Cards on the Table

Title: Cards on the Table
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 213
Reading Level: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

The little Belgian with the mustachios returns.

The Story.

An interesting man, Monsieur Shaitana. A man most enamored of himself – a man who derives an obsessive delight from his bizarre collections. He is an eccentric – not a benevolent one, but a dangerous one. A scheming one…

His newest collection, he informs Monsieur Poirot, is a collection of murderers. He now has four of them who frequent his home for parties and dinners. They are not professing murderers, no, no nothing so obvious as that. But he, Shaitana, great perceiver of the sins of others, he can tell. And he has an idea for a little game.

He invites Monsieur Poirot and three other detective friends – Ariadne Oliver, Colonel Race, and Superintendent Battle – to join him for a dinner. His four murderers – Dr. Roberts, Mrs. Larrimer, Major Despard, and Miss Meredith – will be there as well. Together they can enjoy an exciting evening together.

All eight guests duly arrive at Shaitana’s mansion. As they visit over dinner, it is hard to imagine that half of the guests are murderers. But it is not until the guests are divided to play bridge that the real adventure of the night begins. Because when the games are over, Monsieur Shaitana is found – murdered.

All of Shaitana’s pet murderers – and no one else – were present in the room from the moment that Shaitana seated himself near the fire to the time that his corpse was discovered. But which of these murderers has returned to the game of murder?

Discussion.        

As Christie herself says in the Foreword to Cards on the Table, it is easy to approach a mystery novel from the perspective that the ‘least likely’ person to have committed the murder is probably the murderer. I admit to having operated that way myself – Who is the author trying to keep in the background of this scene? Who hasn’t been mentioned in a while? So-and-so hasn’t appeared for several scenes. I bet SHE’S the murderer!

But Cards on the Table rebelled against such a simplistic reading. It is a story which boasts four suspects – suspects who have each murdered before, who each had opportunity to commit the murder, and who each had a desperate motive for killing the victim. The solution of this case lies, not in the discovery of clues, but in the background and psychology of each of the suspects. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so uncertain when trying to pin down the murderer. But Poirot managed to. Magnificent little man!

I really enjoyed meeting Mrs. Oliver. She’s hilarious. She is reputed to be a tongue-in-cheek portrait of Christie herself, and I can easily believe it. I have included a quote from Mrs. Oliver later in my review, which I am sure is straight from the heart from Christie. Now, Mrs. Oliver is an interesting character. She is reputed to be a “hot-headed” feminist, and she does occasionally vociferate upon the superiorities of women. But her character – a combination of down-to-earth bluntness and dunder-headed oblivion – almost mocked at her position. While she occasionally blunders upon an important piece of evidence or a freakishly accurate character assessment, she usually is far wide on her predictions.

The question of justifiable murder pops up several times in this story. Mr. Shaitana, the early victim of the story, calls murder “an art” and says that he believes that a “really successful murderer” should be celebrated. Monsieur Poirot, although agreeing that there are some people who deserve to be murdered, nevertheless, disapproves of all murder because of the effect that it has on the murderer. He believes that it is dangerous for a man to “exercise the right of private judgment” in the punishment of a crime because then one has “usurped the functions of le bon Dieu.” [pg. 134]

Quotes.

What I love about Poirot is that although he is a proud little man of great brain, he behaves and speaks exactly like a child on some occasions.

“We all make mistakes, Monsieur Poirot.”

“Some of us,” said Poirot with a certain coldness possibly due to the pronoun the other had used, “make less than others.”

Despard looked at him, smiled slightly and said:

“Don’t you ever have a failure, Monsieur Poirot?”

“The last time was twenty-eight years ago,” said Poirot with dignity. “And even then, there were circumstances – but no matter.” [pg. 106]

: ) Quite. Others are less impressed with Poirot’s skills. This after Poirot summons Anne to an interview.

“I don’t see why he wants to see me.” Anne was obstinate.

“To put one over on the official police, of course,” said Rhoda impatiently. “They make out that Scotland Yard are all boots and brainlessness.”

“Do you think this man Poirot is clever?”

