Christie Catchup: One Two Buckle My Shoe


One Two Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie


published 1940

He, Hercule Poirot, remembered women … One woman, in particular—what a sumptuous creature—Bird of Paradise—a Venus … What woman was there amongst these pretty chits nowadays, who could hold a candle to Countess Vera Rossakoff? A genuine Russian aristocrat, an aristocrat to her fingertips! And also, he remembered, a most accomplished thief … One of those natural geniuses … With a sigh, Poirot wrenched his thoughts away from the flamboyant creature of his dreams.

It was not only, he noted, the little nursemaids and their like who were being wooed under the trees of Regent’s Park. That was a Schiaparelli creation there, under that lime tree, with the young man who bent his head so close to hers, who was pleading so earnestly.

comments: In my recent post on The Big Four, I said that Poirot’s dream woman, the Countess Vera, is mentioned by him with affection in a couple of later books – and so this is one of them. The sketch is for a Schiaparelli creation of 1939, courtesy of the NY Met Museum’s Costume institute.

Agatha Christie wrote a number of nursery-rhyme-themed books, and this one is, I think, different from and better than some of the others, in terms of making the structure work. One Two Buckle My Shoe is a counting-rhyme and Christie makes each chapter fit with a line of it (some slight stretching needed) and she makes it a coincidence – the rhyme comes into Poirot’s head – rather than some mad scheme on the part of the murderer.

The buckle in question is on the shoe of a middle-aged woman on her way to the dentist.

Miss Sainsbury Seale was a woman of forty odd with indecisively bleached hair rolled up in untidy curls. Her clothes were shapeless and rather artistic, and her pince-nez were always dropping off…

….A brand new patent leather shoe with a large gleaming buckle. The lady got out of the taxi, but in doing so she caught her other foot in the door and the buckle was wrenched off. It fell tinkling on to the pavement. Gallantly, Poirot sprang forward and picked it up, restoring it with a bow…unbecoming clothes—those depressing art greens! She thanked him, dropping her pince-nez, then her handbag.

Poirot is a fellow-patient, and there is a funny scenario in which he is surrounded by dire people as he waits nervously for his appointment: on his way back out again, suddenly everything and everyone looks much more appealing.

But then also - Patricia Wentworth is the queen of ‘ten people in the churchyard in a 20 minute time scheme, including guilty innocent and victim’, and in this book Christie is rivalling her. The surgery in central London (one of those white houses near Harley St) has an unfathomable number of people in and out that morning, all of them inter-connected in some weird way or another, many of them hiding something. Three of them, apparently wholly unknown to each other, are going to be dead or ‘missing assumed dead’ within 24 hours. Three! A fourth is seen as a potential target. This carnage is not seen as anything much out of the ordinary.

Poirot slowly unpicks the story. An important businessman, adviser to governments, is at the centre of the tale: Alistair Blunt, a man with a potential for doing good. In an unusual political moment for Christie, a young man is seen by his girlfriend as unwise:

‘But even if Frank did—did do a foolish thing like that—and he’s one of those Imperial Shirts, you know—they march with banners and have a ridiculous salute… they just work up these poor young men—quite harmless ones like Frank—until they think they are doing something wonderful and patriotic.’

While another young man spouts the usual Christie version of young people’s idealism, to be mocked and discarded. ‘It is a wolf with ideas’.

The woman with the shoe and buckle is Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, a particularly strange and memorable name (again, more typical of Wentworth) – and people comment on that - ‘It’s such a pompous name, that’s why I remember’ – ‘the name being an odd one, she would have remembered it had she heard it then.’

And there is consideration of her shoes, her buckle, and her stockings. She disappears, and in true Christie style, she is wearing green when she goes, but her outfit is variously described as a cardigan suit, a coat and skirt and a green wool dress. Her droopy clothes (‘those depressing art greens’) are reminiscent of Miss Wills’ clothes in Three Act Tragedy, featuredrecently.


A body is found in a chest, and there was this mystifying sentence:

‘We opened it up—and there was the missing [person]! Mistletoe Bough up-to-date.’

