Tuesday Night Club: Helen & Agatha Christie

The Tuesday Night Club is a group of Golden Age crime
Helen's Month
fiction fans, writing on a different theme each month. A frequent contributor, and one of our founder members, was the wonderful Helen Szamuely, who died in April. There’s an obituary for her here, and a personal memory from someone who obviously knew her well here. And there's more of an introduction to her in my previous posts this month.

We decided to pay tribute to her during May:

Helen's Month

Posts might feature an author or a character called Helen; or be involved with her great interests in life: Europe, History or Russia; or any other connection that works.

Bev Hankins did the splendid Helen logo for us.

I am collecting the links this month, so check back here to catch up on the other posts.

Kate Jackson over at Cross-Examining Crime has a fascinating post comparing her own crime fiction tastes with Helen's...

Curt Evans at The Passing Tramp in his latest blogpost included Andrew Garve's Murder in Moscow as a book Helen would have enjoyed.

--and Curt also did posts on Josephine Bell and Marion Mainwaring with particular reference to Helen. 
My first post for the month was on a book Helen Szamuely recommended to me - Murder a la Mode by Eleanore Kelly Sellars; then I looked at crime writer Helen McCloy’s Two Thirds of a Ghost. The third week I looked at John Le Carre’s classic Our Game - about the aftermath of the Cold War, a true subject for Helen.

As was the fourth entry, on  Joseph Kanon’s Defectors, about Cold War spies.

For this final entry I decided to go back to basics. It was our communal love of Golden Age crime fiction that brought us together with Helen, and she was a very knowledgeable fan of Agatha Christie. She also liked to talk clothes and costumes, so I have gone for one of Christie’s first books, and some music hall artistes and their outfits. Helen would, it is safe to say, have loved the pictures below.

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

published 1923

Murder on the Links 3

[Hastings and Poirot are in search of a young woman who appears on the music halls.They consult a theatrical agent]

'Got it!' He slapped his thigh. 'The Dulcibella Kids, by the Lord!'

'The Dulcibella Kids?'

'That's it. They're sisters. Acrobats, dancers, and singers. Give quite a good little turn. They're in the provinces, somewhere, I believe - if they're not resting. They've been on in Paris for the last two or three weeks.'

Murder on the Links 1Murder on the Links 2

[They go to a variety theatre to watch the Sisters’ act]

At last the number went up which announced the Dulcibella Sisters. My heart beat sickeningly. There she was-there they both were, the pair of them, one flaxen-haired, one dark, matching as to size, with short fluffy skirts and immense 'Buster Brown' bows. They looked a pair of extremely piquant children. They began to sing. Their voices were fresh and true, rather thin and musically, but attractive.

It was quite a pretty little turn. They danced neatly, and did some clever little acrobatic feats. The words of their songs were crisp and catchy. When the curtain fell, there was a full minute of applause. Evidently the Dulcibella Kids were a success.

commentary: This was the second outing for Hastings and Poirot, and is mostly set in France, though the music-hall scene above takes place in Coventry (a place that doesn’t feature much in the Christie oeuvre).

There’s a category of Christies which I would define as ‘not top rank, but therefore not as memorable, and therefore you can re-read without remembering the solution’ (a snappy catchy title for the category, I’m sure you’ll agree). This is most definitely one of them – there are a couple of false solutions, and I actually was taken by surprise when the true state of affairs was revealed, I suspected someone quite other. It was a better book than I remembered.

A rich man has been killed and found at a golf links near his home. The cast of characters and the range of motives is complex and Poirot diligently tracks down the truth.

The book is full of enjoyable details of its time. The young girl ‘Cinderella’ teases Captain Hastings about his views: ‘What were women coming to nowadays?’ He has already told us
I have no patience with the modern neurotic girl who jazzes from morning till night, smokes like a chimney, and uses language which would make a Billingsgate fishwoman blush!
Cinderella wears lipstick and powder and has curls peeping out from under her hat (something that always makes me think of the Mystery of the Blue Train, as true fans will understand).

There is mention of apache dancing (great blog favourite, see explanation here or click on label below) and Kinema. In later Christie books I had noted her very modern-sounding use of ‘negatived’ as a verb, and here’s an even earlier instance: ‘He negatived the idea decidedly’.

DIVERSION (but bear with me): One clue is a ‘South American cigarette with liquorice pectoral paper’ – so far as I can tell, this was a kind of cigarette paper considered to have health benefits to the chest (!). I found a reference in a 1916 edition of a detective story:
‘Did you ever smoke South American cigarettes with licorice pectoral papers Miss Nelson?’ he asked.
– and these papers are an important clue. This comes from a collection by Clinton H Stagg: The Problemist, the complete adventures of Thornley Colton, Blind Detective. He solves crimes via his remaining senses, giving rise to this splendid conclusion:
He was the man whose pectoral cigarette papers and tobacco had scented the closet at the Nelson home. And he had recently handled a bear!
…And we know that Agatha Christie had read the author, BECAUSE he is one of the now-forgotten sleuths parodied in the Tommy and Tuppence stories Partners in Crime, first published in 1924.

