“For God’s sake, come!”
So ended the message from the French businessman Renaud, imploring Hercule Poirot to rush to France to Hastings in tow, only to arrive too late – Renaud lies dead with a dagger in his back, face down in a shallow grave dug on a golf course. Two masked figures tied up his wife and disappeared him in the night with him – and of them, there is no trace.
Poirot finds his investigations by a couple of problems. The French detective Giraud is determined that he is right and that Poirot is past his best (hmm, wonder how that bit is going to play out) and worse, Hastings has fallen in love with a woman he bumped into on a train. Luckily, she doesn’t have anything to do with the murder – does she?
The second Hercule Poirot mystery, and we find that having reacquainted themselves at Styles, Hastings and Poirot have moved in together. A question – is this gap filled in the short stories? I know there is a time jump of a few years, with Styles being set during the first World War whereas here, travel to France is as easy as tarte, but it seems that the reader is just to accept the new status quo – Poirot and Hastings share rooms and Hastings follows Poirot around whenever he can. He has a job, which I don’t recall noticing before, as a “sort of private secretary to an MP” although that seems to be intermittent work given he can gad off to France at a moment’s notice.
And he’s in love again. Thank goodness this is the last we see of it, as Hastings seems to have a habit of falling in love at the drop of a hat with anyone of the female persuasion. I’m glad it all comes to an end here, so to speak, as otherwise the next book would involve Poirot throwing a bucket of cold water over him as he attempts to hump a lamp-post. I know Golden Age detective fiction isn’t the place to go to read about realistic romances of the time, and this is a step up from stalking his host’s wife in The Mysterious Affair At Styles, but it’s not at all convincing.
Back to Poirot and his moustache is still described as “military” – Kenneth Branagh take note – and he’s exactly the same character as in the first book, although this time he does seem to keep some things to himself, rather than sharing them with Hastings, simply because Hastings has annoyed him. The nervous tidying from Styles isn’t present – to respond to a comment, yes, I know Poirot likes things perfect, but he’s not Adrian Monk, interfering with a crime scene to provide perfection. In Styles, it’s done for a plot reason, but that isn’t necessary here, so while he still wants order, he’s not OCD about it.
The Murder On The Links (or Murder On The Links as some covers seem to refer to it) is probably trying to be cleverer than it actually is. There is a great clue-in-plain-sight early on, but the mystery comes in two stages and the first part of the solution is much cleverer than the second part. The “what is going on” part has a nice scheme behind it, despite the back-story to it having one whopping coincidence. One coincidence is fine, but there are too many coincidences knocking around here, such as Hastings’ Cinderella having (hardly a spoiler) a connection to the crime, the rationale for a misunderstanding and the aforementioned one that kicks the whole thing off. And on top of that, the motive for the murderer just seemed weak – really weak. Given the schemes that are going on, murder would seem to be totally unnecessary.
Motives and coincidences aside, this is still done very well, with and interesting (and busier than usual for Poirot) plot and at least one clear clue, although I think this is a book that could be used by the prosecution in the “Christie writes paper thin characters” as thinking back, only Poirot and Hastings (and possibly Giraud) are memorable, with the latter two being memorable for probably the wrong reasons.
And purely out of nothing, but the title is a bit odd. Yes, the body is found on a golf course, but it’s hardly an important element to the plot…
Ranking Poirot (so far):*
- The Mysterious Affair At Styles
- The Murder On The Links
There’s not a lot between them, but the coincidences in this one knock it down a bit.
Next up – well, I’m doing it in order of publication, so it’s the short story collection Poirot Investigates. Maybe I’ll find out how they ended up living together…