She was nearer fifty than forty, her hair was parted in the middle in Madonna fashion, her eyes were brown and slightly prominent.
She wore a sprigged muslin dress that conveyed an odd suggestion of fancy dress.
Poirot stepped forward and started the conversation in his most flourishing manner…
[Miss Tripp said:] "Sit here, won't you--no, please--really, I always prefer an upright chair myself. Now, are you sure you are comfortable there? Dear Minnie Lawson--oh, here is my sister." More creaking and rustling and we were joined by a second lady, dressed in green gingham that would have been suitable for a girl of sixteen.
"My sister Isabel--Mr.--er--Parrot-- and--er--Captain Hawkins. Isabel dear, these gentlemen are friends of Minnie Law son's." Miss Isabel Tripp was less buxom than her sister. She might indeed have been described as scraggy. She had very fair hair done up into a large quantity of rather messy curls. She cultivated a girlish manner and was easily recognizable as the subject of most of the flower poses in photography. She clasped her hands now in girlish excitement.
"How delightful! Dear Minnie! You have seen her lately?"
"Not for some years," explained Poirot.
commentary: I’m now doing a second entry on this book, despite having described it in a recent entry as nobody’s favourite Christie.
Blogfriend Lucy Fisher got me going on a re-read. Her defence of the book included this:
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?)- And indeed the spiritualist sisters were so awful I did want to do an entry on them. There is an assumption that being mediums means they must also be vegetarians, wear strange clothes, and not have proper plumbing. Poirot and Hastings refuse an invitation to supper, and Hastings says:
“thank goodness, Poirot,” I said with fervour, “you got us out of those raw carrots! What awful women!”
“Pour nous, un bon bifteck—with the fried potatoes—and a good bottle of wine. What should we have had to drink there, I wonder?"
“Well water, I should think,” I replied with a shudder. “Or non-alcoholic cider. It was that kind of place! I bet there’s no bath and no sanitation except an earth closet in the garden!”This all bears a remarkable resemblance to George Orwell’s frequent criticisms of the popular view of socialists – faddy foods and sandals and loose-cut clothes. Spiritualists and socialists don’t always go together.
GA mysteries also suggest that these identifiable women – hand-woven items of clothing are another giveaway – often ran cafes with weird décor and doubtful cakes.
Unexpectedly, Poirot does not dismiss spiritualism out of hand:
“What makes you say that spiritualism is tomfoolery, Hastings?”
I stared at him in astonishment. “My dear Poirot—those appalling women-"
He smiled. “I quite agree with your estimate of the Misses Tripp. But the mere fact that the Misses Tripp have adopted with enthusiasm Christian Science, vegetarianism, theosophy and spiritualism does not really constitute a damning indictment of those subjects!...I have an open mind on the subject.”Christie likes to use spiritualism, seances and mediums a lot, but usually as straight tools to sharpen the plot, the way the hocus pocus can hide what is really going on. But she also likes the atmosphere they create, and the hint of a question lingering in the air as to whether there might be something to it…
The top picture is from the NYPL.
The lower one, from Wikimedia Commons, is a medium, Mina Crandon, who was active in the USA in the 1920s: one of those who was investigated by Harry Houdini. There seems no doubt that she was entirely fraudulent, but her Wikipedia entry makes for fascinating reading and is highly recommended.
Earlier entry on this book here, endless Agatha Christie posts all over the blog – click on the label below.