Author: Agatha Christie
Publication: Dodd, Mead & Co., hardcover, 1934
Setting: 20th century Great Britain
My Impression: This story is told in three “acts”: Suspicion, Certainty, and Discovery, in keeping with Christie’s love of the theatre. In the first act, a kindly minister with no apparent enemies dies suddenly. The glass he drank from is tested but has no suspicious residue so the authorities conclude there was no foul play. Sir Charles believes Miss Lytton Gore is romantically interested in someone closer to her age and leaves town for the Riviera. In the second act, Sir Charles and Mr. Satterthwaite meet up in Monte Carlo where they read of the death of another who had been at Sir Charles’ home, his old friend Sir Bartholomew Strange, a Harley Street nerve specialist (which sounds better than a psychiatrist but I assume that is what he was) who had been hosting friends at his home in Yorkshire. When they realize many of the same guests were at both events, the men are convinced Strange’s death was also murder. Along with Egg, they begin an earnest investigation. In the third act of the book, Poirot reappears to join their detecting, admitting he was wrong not to pay more attention to Sir Charles’ initial concern that Reverend Babbington’s death was unnatural. Naturally, Poirot sees through the red herrings, although it takes time:
Hercule Poirot’s voice was dreamy. He seemed to be addressing himself to space rather than to his listeners:
“To reconstruct the crime – that is the aim of the detective. To reconstruct a crime, you must place one fact upon another just as you place one card on another in building a house of cards. And if the facts will not fit, if the card will not balance – well, you must start your house again, or else it will fall.”
Poirot appears to unravel the threads of this mystery and bring down the curtain. The Agatha Christie Companion reminds us that Christie loved the intricacies of poison, which is prominent in this book, as well as the theatre. However, the story is not as compelling as some of her other books, although it was the first of Christie’s books to sell 10,000 copies in its first year. I do like books with house parties but disaster strikes at this one just as the guests are arriving! For those keeping track at home, Mr. Satterthwaite also appears in Christie’s Harley Quin stories.