“He doesn’t look a Sherlock,” said Rhoda. “I expect he has been quite good in his day. He’s gaga now, of course. He must be at least sixty. [pg. 160]

When Superintendent Battle points out a few inaccuracies in Mrs. Oliver’s latest novel, Mrs. Oliver responds thus.

“As a matter of fact I don’t care two pins about accuracy. Who is accurate? Nobody nowadays. If a reporter writes that a beautiful girl of twenty-two dies by turning on the gas after looking out over the sea and kissing her favourite Labrador, Bob, goodbye, does anybody make a fuss because the girl was twenty-six, the room faced inland, and the dog was a Sealyham terrier called Bonnie? If a journalist can do that sort of thing I don’t see that it matters if I mix up police ranks and say a revolver when I mean an automatic and a dictograph when I mean a phonograph, and use a poison that just allows you to gasp one dying sentence and no more. What really matters is plenty of bodies! If the thing’s getting a little dull, some more blood cheers it up. Somebody is going to tell something – and then they’re killed first! That always goes down well. It comes in all my books – camouflaged different ways of course. And people like untraceable poisons, and idiotic police inspectors and girls tied up in cellars with sewer gas or water pouring in (such a troublesome way of killing anyone really) and a hero who can dispose of anything from three to seven villains singlehanded. I’ve written thirty-two books by now – and of course they’re all exactly the same really, as Monsieur Poirot seems to have noticed – but nobody else has; and I only regret one thing, making my detective a Finn. I don’t really know anything about Finns and I’m always getting letters from Finland pointing out something impossible that he’s said or done. They seem to read detective stories a good deal in Finland. I suppose it’s the long winters with no daylight. In Bulgaria and Roumania they don’t seem to read at all. I’d have done better to have made him a Bulgar.” [pg. 55-56]

Cautions.

Mild innuendo – several of the previous murders committed by the suspects were related to romantic situations, but nothing along those lines happens within the story.

‘Damn’ is used seven times, ‘hell’ twice. Several versions of God’s name are used a total of four times.

Conclusion. Fun, fun, fun, and (I thought) cleaner than most of Christie’s stories.

Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

Title: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 238
Recommended Ages: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

Monsieur Poirot has already retired, but perhaps he can be tempted out of his solitude…

The Story.

Superintendent Spence has just popped round to Poirot’s apartment. He wishes to consult with Poirot on a matter – a matter of murder. Poirot is only too pleased to help.

See, there’s been a murder down in Broadhinny – a charwoman it was, knocked on the head by her lodger and her money stolen. Or at least, that’s what Spence thought when he first reviewed the case. But now, he’s not so sure…

Bentley, the lodger, just doesn’t seem the right type. All the evidence points to him, it is true, but he doesn’t have the right attitude, the right presence. Spence is being trundled off to Scotland and can no longer investigate the case, but would M. Poirot mind…?

Poirot graciously accepts and begins poking around in Broadhinny without delay. The villagers there have accepted the official story and moved on – there is no suspicion in their mind who the murderer is! But Poirot drops hints – insinuations that the official story is not true and that he, Hercule Poirot, will catch the real murderer. He expected a reaction from at least one person. And he got it.

When a second murder shatters the calm of Broadhinny, even the dullest of citizens awake to the knowledge that there is a murderer in their midst. But which of them is it?

Discussion.

Just one Mrs. Oliver quote before we get on with the cautions. This when she is introducing Poirot to a friend of hers.

“That’s very nice of you,” said Mrs. Oliver, looking uncomfortable and twisting her hands in a schoolgirlish way. “Oh, this is M. Poirot, an old friend of mine. We met by chance just outside here. Actually I hit him with an apple core. Like William Tell – only the other way about.” [pgs. 96-97]

: )

We learn of several romantic indiscretions – that is to say, affairs. They’re mostly mentioned, not really discussed. The term ‘sex appeal’ is used a couple of times, and one woman is described as being “sexy”.

Mrs. Oliver is working wth Robin Upward to write a play about her detective, Sven Hjerson. Robin insists on including a “sex antagonism” theme, much to Mrs. Oliver’s chagrin. They have a few conversations on the subject, arguing the pros and cons of such an inclusion.

A variety of beliefs are briefly mentioned including environmental determinism, Mrs. Oliver’s peculiar brand of feminism, and a belief in ghosts.

