot refers to his retirement when he tried growing vegetable marrows in “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”.
Again Poirot refers to the soap manufacturer from Liège and the link into “The Nemean Lion” from “The Labours of Hercules”.
The chief constable remembers Poirot from “The Girl Guide Murder Case” – presumably “Dead Man’s Folly”.