I have never made a secret of the fact I’ve always been an Agatha Christie fan. So I was chuffed to learn the guardians of her estate authorised a new Hercule Poirot release, The Monogram Murders by author Sophie Hannah. We hear of Hercule Poirot’s exploits through Catchpool, a sort of substitute narrator for Hastings devised by the writer. Once I used to think Hastings was foolish but Catchpool takes the cake. It is baffling he is privy to details of what happened when he was not present. The lack of explanation into Poirot’s insights makes The Monogram Murders less interesting as well. Poirot also tries to play the absurd role of a matchmaker in this novel in trying to set up Catchpool with a lady which was just not on. I for one cannot imagine Christie’s Belgian detective doing anything like that.
The Monogram Murders jarred me from the beginning because Hercule Poirot was dining at a coffee house upon introduction and being finicky about the cutlery. He is interrupted by a woman who comes in quite terrified and when Poirot reassures her stating that he is a detective, he is given the news that she is about to be murdered. Strangely she asks Poirot to refrain from finding out who committed the murderer, admitting justice will be served with her death.
Poirot later finds out three guests staying at a posh London hotel have been murdered through Edward Catchpool, a Scotland Yard detective so self-deprecating that you wonder why he took on this job. Each body had been found with a cufflink placed in the mouth. So Poirot wonders if the murders have any connection to the distressed woman he met at Pleasant’s Coffee House. How? These are unconnected events to the ordinary brain but obviously not to Poirot’s advanced grey cells.
The dreadfully inept and squeamish Catchpool who is in need of guidance is grateful when Hercule Poirot offers his assistance for the case. While Poirot tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle, the murderer is intent on targeting a fourth victim. Can Poirot prevent a another murder? This ends up requiring a journey into the past and into a village that has been keeping all its secrets under wraps to eventually solve the mystery.
Poirot visits a Cornish seaside resort and meets Nick, a young girl attached to a crumbling and dilapidated house by the seaside with a mortgage. So when she informs Poirot that she had several near escapes, his detective streak comes into play. There are a few potential suspects but it seems unlikely any of them would profit from the paltry inheritance Nick would leave in her will after her death. The suspects are Freddie Rice, a habitual cocaine user; Commander Challenger, who seems to be in love with Nick; Jim Lazarus, an art dealer in love with Freddie and also Freddie’s husband who refuses to grant her a divorce. Then there is also Charles Wyse, Nick’s appointed solicitor. In addition, there are two lodgers using the garden cottage at End House, Mr. and Mrs. Croft, who say they are Australians.
So Poirot suggests Nick call her cousin, Maggie Buckley, for protection. But an unfortunate incident involving the exchanging of coats leads to Maggie’s death because she was wearing a black dress. This baffles Poirot until he assumes the murder was due to the coat exchange. When he goes to interview Nick – whose true name is Magdala – she says to his puzzlement after a telephone call, that she has nothing to live for left. He then puts two and two together to figure out she had been secretly engaged to Arthur Streeton, a pilot who has been missing for some time and she had received news of his death. He sends her to a nursing home for protection while he investigates End House.
The Crofts arouse his suspicion and so does the love letters written to Magdala. But he is then informed that Nick has almost died of poisoning by chocolates, purported to have been sent by him. He calls in Miss Lemon for assistance. Using the help of Nick to stage a séance to talk with the dead through a medium during an arranged early reading of the will, something very odd comes to light. Her will leaves her inheritance to an unexpected party. But the fun doesn’t end there. Hercule Poirot reveals a charade has been going on under his nose the whole time and points out the true murderer of the Magdala Buckley that was engaged to Arthur Streeton who had a considerable fortune left to him by his uncle. He says he was inspired by the conversation on nicknames between Miss Lemon and Captain Hastings to reverse his original thought process.
The TV episode of Poirot doesn’t change the plot much because there was only one major change: the attempted assassination in front of Poirot did not happen in a lonely garden in the back of the hotel but a crowded spot near the swimming pool.
This work originally appeared under the title Murder with Mirrors. It starts out with Ruth Van Rydock conferring with Miss Marple about her sister, Carrie-Louise, who runs a sort of rehabilitation home for former delinquents. Ruth does not approve of this scheme and thinks it rather hare-brained, as she believes it might end up being harmful to her sister. So she persuades Miss Marple who is an old school friend of theirs to visit Carrie-Louise to keep a watchful eye on her. True to form, there is a murder and it comes to light when the police investigate the murdered party was trying to warn them of an impending attempt of a poisoning.
