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Authors: Agatha Christie

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Brilliantly intersplicing the past and the present, memory and reality, the search for truth and ongoing attempts to thwart it,
Five Little Pigs
has no antecedent. Almost a decade before Akira Kurosawa’s famous film introduced the term “Rashomon effect” into the vernacular, Agatha Christie invited her readers to view a crime from multiple perspectives and to consider the vagaries of such an exercise.
Fortunately, however, the great Belgian detective does not deal in vagaries—Hercule Poirot is in the business of precision, and he will reveal the identity of the true killer.

  • Observer
    : ‘Mrs Christie as usual puts a ring through the reader’s nose and leads him to one of her smashing last-minute showdowns.’
  • Times Literary Supplement
    : ‘The answer to the riddle is brilliant.’
25.
The Hollow
(1946)

A murder tableau staged for Poirot’s ‘amusement’ goes horribly wrong at The Hollow, the estate of Lady Lucy Angkatell, who has invited the great detective as her guest of honour. Dr John Christow was to have been ‘shot’ by his wife, Gerda, to ‘expire’ in a pool of blood-red paint. But when the shot is fired, it is deadly, and Dr. Christow’s last gasp is of a name other than his wife’s: ‘Henrietta.’ What was to have been a pleasant country weekend becomes instead one of Poirot’s most baffling cases, with the revelation of a complex web of romantic attachments among the denizens of The Hollow.

Of note: The phenomenon of
The Mousetrap
tends to distract from Agatha Christie’s other stage successes. An adaptation of
The Hollow
was one such triumph, premiering in Cambridge in 1951 and subsequently playing for over a year in the West End. Poirot, however, is not a character in the stage version—the diminutive Belgian with the oversized personality was replaced by a perfectly neutral Scotland Yard
inspector. In her
Autobiography
, Mrs Christie notes that she wishes she had made a similar swap in the novel—so rich are the characters in
The Hollow
—but Poirot fans then (
The Hollow
was a tremendous bestseller) and today would have it no other way.

  • San Francisco Chronicle
    (of the novel): ‘A grade-A plot—the best Christie in years.’
26.
The Labours of Hercules
(1967)

Dr Burton, Fellow of All Souls, sipping Poirot’s Chateau Mouton Rothschild, offers up a rather unkind remark about his host that sets in motion Hercule Poirot’s obsessive, self-imposed contest against his classical namesake: Poirot will accept twelve labours—twelve fiendishly complex cases—and then, at long last, genuinely unshoulder the burdens of the hero: he
will
retire, and leave the ridding of society’s monsters, the sweeping of its criminal stables, to others. The cases that Poirot engages are every bit as taxing of his mighty brain as were the famous labours imposed by Eurystheus, King of Tiryns, on the Greek demi-god’s brawn, and they make for one of the most fascinating books in the Christie canon. (Poirot solves them all but, of course, retirement remains as elusive as ever.)

  • Sunday Express
    : ‘Twelve little masterpieces of detection. Poirot and Agatha Christie at their inimitable best.’
  • Margery Allingham: ‘I have often thought that Mrs Christie was not so much
    the best
    as
    the only
    living writer of the true classic detective story.’
  • San Francisco Chronicle
    : ‘A finely shaped book, richly devious and quite brilliant.’
27.
Taken at the Flood
(1948)

A few weeks after marrying an attractive young widow, Rosaleen Underhay, Gordon Cloade dies in the Blitz—leaving Rosaleen in sole possession of the Cloade family fortune. ‘Ill will’ is in the air, generally, with the close of the war, and it positively contaminates the Cloade household. Now that contamination threatens Poirot—in the form of a visit from the dead man’s sister-in-law. ‘Guided’ to Poirot ‘by those beyond the veil,’ she insists that Rosaleen is not a widow at all. Though he is no subscriber to the supernatural, Poirot has indeed heard of the somewhat notorious Rosaleen, and he is drawn, seemingly inevitably, to the case when he reads of the death of one Enoch Arden—who had appeared mysteriously in the village of Warmsley Vale, not far from the Cloade family seat. Poirot must investigate—but does he go to Warmsley Vale to bring Rosaleen to justice, or to spare her being dispatched prematurely to ‘the other side’?

Of note:
Taken at the Flood
marks the debut of Superintendent Spence, a Poirot sidekick who will feature in three more Poirot novels.