Back with Murder on the Links and, rather surprisingly, Hastings lays violent hands on Poirot, and someone else describes the Belgian sleuth as ‘toque’ – which apparently means crazy, touched.

All in all a nice period piece, though one boggles somewhat at the marriage Hastings is contemplating at the end. It doesn’t seem destined for huge success, and there are only the most glancing references to it in future books. But what do I know?

Buster Brown was a comic book character, a young boy with a distinctive collar and tie/bow round his neck: here’s a stage version of him from the NYPL:

Murder on teh LInks 4

The style features in this 1932 book from Ethel Lina White.

The coloured poster is from the Library of Congress

The acrobatic ladies are from the theatrical collection at the NYPL -  the first one is here.
Second picture, in the stripes, is Leona Dare: she has a fairly terrifying expression on her face doesn’t she?


  1. I would put this one in the same sort of category, Moira. Not Christie's best, but certainly not her weakest. And, if I'm being honest, I do like the seaside setting. It's interesting, too, about Hastings' decision about that marriage. It seems to be successful, as we don't hear that it's not. But still....

    1. Yes, and I think we'd agree that even middling Christie is better than most others' best. And yes, there are details of the time and setting that make it an interesting read.

  2. Count me in, too, Moira! This is one that I don't rush back to much, but it is interesting how different this case is from STYLES. Cinderella went the way of most Watsonian wives: banished to South America and motherhood, died early enough for Hastings to flirt with suspects in CURTAIN. I always felt she wasn't in LINKS long enough for me to care much about her or about them. But those wild, impetuous '20's . . . you know!

    1. No, we could never worry that much about Cinderella. But the book does have its points of interest. I will always keep my copy, and come back to it now and again.

    2. Yes, a sad fate for Cinderella and Mary Morstan. Take heed, gentle maidens: never fall in love with a Great Detective's Sidekick or one of the Cartwright Boys.

    3. Had to look up the Cartwright Boys - Bonanza! Margery Allingham's Inspector Luke finds a bride in dramatic form, but then she is killed off, in childbirth maybe? I see the beginnings of a great list here...

  3. I keep threatening to read AC some time, but I doubt it will be this one. One day.... I can't put it off for ever!

    1. You know I will keep on at you until you do Col! (But I promise never to make you read the Mitfords)

  4. Lately, books that are 'not top rank, but therefore not as memorable, and therefore you can re-read without remembering the solution’ are my favorite kinds of books! Although I recently re-read 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd' and, as unforgettable as that ending is, I was surprised how much I had forgotten! The joys of becoming senile!!

    1. Yes indeed, I can read them almost as if for the first time. And Agatha does always put lots of sidelines and subplots in, and I've certainly forgotten most of them.

  5. My favorite thing about this book was Hastings' romance. Ah well, I am in the minority.

    1. You have a warmer heart than the rest of us non-romantics Tracy...

  6. I read this a couple of years ago and enjoyed it - as you say, not the best, but thoroughly entertaining all the same.

    1. Yes, and I like the feeling that I can read it again in another couple of years and still not remember the whole solution... Agatha never fails you.

  7. 'Cinderella' becomes a sort of Schrodinger's Wife for Hastings, hovering offstage in limbo (rather like Mary Watson or even Mrs Hudson in the original Sherlock Holmes stories). Christie wanted to lose the binary NarratorSidekick/Detective dynamic of the Holmes stories that she had used in the first Poirot stories, but she couldn't bring herself to make Cinders the narrator. What did she think when her husband hurtled towards Poirot as soon as she allowed him off the farm? In my wilder moments I can imagine the whole thing in terms of the DEAR DIEDRE photo problem page in THE SUN--My husband is obsessed with a short Belgian Detective! What can I do?

    LINKS does feel subtly different from some of her later books. A lot of her 1920s stuff has that sense that she's still settling into the Christie persona. From the '30s onwards they're much more uniform (not in a bad way) but in the '20s it's as if she's not certain whether she wants to be a thriller writer or a detective story writer.

    In general you're probably luckier if you fall for the Great Detective rather than his sidekick. Like you say, it looks like the beginning of a very interesting list.


    1. Yes the French setting is really unusual - normally she went abroad with groups of English. That provincial, almost bourgeois (if people weren't so rich) setting is interesting - I'm going to have to think about whether we see it anywhere except in Poirot's memories in the Chocolate Box Case. (I'm aware that's Belgian - but I think the point holds.)
      I actually could have done with more of Cinderella, but she didn't fit the setup did she...


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