-Which turns out to be a reference to the very old folktale/ballad about the bride playing hide and seek who disappears – years later her skeleton is found in the chest where she hid.

There is one clue that I admired, reading it this time knowing the solution: when you know, it is obvious the significance of the first meeting between two characters, but Christie shows her light touch in reversing expectations.

And there was a light touch in some of the writing:

Profiting by a long experience of the English people, Poirot suggested a cup of tea. Miss Nevill’s reaction was all that could be hoped for. ‘Well, really, M. Poirot, that’s very kind of you. Not that it’s so very long since breakfast, but one can always do with a cup of tea, can’t one?’

Poirot, who could always do without one, assented mendaciously.


And hat description:

Jane Olivera’s mother had just entered. She was very smartly dressed, with a hat clinging to an eyebrow in the midst of a very soignée coiffure.

As in The ABC Murders, there is an odd moment where Poirot suddenly sees where he is going wrong – but it is wholly unconvincing to the reader. Given that Christie was the queen of the great clue, it’s hard to see why Poirot needs to hear a psalm in church to solve the crime.

When I mentioned this trope in my recent post, blogfriend Lucy Fisher pointed out that there was also a strange moment in Third Girl (which I missed in recent rereading):

…Miss Lemon came in.

[Poirot says] ‘Ah – I remember now. ‘And they all came out of a weenie POTATO.’

Miss Lemon looked at him in anxiety.

This is the final line of Rub a Dub Dub (aka three men in a tub, the butcher the baker the candlestick maker) though not a version that is familiar to most people I think, and yet again it is very hard to see how this helps him solve the crime.

But still – a very enjoyable book.

I thought it would be easy to find a 1930s shoe with a buckle on it, but it turned out to be surprisingly difficult – I wanted something big and showy.

Shoe advertising poster from the National Library ofAustralia  



  1. One of my favourites. What an amusing writer she could be! I like 'indecisively bleached.' It really tells you everything you need to know about the character. And I think this has one of the best openings, love the account of Poirot at the dentist.

  2. You might have guessed that was me? Chrissie

    1. I did guess! Yes, it was definitely better than I remembered in fact, and there are always those moments, in all her books - a turn of phrase, a great description.

  3. You're quite right, Moira, about that clue in the psalm. I've always thought that weakened the book just a bit. That said, though I do like the various characters' views of going to the dentist. I know there are a lot of them coming in and out, but still, I liked the montage. And I liked Gladys as a character, too.

    1. Thanks Margot - and yes, to me it's an odd moment. But I have read others say it is a good way of moving Poirot on! We all have our opinions...

  4. I always felt so sad about the shoe that was apparently destroyed when the buckle was wrenched off, assuming it was sewn on and the whole front part of the shoe must have been torn. But I now realize that there was the concept of "shoe clips" which clipped on like earrings and could be taken on and off to vary the looks of your shoes. Maybe that was what came off this particular shoe?

    1. Oh they are beautiful!
      A good few years ago now, there was a bit of a fashion for bows and such-like that you could buy and slide onto the front of court shoes. (I feel it may have been related to early Princess Diana days, which might mean 40 years ago...)

    2. Oh, and that was me making the shoe clip comment, not Anon.

    3. Thanks - I know it can be a complete pain trying to comment with a name! (I have difficulties on other people's)

  5. I have...somewhere...a home helps type of book (circa 1920s) that offers instructions on making various shoe ornaments using buckles and bows, the idea being you can trick people into thinking you have a large shoe wardrobe instead of one or two pair.

    1. It's an interesting idea. Like all that shoe-dying that was a thing at one time.
      I surprise myself - being quite the one for slovenly bling - but I get a feeling of 'just polish up your shoes nicely and that is better than fake bows'

  6. Two related oddities about this book:

    The politics are weird. Christie suggests bankers rule the world, and that is a good thing.

    The police believing someone other than the PM is the target of the assaination attempt is incredible.

    1. Thanks! I thought, exactly, that the politics were an oddity in this one, so I am glad to have backup. There were people online saying 'oh no she does politics all the time' but it was the detail and nuance here that was different. And I mean, she totally backed off after this one - no politics during the war...
      And yes, that line about the PM does not hold up...


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