  • Elizabeth Bowen,
    The Tatler
    : ‘One of the best…Her gift for blending the cosy with the macabre has seldom been more in evidence than it is here.’
  • Manchester Evening News
    : ‘Told briskly, vivaciously, and with ever-fertile imagination.’
  • New York Herald Tribune
    : ‘Don’t miss it.’
28.
Mrs McGinty’s Dead
(1952)

‘Mrs McGinty’s dead!’ / ‘How did she die?’ / ‘Down on one knee, just like I!’
So goes the old children’s rhyme. A crushing blow to the back of the head kills a real-life Mrs McGinty in her cottage in the village of Broadhinny—Superintendent Spence’s jurisdiction. Then the killer tore up the floorboards in search of…what? Justice presumes a pittance of cash; and justice has condemned James Bentley, her loathsome lodger, to hang for the crime. But Superintendent Spence is not satisfied with the verdict, and appeals to Poirot to investigate—and save the life of the wretch Bentley.

Of note: Crime novelist Ariadne Oliver, of
Cards on the Table
, returns to help Poirot and Spence solve the crime.

  • Sunday Times
    : ‘So simple, so economical, so completely baffling. Each clue scrupulously given, with superb sleight of hand.’
  • San Francisco Chronicle
    : ‘The plot is perfect and the characters are wonderful.’
  • The New York Times
    : ‘The best Poirot since…
    Cards on the Table
    .’
29.
After the Funeral
(1953)

Mrs Cora Lansquenet admits to ‘always saying the wrong thing’—but this last remark has gotten her a hatchet in the head. ‘He
was
murdered, wasn’t he?’ she had said after the funeral of her brother, Richard Abernethie, in the presence of the family solicitor, Mr Entwhistle, and the assembled Abernethies, who are anxious to know how Richard’s sizable fortune will be distributed. Entwhistle, desperate not to lose any more clients to murder, turns to Hercule Poirot for help. A killer complicates an already
very
complicated family—classic Christie; pure Poirot.

  • Liverpool Post
    : ‘Keeps us guessing—and guessing wrongly—to the very last page.’
30.
Hickory Dickory Dock
(1955)

An outbreak of kleptomania at a student hostel is not normally the sort of crime that arouses Hercule Poirot’s interest. But when it affects the work of his secretary, Miss Lemon, whose sister works at the hostel, he agrees to look into the matter. The matter becomes a bona fide mystery when Poirot peruses the bizarre list of stolen and vandalized items—including a stethoscope, some old flannel trousers, a box of chocolates, a slashed rucksack, and a diamond ring found in a bowl of a soup. ‘A unique and beautiful problem,’ the great detective declares. Unfortunately, this ‘beautiful problem’ is not just one of thievery and mischief—for there is a killer on the loose.

  • Times Literary Supplement
    : ‘An event…There is plenty of entertainment.’
  • The New York Times
    : ‘The Christie fan of longest standing, who thinks he knows every one of her tricks, will still be surprised by…the twists here.’
31.
Dead Man’s Folly
(1956)

Sir George and Lady Stubbs desire to host a village fete with a difference—a mock murder mystery. In good faith, Ariadne Oliver, the much-lauded crime novelist, agrees to organise the proceedings. As the event draws near, however, Ariadne senses that something sinister is about to happen—and calls upon her old friend Hercule Poirot to come down to Dartmoor for the festivities. Ariadne’s instincts, alas, are right on the money, and soon enough Poirot has a real murder to investigate.

  • The New York Times
    : ‘The infallibly original Agatha Christie has come up, once again, with a new and highly ingenious puzzle-construction.’
  • Times Literary Supplement
    : ‘The solution is of the colossal ingenuity we have been conditioned to expect.’
32.
Cat Among the Pigeons
(1959)

A revolution in the Middle East has a direct and deadly impact upon the summer term at Meadowbank, a picture-perfect girls’ school in the English countryside. Prince Ali Yusuf, Hereditary Sheikh of Ramat, whose great liberalizing
experiment—‘hospitals, schools, a Health Service’—is coming to chaos, knows that he must prepare for the day of his exile. He asks his pilot and school friend, Bob Rawlinson, to care for a packet of jewels. Rawlinson does so, hiding them among the possessions of his niece, Jennifer Sutcliffe, who is bound for Meadowbank. Rawlinson is killed before he can reveal the hiding place—or even the fact that he has employed his niece as a smuggler. But someone knows, or suspects, that Jennifer has the jewels. As murder strikes Meadowbank, only Hercule Poirot can restore the peace.