Poirot lies to ferret out information.

‘Damn’ is used ten times, ‘hell’ five, and ‘bitch’ once. Variations of God’s name are used a total of ten times.

Conclusion. Interesting, exciting, and more comedic than the typical Poirot case.

Elephants Can Remember

Title: Elephants Can Remember
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 160
Recommended Ages: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

It is the little man himself that returns in these pages. And what is this? Mrs. Oliver as well? C’est magnifique!

The Story.

It really is a nuisance the way these people just come up gushing about one’s books. It really makes a person feel uncomfortable. Just because she’s written gobs of books doesn’t make accepting compliments any easier for Mrs. Oliver. But it’s something that must be borne. And Mrs. Oliver was prepared for the gushing. But she was not prepared for what actually happened.

A Mrs. Burton-Cox approached her. Asked if she had a god-daughter named Celia Ravenscroft. Which, as it happened, she did. But then the woman asked the most amazing question. She asked, “Can you tell me if her father murdered her mother or if it was the other way around?”

Mrs. Oliver knew, of course, that the Ravencrofts had died in what was considered to be a double suicide. But what a thing to ask the first time you meet a person! Still, it’s got her thinking…

Will Monsier Poirot consent to aid Mrs. Oliver in her attempt to solve a mystery that has long been cold?

Discussion.

Alright. So, I hate to say it, but this one was easy. I was able to guess the correct solution to the mystery in the first third of the book and build my hypothesis from there with the obvious clues which were provided. Now, on one hand, I liked this. It was fun to be rightly interpreting the clues as they happen. Also, I sometimes feel that Christie’s clues are equivocal – they could go any way she chose to swing them – but such was not the case with Elephants Can Remember. They pointed in one direction and one direction only. So I liked the honesty of Elephants, but I disliked its simplicity. There was such scope for how it could have ended.

The story is named Elephants Can Remember to refer to the long standing memories of the witnesses Mrs. Oliver questions. But Elephants Can Remember has an entire theme of remembrance – various of Poirot’s earlier cases are mentioned and discussed. Because I had read a majority of these cases, I was able to enjoy the memories that were evoked in my own mind.

I loved Mrs. Oliver’s presence in the case. She’s such a hoot – her good natured, blunt eccentricities provide great humor to offset Poirot’s conflated opinion of himself. Here are a few quotes to round off this section.

“Yes, I shall be at home all this evening. Does that mean that I may have the pleasure of a visit from you?”

“It’s very nice of you to put it that way,” said Mrs. Oliver. “I don’t know that it will be such a pleasure.”

“It is always a pleasure to see you, chere Madame.”

“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Oliver. “I might be going to – well, bother you rather. Ask things. I want to know what you think about something.”

“That I am always ready to tell anyone,” said Poirot. [pg. 19]

This section reminded me of Dickens’ writing style.

“Mr. Goby came into the room and sat, as indicated by Poirot, in his usual chair. He glanced around him before choosing what particular piece of furniture or part of the room he was about to address. He settled, as often before, for the electric fire, not turned on at this time of year. Mr. Goby had never been known to address the human being he was working for directly. He selected always the cornice, a radiator, a television set, a clock, sometimes a carpet, or a mat.” [pg. 128]

This passage effectively demonstrates the vagueness with which we often communicate. It occurs when Mrs. Oliver is striking up a friendly conversation with Mrs. Carstairs, one of the elephants.

“She enquired after Mrs. Carstairs’s daughter and about the two grandchildren, and she asked about the other daughter, what she was doing. She appeared to be doing it in New Zealand. Mrs. Carstairs did not seem to know quite sure what it was. Some kind of social research.” [pg. 57]

Cautions.

Because there are no apparent reasons for the deaths of Major and Mrs. Ravenscroft, Poirot and Mrs. Oliver attempt to uncover any love affairs. Several possible romantic attractions are mentioned, but none actually occurred.

Illegitimacy and boyfriends are mentioned several times.

An insane woman’s actions are blamed entirely upon her genetic inheritance.

‘Nigger’, ‘darn’, and ‘dieu’ are each used once.

Conclusion. A fun story with lots of interaction between Poirot and Mrs. Oliver.