Carlotta Adams dazzled everyone by her ability to mimic the great and the good – and the less so great and less so good. Amongst the audience one evening were both Hercule Poirot and the American actress Jane Wilkinson aka Lady Edgware, a woman in desperate need of a divorce from her husband. Poirot is persuaded to speak to her husband on her behalf, only to find, oddly enough, that there is apparently no barrier to the divorce being granted.
Odder still, when Jane Wilkinson is apparently seen walking into Lord Edgware’s house and committing the murder. Poirot quickly realises that Carlotta Adams may well be involved, as Jane has an airtight alibi – but alas he is too late, as she lies dead from an overdose of veronal. Poirot senses a clever hand behind the deaths, and is unwilling to accept the truth that seems to be presented to him. But can he find the truth of the matter?
The seventh Poirot novel and this one is an odd one. To start with, it shares a lot in common with its immediate predecessor, Peril At End House – perhaps too much, in fact. I can’t say too much about that thought without lapsing into spoilers, but the notion of Poirot being lured out of retirement by a pretty woman twice in two cases is odd.
And retirement? Now there’s a question. Is Poirot retired at this point? He certainly was in Peril At End House, but here there’s no mention of it here, apart from one character referring to him as an ex-sleuth hound. Is he back at work? He offers no resistance to helping out Jane, but on the other hand, she isn’t asking him to do any detecting.
And Hastings? Why is he in the country this time? There’s no reason for his visit – he does mention at the end that he is called back to Argentina, but why does he seem to leave his wife to run the cattle ranch and keep swanning back to London? Apparently months have passed since he and Poirot last saw Inspector Japp – another indication I suppose that Poirot is still retired – but Japp never seems surprised that Hastings is in town. Until the moment he is summoned back (and therefore doesn’t need to write about the trial) I was positing a theory that this was actually set (and indeed written) some time before Peril At End House.
Worth noting too that there are a couple of dated references, one to Carlotta being Jewish and one referring to Chinese people as “ch**ks”. The second one has been amended to remove the word in later editions, but the reference to Carlotta is more ingrained in the text. It oddly starts being praiseworthy of the Jewish people, only to end with a comment that despite all their strengths, they’ll still do anything for money. Oh dear…
Anyway, what about the mystery? It’s actually pretty good, although the central misdirection really shouldn’t have fooled Poirot for very long. He claims this as one of his failures due to a random comment pointing him in the right direction, and he’s got a point. Most people spot the truth of this one, don’t they? Having said that, it improves on End House by having a much more viable set of suspects. There are a number of characters here who I felt could have been the murderer, whereas there was a certain inevitability in the earlier book – the suspects never felt important or credible enough to me in Peril At End House.
All in all, the main let-down here is that the twist really shouldn’t have fooled Poirot for so long – the fact that Poirot never seems to consider it does make him look pretty daft. No wonder he considers it a failure.
Overall, I think this is a strong mystery, especially for people who haven’t read that many Christie novels. The parallels with Peril At End House is odd, given how close together they were written, but this is still one of the good ones (which is most of them, isn’t it?).
One odd point – why does that cover have a gun on it? Because Edgware is stabbed…
I think this is one of the more difficult ones to place. It’s either just above or just below Peril At End House… I think, because this one is just so damn guessable, it takes fourth spot.
Ranking Poirot (So Far)