Of note: In this novel we meet Colonel Pikeaway, later to appear in the non-Poirots
Passenger to Frankfurt
and
Postern of Fate
, and we meet the financier Mr Robinson, who will also appear in
Postern of Fate
and who will show up at Miss Marple’s
Bertram’s Hotel
.

  • Daily Express
    , of
    Cat Among the Pigeons
    : ‘Immensely enjoyable.’
  • The New York Times
    : ‘To read Agatha Christie at her best is to experience the rarefied pleasure of watching a faultless technician at work, and she is in top form in
    Cat Among the Pigeons
    .’
33.
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
(1960)

‘This book of Christmas fare may be described as “The Chef’s Selection.” I am the Chef!’ Agatha Christie writes in her Foreword, in which she also recalls the delightful Christmases of her youth at Abney Hall in the north of England. But while the author’s Christmases were uninterrupted
by murder, her famous detective’s are not (see also
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
). In the title novella, Poirot—who has been coerced into attending ‘an old-fashioned Christmas in the English countryside’—gets all the trimmings, certainly, but he also gets a woman’s corpse in the snow, a Kurdish knife spreading a crimson stain across her white fur wrap.

Collected within:
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
(novella); ‘The Mystery of the Spanish Chest’;
The Under Dog
(novella); ‘Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds’; ‘The Dream’; and a Miss Marple mystery, ‘Greenshaw’s Folly.’

  • Times Literary Supplement
    : ‘There is the irresistible simplicity and buoyancy of a Christmas treat about it all.’
34.
The Clocks
(1963)

Sheila Webb, typist-for-hire, has arrived at 19 Wilbraham Crescent in the seaside town of Crowdean to accept a new job. What she finds is a well-dressed corpse surrounded by five clocks. Mrs Pebmarsh, the blind owner of No. 19, denies all knowledge of ringing Sheila’s secretarial agency and asking for her by name—yet someone did. Nor does she own that many clocks. And neither woman seems to know the victim. Colin Lamb, a young intelligence specialist working a case of his own at the nearby naval yard, happens to be on the scene at the time of Sheila Webb’s ghastly discovery. Lamb knows of only one man who can properly investigate a crime as bizarre and baffling as what happened inside No. 19—his friend and mentor, Hercule Poirot.

  • The New York Times
    : ‘Here is the grand-manner detective story in all its glory.’
  • The Bookman
    : ‘Superlative Christie…extremely ingenious.’
  • Saturday Review
    : ‘A sure-fire attention-gripper—naturally.’
35.
Third Girl
(1966)

Hercule Poirot is interrupted at breakfast by a young woman who wishes to consult with the great detective about a murder she ‘might have’ committed—but upon being introduced to Poirot, the girl flees. And disappears. She has shared a flat with two seemingly ordinary young women. As Hercule Poirot—with the aid of the crime novelist Mrs Ariadne Oliver—learns more about this mysterious ‘third girl,’ he hears rumours of revolvers, flick-knives, and blood-stains. Even if a murder might not have been committed, something is seriously wrong, and it will take all of Poirot’s wits and tenacity to establish whether the ‘third girl’ is guilty, innocent, or insane.

  • Sunday Telegraph
    : ‘First-class Christie.’
  • Financial Times
    : ‘Mesmerising ingenuity.’
36.
Hallowe’en Party
(1969)

Mystery writer Ariadne Oliver has been invited to a Hallowe’en party at Woodleigh Common. One of the other guests is an adolescent girl known for telling tall tales of
murder and intrigue—and for being generally unpleasant. But when the girl, Joyce, is found drowned in an apple-bob-bing tub, Mrs Oliver wonders after the fictional nature of the girl’s claim that she had once witnessed a murder. Which of the party guests wanted to keep her quiet is a question for Ariadne’s friend Hercule Poirot. But unmasking a killer this Hallowe’en is not going to be easy—for there isn’t a soul in Woodleigh who believes the late little storyteller was actually murdered.

BOOK: Peril at End House
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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