Nick Buckley is living a charmed life. Two accidents have nearly claimed her life but the third close shave was no accident – someone shot a bullet at her. It would seem to be incredibly poor timing on the part of the would-be killer though, as they take their shot while Nick is talking to Captain Arthur Hastings and M. Hercule Poirot.
Poirot, though retired, becomes determined to save Nick from her unknown assailant, but it would seem things are far from simple at End House. With plots abounding, it is not long before Poirot fails in his task and a woman lies dead. Can Poirot banish his failure from his mind and unmask a murderer? Yes, of course he can, he’s Poirot…
So, yes, two Poirot novels in a row. Blame the utter rubbish that was Black Coffee, but I wanted to get back to proper Poirot and this one, always a favourite of mine, seemed ideal. Why is it a favourite? Because it was one of my first Christie novels and I solved it – even the motive – at the age of… let’s say 13 or 14. And it made me feel smart.
This is Christie’s first Poirot novel for four years – in the interim, she wrote three novels – The Seven Dials Mystery, Miss Marple’s debut, The Murder At The Vicarage, and the standalone The Sittaford Mystery. This begins a run of fourteen novels of which only two – Unfinished Portrait and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? – don’t feature Poirot. No wonder she tired of the little man after a bit…
Looking at it now, especially with familiarity of Christie’s tricks, it all seems a bit obvious and Poirot comes across as being a bit of a chump for taking so long to solve the thing. The motives for the non-killers mostly seem pretty weak, with the exception of the ones who are actually up to something, but that does come somewhat out of nowhere. Similarly, the other fake ending – where the hell did that come from? The murderer is the only satisfying choice of villain in the tale, but as I said, for the story to work, it does need to diminish Poirot as the great detective that we know he is.
“My dear Poirot”, I cried angrily, “You are perfectly absurd. A man who has knocked about the world like I have –“ “Never learns,” said Poirot sadly. “It is amazing – but there it is.”
We’ve a few more instances where we wonder why on earth Hastings has bothered coming back from Argentina. Is his wife horrible to him? She can’t be any worse that Poirot, who can’t resist any opportunity to undermine his friend. Maybe Hastings’ ranch is failing badly and he needs the money from the memoirs of Poirot’s cases to make things work. Poirot even mentions “his books” when he learns that someone hasn’t heard of him.
What else do we have?
- Some casual anti-semitism – “He’s a Jew of course, but a frightfully decent one.” – along with a reference to the character, an art dealer, having a big nose. And, given his overall arc, very fond of money too. So well done, Dame Agatha, on that one…
- Poirot is still retired here, passing up a job from the government before racing to Nick’s rescue, although he seems to have given up growing marrows.
- A rather interesting fact about local papers – did they really run news stories about who is staying at the local hotels this week? And would anyone really care about Hastings being there?
- Poirot also seems, for all his belief in logic and order, to believe in phrenology. “He is clever, that one. Note the shape of his head”!
- Poirot also claims never to wear disguises, so he’s clearly forgotten about The Big Four, but let’s face it, you would, wouldn’t you?
- Poirot’s still tidying shelves and making card pyramids to help him concentrate. I’ll be honest, I never noticed this as a constant when I first read these, but now I’m looking out for it, I can see it happens far more than I remembered.
- Poirot decides that he knows the best way to dispense justice at the end, something the killer really didn’t deserve. Their plan here is really rather horrible, so the notion of giving them an easy way out didn’t sit well with me.
All in all, while this is a good, solid Poirot, it doesn’t stand up as well as others to re-reading, although this is probably the fourth time that I’ve read it. At least…
As to where to place it… I think, again when I re-read it, I preferred The Mysterious Affair At Styles. Peril At End House is better than most of the early ones though.