Author: Agatha Christie
Publication: Harper Collins, hardcover (originally published in 1936)
Setting: 1930s LondonStuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings are hosting the 1936 Club, where bloggers read and write about books published in a chosen year.
Description: At an exhibition of snuffboxes, which I am sure we all would have enjoyed, Hercule Poirot encounters the purring Mr. Shaitana, a rich man known for his lavish parties. Teasing Poirot, he promises to invite him to dinner to meet a collection of murderers. On the evening in question, there are four seemingly amiable individuals and four quasi-crime experts. After dinner, the first group forms one bridge foursome: a fresh-faced young woman, an older woman who takes her bridge seriously, a society doctor, and a man who looks like he just returned from safari. In the second room, a group of potential detectives plays bridge: Poirot; Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, a flamboyant mystery novelist, created as a sort of spoof of herself by Christie; Colonel Race, at one point head of the M15 spy agency; and Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard. These are recurring characters. At the end of the evening, Mr. Shaitana is discovered to have been stabbed to death, as he sat by the fire, watching the first group. Superintendent Battle takes control of the scene but it is, as always Poirot, whose intuition about people and his little grey cells solves the crime.
My Impression: Poirot is offended by people who joke about murder so he does not appreciate Mr. Shaitana’s levity:
“And what do you consider the best objects, artistically speaking, in crime?” inquired Poirot.Do people still play bridge, except in books of a certain type? I have never been a card player and it sounds both difficult and tedious. Warren Buffett says he plays eight hours a week but I have only ever met one person my own age who plays. Christie’s detailed description of the games that are taking place inches away from the murdered man and Poirot’s questions about the individual players’ style imply that a reader knowledgeable about bridge might be able to identify the murderer – without relying on the analysis Superintendent Battle and Poirot do about the suspects’ previous alleged murders.
Mr. Shaitana leaned forward and laid two fingers on Poirot’s shoulder. He hissed his words dramatically.
“The human beings who commit them, M. Poirot!”
Poirot’s eyebrows rose a trifle.
. . . “No, I look on the matter from the artistic point of view. I collect only the best!”
“The best being–?” asked Poirot.
“My dear fellow – the ones who got away with it! The successes! The criminals who lead an agreeable life, which no breath of suspicion has ever touched. Admit that it is an amusing hobby.”
“It was another word I was thinking of – not amusing.”
“An idea!” cried Shaitana, paying no attention to Poirot. “A little dinner! A dinner to meet my exhibits. Really, that is a most amusing thought . . . .”
Colonel Race also appears in The Man in the Brown Suit, one of my favorite Christies but he plays less of a role in the post-crime detection than Battle and Poirot, although Mrs. Oliver lends a hand.
This is my seventh book for the Cloak and Dagger Challenge hosted by Carol's Notebook. Source: Library. I own a handful of Christies but mostly prefer Miss Marple and the standalones to Poirot. There is a joke in this one in which one of the characters asks Mrs. Oliver if she wrote The Body in the Library; she says no, but several years later Agatha wrote it herself!