LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
She came to the head of the stairs, stretched out one hand to the banister rail and then, unaccountably, she stumbled, tried to recover her balance, failed and went headlong down the stairs.
The sound of her fall, the cry she gave, stirred the sleeping house to wakefulness. Doors opened, lights flashed on.
Miss Lawson popped out of her room at the head of the staircase.
Uttering little cries of distress, she pattered down the stairs. One by one the others arrived - Charles, yawning, in a resplendent dressing gown. Theresa, wrapped in dark silk. Bella in a navy-blue kimono, her hair bristling with combs to “set the wave.”
Dazed and confused, Emily Arundell lay in a crushed heap. Her shoulder hurt her and her ankle - her whole body was a confused mass of pain. She was conscious of people standing over her, of that fool Minnie Lawson crying and making ineffectual gestures with her hands, of Theresa with a startled look in her dark eyes, of Bella standing with her mouth open looking expectant, of the voice of Charles saying from somewhere - very far away so it seemed:
“It's that damned dog's ball! He must have left it here and she tripped over it. See? Here it is!”
commentary: Is this one nobody’s favourite Christie? It’s competent and a reasonable puzzle – although the pool of suspects is very small, so it’s not going to be a big surprise at the end.
Blogfriend (and fellow Tuesday-Nighter) Brad Friedman recently did a highly recommended and amusing takedown of the book, ‘Deconstructing Second Rate Christie’ – and his piece and others’ comments on it made me feel I needed to re-read it.
It was slightly better than I remembered: but very much the stock selection of characters and arrangements – it is hard to think of any type or situation that isn’t done (probably better) in a different book, with the sole exception of the dog. And the dog is awful, wince-making, all that anthropomorphizing! (Yes I have a stony heart and am not a dog lover.) The characters are moved around like chess pieces (to use a clichéd view) – the elderly but sharp lady, the foolish spinsters, the fashionable and bored young woman – and there is no involvement for the reader, except a feeling of admiration for some of the plot devices.
Blogfriend Lucy Fisher said
I like this book for the social comment: the estate agents’ office, the feisty elderly lady who sees through Poirot, the back story of Emily and her sisters, the spiritualist who dresses like a little girl (haven’t we all met at least one of her?)So I decided to read it again with that in mind.And these are the main points that arose:
1) Some good dialogue – this is a witness questioning Hastings:
“Can you write decent English?”2) And this:
“I hope so.”
“H’m – where did you go to school?”
“Then you can’t.”
“After all, this is a free country -”3) Late on in the book, Poirot names the murderers from four earlier Christie books – he is making the point that murderers can seem pleasant enough. This always seems quite shocking, though to be fair it would probably only be a serious spoiler if you were reading another of the books simultaneously. Or have a very good memory for names.
“English people seem to labour under that misapprehension,” murmured Poirot.
4) A quotation that I have long remembered, but not the source – glad to find it after all this time:
“Turks are frightfully cruel sometimes.”5) The fabled clue of the brooch - under discussion regularly since the book was first published, when one of the reviewers mentioned it with disdain. It is slightly unlikely, but it’s not as bad as I remembered – I think we all imagine it took Poirot weeks and hundreds of pages to get the point of what is seen, but that is not so at all. He is a bit slow, but perhaps Christie was giving readers the chance to feel smart.
“Dr Tanios is a Greek.”
“Yes of course – I mean, they’re usually the ones who get massacred by the Turks – or am I thinking of the Armenians?”
And would anyone wear a brooch on dressing-gown? Not impossible, though I was ready to say that I have been looking at photos of clothes of every kind, every day for the past four years, including many a kimono, and don’t recall seeing any such thing.
But voila – what should I find but the picture above? Here is a woman in a very dark-coloured kimono, with a shiny blotch under her left shoulder, a blotch that could easily be a brooch I would say…. The picture is by William Merritt Chase, from the Athenaeum website .