Monday, April 12, 2021

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie - for the 1936 Club

Title: Cards on the Table: A Hercule Poirot Mystery
Author: Agatha Christie
Publication: Harper Collins, hardcover (originally published in 1936)
Genre: Mystery
Setting: 1930s London
This week Simon from Stuck 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.

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 . . . .”
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.

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 a variation of the locked-room subgenre of mysteries in which a murder is committed in circumstances under which it seems impossible for the perpetrator to commit the crime or evade detection in the course of committing the crime scene. Of course, Agatha Christie is one of the great writers of the Golden Age of mystery fiction when many such writers invented these tropes and experimented with them. Poirot admits the murderer was lucky that Shaitana did not emit a shriek when he was stabbed.

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!


Lark said...

I thought this was a fun Christie mystery. But then I do like Poirot. I like Miss Marple and her standalone books, too. They're just enjoyable reads. :)

Cath said...

I don't think I've read this one but have certainly seen the dramatisation of it. And Colonel Race is in it... I liked him as played by David Niven in Death on the Nile. And yes, I believe people still play Bridge. I've not played it but we played a lot of whist and rummy when I was growing up, no internet back then so cards (and many other games) were popular. When I got married and went to visit the inlaws I was taught to play Solo Whist and we'd sit up all hours playing that. I believe such pastimes sharpen the brain when you're young and it's a shame it's gone out of fashion.

kaggsysbookishramblings said...

Lovely choice for 1936 - one I would have liked to revisit, as I love Mrs. Oliver and I haven't read it for ages!

Simon T (StuckinaBook) said...

Is this the one where she also gives away the endings of half a dozen novels for no reason? I have listened to an audio dramatisation of it but never read!

Judy Krueger said...

Great title!

whatmeread said...

Gosh, Christie has written so many books that people keep coming up with ones I haven't heard of, despite my having read lots!

CLM said...

Simon, more or less. In the ABC Murders she includes a description of the crime in this book. Christie had probably written them both close together and the publisher was spacing them apart to maximize sales.

"Supposing," murmured Poirot, "that four people sit down to play bridge and one, the odd man out, sits in a chair by the fire. At the end of the evening the man by the fire is found dead. One of the four, while he is dummy, has gone over and killed him, and, intent on the play of the hand, the other three have not noticed. Ah, there would be a crime for you! Which of the four was it?"

She also includes a hint about Murder on the Orient Express.

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

Nice summary! I enjoyed it too, it's on my post today for the 1936 Club:

Katrina said...

I've never read this one, but I have a friend who is obsessed with playing bridge and has loads of books on the subject. There are several varieties of the game too, it all sounds too complicated to me. I'll have to find a copy of this one, and pass it on to him. Thanks.

CLM said...

I am intrigued by the idea of bridge but I'd never dare play! There are too many books where people loudly complain about their partner's lack of skill, and that would be me because I sometimes can't remember which are spades and which are clubs.

Just saw this article which argues that Armand Gamache and Harry Bosch are all very well but if one really needed a detective the only choices are Poirot or Holmes!

Deniz Bevan said...

I love card games and play one called King, which I gather is sort of like the trumps round in bridge. My father was an avid bridge player, but I never learned it!

At the moment, I'm nearing the end of my Great Agatha Christie reread...

Lex @ Lexlingua said...

This is one of those Christies that I remember quite well. The twist reveal at the end was well done. And The Man in the Brown Suit is one of my favorite Christies too! Actually, it was the first Christie I ever read after I got it from my school library, and was totally hooked after that. The mystery itself wasn't that memorable, but I think the romance was. ;-)

TracyK said...

This is one of my favorite Hercule Poirot books, mainly because of having both Mrs. Oliver and Colonel Race in it. And Superintendent Battle!

My grandparents played bridge but that would have been in the 1950s and 60s. I don't hear much about it now. But people must because they still put bridge columns in the newspaper.