The third book published in the UK featuring Hercule Poirot was a selection off short stories featuring Poirot and Hastings. Now established as a consulting detective, Poirot must tackle such cases as disappearing jewels, murder disguised as suicide, a strange case of a surprisingly low rent, and eight other problems of theft, murder and missing wills.
Collections of short stories always present me with a problem, as my first issue is whether to review every story in the collection. There is an additional problem presented by this collection of stories in my chronological journey through Poirot’s adventures, my Poirot Countup, so to speak, as it ascertained me sorting out some rules regarding which order to do things in. That order is the UK publication order, by the way, and the contents of the UK collections. The US version of this title included three additional stories, The Chocolate Box, The Veiled Lady and The Lost Mine, but I’ll cover those when I get to their UK printings.
The issue is the chronology, as these were eleven out of twenty-four titles written for The Sketch by Christie, but they are not the first eleven, rather eleven chosen by her – well, eight by her and then three more added in. Also, they aren’t in order of printing either, they don’t include the first title and the stories are told out of order anyway. The Kidnapped Prime Minister (the eighth story to be published and coincidentally the eighth in this collection) refers to Hastings coming round to visit Poirot, whereas earlier stories have them sharing rooms. Also most of these seem to be set before The Murder On The Links, unless Hastings is such a randy old dog that he has to write about how attractive women are whenever he meets them, despite being at least engaged or possibly married! You see how complicated it gets?
So it’ll be order of UK publication in book form, so it’ll be a while before we get to The Affair Of The Victory Ball, published as part of the collection Poirot’s Early Cases in 1973 in the UK, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at these.
It’s a decent collection of mysteries, with a more than a strong vein of the Sherlock Holmes stories running through them, with Hastings acting as Watson. There are times when I am a tad baffled at why Hastings is actually friends with Poirot, given the number of times Poirot has a go at him for his lack of mental faculties. Roughly once per story, there is an exchange that goes something like:
“Do you understand, mon ami?”
“I think so, I think that…”
“Bah, you understand nothing, with you teeny English brain” – OK, I paraphrased that last bit, but in my mind, Poirot is channelling the French Knights from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The quality of the mysteries is pretty good, with only The Case Of The Missing Will being sub-par. One or two of the bits of clueing are dubious – the open curtain in “The Adventure Of The Italian Nobleman” for example seems to be the thing that shows Poirot the truth of the matter, but the rationale is weak. Regardless, unlike the Holmes stories, these are intended to be solvable by the reader with the clues (well, usually the clue) presented for the reader to completely miss.
There are a few problems – The Kidnapped Prime Minister just beggars belief, to be honest, it’s very atypical for Christie (but it is fun), you have to wonder how the cause of death in The Tragedy of Marsden Manor was missed by the victim’s doctor and The Adventure Of The Egyptian Tomb seems like a novel condensed into a short story (and is probably the most unbelievable of the eleven tales) – but overall, if you don’t think too carefully about them, you should enjoy these tales.
I’d read some of these before, but not all of them, and it was a delight to read “new” Poirot. Next up is The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd. You may have heard of that one.
Ranking Poirot (so far):
- The Mysterious Affair At Styles
- The Murder On The Links
- Poirot Investigates
Fun as these were, they’re not a patch on the two novels so far.
Is it just me or is the Curious Will just a rerun of the Edgar Allan Poe story The Purloined Letter? They both hinge on the same ***SPOILER ALERT***
“hidden in plain sight” idea, except that Christie adds a lot of extra business to it around invisible ink, concealed safes, etc. So that where Poe’s story hinges on more of a psychological point, Christie’s has more to do with elaborate misdirection.
I liked the story at any rate if only for its moral of “the truly intelligent person consults the expert”. It’s a neat riposte to the vain and silly notion that a clever person doesn’t need or heed counsel. I think that’s a lesson that’s relevant today, what with the current political turmoil around people who don’t listen, but blunder heedlessly ahead.
When I was reading AC I was always a bit disappointed to find the book was a story collection. It’s not an aversion to stories though. Maupassant may be my favorite writer, and I love Hammett, Doyle, Chesterton. But not Christie’s long suit.