One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie

Even great detectives need healthy teeth, and when Hercule Poirot visits the dentist, thankfully hilarity doesn’t ensue – bet it did on the television adaptation – and after “just” a couple of fillings, he is on his merry way, glad that he doesn’t have to go back for another six months. Needless to say, he’s back later that day as his dentist, Morley, has apparently shot himself. Let’s face it, from that cover picture, he doesn’t look like the model of mental stability – and yes, I know what pedants might say…

While Japp tries to establish a motive for the suicide and Poirot scents murder, it transpires that apparently Morley accidentally gave a fatal overdose to his last patient that day and shot himself out of guilt. Yeah, right. Poirot sets out to find a murderer, but when Japp is pulled off the case, Poirot finds himself on his own.

Continuing my habit of looking at hard-to-find authors – Brian Flynn, John Rhode, etc, I’ve come across this one – any heard of Agatha Christie? Just kidding. It’s been over six months since Dame Agatha cropped up on the blog with the rather woeful Elephants Can Remember, so I thought it was time to take a look at her again. My first plan was to look at After The Funeral, but that was just done over at The Reader Is Warned. Then I thought Three Act Tragedy, but discovered that there are different UK and US versions and now want to get my hands on both so I can compare them. Then I remembered this one, as it fits nicely as a counterpoint to my “Do Mention The War” theme – it was published in November 1940, but has no overt wartime shenanigans. So I thought I’d give it a go.

First off, there isn’t a mention of the war. I wonder – how far in advance of publication did Christie write this? I don’t have my copy of her notebooks to hand but Christie does take a stab at reflecting the political climate of the time – well, there’s a fascist (referred to as an “Imperial Shirt”) and a communist amongst the suspects, anyway – and one of the central characters is presented as vital to the future stability of the UK economy for conveniently vague reasons. There’s no mention of the unrest in Europe, at least not that I noted, which makes it odd that Christie is attempting to make it current while ignoring the rather important events that were happening when she was writing it. There is a mention (sorry, the bookmark fell out) of an immigrant Jewess, but it’s only in passing.

So, putting all that aside, is it any good? Plot-wise, I’d say yes. I could remember part of the solution – the mechanics of it – but was still a bit unsure about the killer, and while it is fairly guessable, it’s not obvious. The book trundles along nicely enough – it’s hardly Christie’s most sparkling book, but it’s still head and shoulders over a lot of her contemporaries – and there’s some effective work done in the finale, which I won’t go into for obvious reasons.

Oh, and Poirot?

“They were chic, these little London girls. They wore their tawdry clothes with an air.”

Get your mind out of the gutter – although at least he’s not banging on about women’s bottoms like in Dead Man’s Folly

So, not the best and certainly not the worst, but the politics are rather unsubtle. Oh, and the attempts to tie it around the poem that shares the title? The less said about that the better. Still, it’s Well Worth A Look.

15 comments

  1. I kind of think the American title, An Overdose of Death, fits the bill much better. I’m as puzzled as you as to why Christie gave real life such a wide berth here, PD, because I think the finale would have had a greater impact if she had done so.

    The 40’s might be my favorite Christie decade, and this title does not support the argument why!

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  2. For some reason I found the TV adaptation of this story to be somewhat creepy. But it might be just my age when I first watched it. I found the moral dilemma at the end quite interesting though.

    I thought you were going to review a modern/debut mystery novel by Christopher Hwang – is that still in the pipeline?

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  3. “there isn’t a mention of the war.”
    Well, atleast there is a mewntion of “the Hitlers and the Mussolinis” jn the final section of chapter 1 !

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  4. It is the next sentence after “Rinse, please” sentence.
    “It,s the answer, you know, to their Hitlers and Mussolinis……”

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  5. I like this one – there’s a lot of humour in it. Miss Sainsbury-Seale is unconsciously funny, Mr Riley the Irish dentist has a few quips. And Poirot’s dentist ordeal IS hilarious. Sitting in the waiting room thinking that all the other patients are hideous and vile, trying to say “I’m a Belgian!” with a mouthful of cotton wool. I find the plot quite hard to follow. It uses Christie’s favourite theme of people who aren’t what they seem. Yes, somebody does say that Mr Blount’s first wife was a “famous Jewess”. The TV version was good, I remember, with Peter Blythe as Blount and an efficient Tamara de Lempicka pastiche portrait of him. Wonder if he kept it?

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  6. ““They were chic, these little London girls. They wore their tawdry clothes with an air.”
    You have omitted what Poirot next says about them !
    Poirot compares them unfavourably with the Russian countess Vera Rossakoff whom he met in The Big Four !

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  7. @Brad, well, “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” is a way better title –though loosely based on the nursery rhyme — then the other alternative title “The Patriotic Murders”. But “An Overdose of Death” is a much better title out of the two and fits the story better. Could the story have fared better without the nursery rhyme? Probably so, but it just adds to Christie’s humor mixing such a fun, nursery rhyme with murder. I do like how the nursery rhyme was used in the David Suchet adaptation, though.

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