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Detective novel by Agatha Christie. It was the first novel she wrote and the one where that Belgian detective of hers was introduced. Or was he French? You know who I mean- that funny little man with the egg-shaped head and the ridiculous moustache. Written (and set) during World War One but first published in 1920.
The novel is narrated in first person by Lieteunant Hastings, who, returning invalided from World War I, is invited by his childhood friend John Cavendish to the family manor, Styles Court. On his arrival there, he meets John’s stepmother Emily, a generous but difficult woman who has recently married Alfred Inglethorp, a man much younger than her. Hastings also meets John’s beautiful but enigmatic wife, Mary Cavendish, his nervous brother, Lawrence Cavendish, the mysterious Doctor Bauerstein, Mrs Inglethorp's companion Evelyn Howard, and her young protégé Cynthia Murdoch.
Poirot is introduced as a retired Belgian detective and an old friend of Hastings’s. He is a war refugee staying at a village near Styles Court and meets Hastings coincidentally. When Mrs Inglethorp dies, displaying symptoms alarmingly like those of strychnine poisoning, Poirot is asked and agrees to investigate the case.
A review from the Pharmaceutical Journal, which applauded “this detective story for dealing with poisons in a knowledgeable way, and not with the nonsense about untraceable substances that so often happens” was Christie’s personal favorite.
The novel has been adapted by ITV as part of the Agatha Christie’s Poirot series starring David Suchet as Poirot, and by BBC Radio Four with John Moffat as Poirot.
Christie had dedicated the book to her mother.
All spoilers will be unconcealed. Beware.
This work of fiction contains examples of:
- Arch Enemy: Evelyn Howard and Alfrend Inglethorp pretend they are this to each other, when in fact they are kissing cousins and crime partners.
- Brutal Honesty: That seems to be a characteristic of Evie Howard. Until you realize that she’s been concealing the small detail of having committed a murder, that is.
- Clingy Jealous Girl: Mary Cavendish drugs her mother-in-law and Cynthia in order to get into said mother-in-law’s bedroom and steal a paper- because she suspects the paper contains proof of her husband's infidelity.
- Fair Play Whodunit: The reader has access to the same clues as Poirot.
- Framing the Guilty Party: Alfred Inglethorp sets out a bunch of false clues incriminating himself in the hopes that he will be arrested and tried, at which point he can easily refute the false evidence. Once acquitted, he will then be unable to be tried again due to double jeopardy, even if proof of his guilt turns up later. Poirot foils this plan by refusing to allow Inglethorp's arrest until he has true evidence of his guilt.
- Kissing Cousins: Alfred Inglethorp and Evie Howard.
- Last-Minute Hookup: Cynthia and Lawrence.
- Obviously Evil: Alfred Inglethorp is seen as this. Of course, to the Genre Savvy reader that's a clue that he could not possibly have done it, then he displays evidence that he didn't do it, and then the even savvier Poirot finds out that he did it after all.
- Perfect Poison: Subverted.
- Red Herring: Lots.
- Shown Their Work: Christie worked in a dispensary during World War I, and here she shows off her knowledge of poisons.
- Summation Gathering
- Terse Talker: Evie Howard.
Her conversation, I soon found, was couched in the telegraphic style.
- The Watson: Hastings.
- Wham! Line: "My dearest Evelyn,"
- Your Cheating Heart: To be fair to Mary, John was having an affair. (In the adaptation, this was changed to a misunderstanding: he was visiting the other woman to give her a loan.)