The thing with this plot is it involves a family cast of several relatives who have some connection to Carrie Louise through her three marriages. She was once widowed and once divorced. Her third husband Lewis Serracold assists her to run her reform home by having the misfits involved in theatrical production and other productive pursuits. Carrie has two daughters: one biological born to her first husband called Mildred and one adopted called Pippa, who died after she gave birth to Gina.
When we are introduced to Gina, she is a recent returnee to Stonygate after having married an American husband called Walter. In addition to these people, Jolley is the caretaker who has a trusted position. Stephen and Alex Restarick, the sons of Carrie Louise from her second marriage, are frequent visitors. Also the secretary of Lewis Serracold, Edgar Lawson, resides with them although he seems to be on edge and mentally disturbed most of the time as he claims to be the illegitimate son of some famous man.
The murder happens after a visit from the son she had during her first marriage, Christian Goulbrandsen. But the puzzle is everyone present at the time has an alibi – they were trapped inside a room except for Alex Restarick. But when he is disposed of, Miss Marple uses her wits to figure out who is behind the murders and what the motive is to enlighten everyone.
The TV adaptation starring Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple follows some of this storyline but infuses it with additional subplots involving possible guilt of Gina’s husband, the second husband of Carrie Louise being still enamoured with her, a love affair between Gina (here she is only the adopted daughter that is lavished with more affection while the biological daughter is neglected) and stepbrother Stephen. But to say the least, it is still entertaining and worth watching if you don’t mind it strays into entirely different territory. Look out for Joan Collins as Ruth Van Rydock not to mention the cast playing the roles Walter Hudd, Edgar Lawson and Stephen Restarick are eye candy!
Colin Lamb, who walks around in the guise of a marine biologist, is paying a visit to Wilbraham Crescent when Miss Sheila Webb runs screaming out of a house straight into his arms. She tells him there is a corpse inside the house. When he goes in to check, her hysteric tale is confirmed. There is a dead body in the house and what is more mysterious is that four clocks in the room are frozen at 4:13 even though the actual time is 3:13. The house turns out be the residence of an elderly blind lady, Mrs. Pebmarsh. To the astonishment and consternation of everyone involved, she states she did not call the Cavendish Secretarial Bureau to specifically inquire for the typing services of Sheila Webb. Is Miss Webb the target of a conspiracy or is she actually hiding something?
When Colin Lamb gets Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective concocted by the queen of crime writing, involved in the case from his armchair no less, he enquires as to why Colin was found at Wilberham Crescent. Apparently he was investigating another case that pointed him towards this address. Unfortunately here the main role doesn’t fall to the detective but when murder rate spikes higher, Poirot uses his grey cells to figure out this case doesn’t follow the one plot but two which intertwine with each other.
As the mystery unravels, you finally figure out the motive for the murder of that unidentified man, why the girl with broken high heel was prevented from giving evidence, the significance of 4:13 and who is committing treason by passing information to the enemy. This one is littered with red herrings so it is almost impossible to figure the case out by reasoning.
Below is the television adaptation based on the novel. Please note the story is mostly true to type but there are some modifications made such as the time in which it was set.
In the book, the tale goes as follows. Luke Fitzwilliam shares a carriage with Mrs. Pinkerton, a sweet but absent-minded old lady. They get into conversation and she tells him murders disguised as accidents are happening in her town. She informs him she is on her way to Scotland Yard because the local police are not up to it but she has identified the murderer.
Luke later finds out Mrs Pinkerton was prevented from reaching the police due to an accident. So he goes to the town where she resided posing as a researcher to investigate who is responsible for the murders. Several suspects emerge:
- An antiques dealer
- A solicitor
- A doctor
- A self-made businessman engaged to a pretty young woman
Yet Luke feels disturbed by dark forces at work as he pursues the line of detective work out of curiosity. Could it even be none of the above?
You will have to read the novel for the true story because the Miss Marple television adaptation drastically changes the plot by removing and adding new characters, altering their ages and afflictions, including new subplots and changing the type of accident Miss Pinkerton had. The original plot involved Miss Marple’s nephew but not his aunt.
In the Marple episode of Murder is Easy, it is Miss Marple herself who meets Mrs Pinkerton. Upon hearing of her accident, she decides to investigate by going to the funeral of her newly found acquaintance. By observing the goings on in the village, she comes to the conclusion that someone is doing everything possible to keep buried secrets from being out. After Miss Marple discovers a valuable clue for a motive that had its origins in the past, she neatly solves the puzzle.
The best bits about the TV series are the drama stars you can identify : E.g. Benedict Cumberbatch from the BBC series Sherlock, Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter and Miss Bingley from Pride and Prejudice ’95.
This week I’m going to honour the author who produced the longest running play in the history of mankind. Fan of Agatha Christie? You’re in luck because I’m going to make a post each day this week featuring her mysteries.
She always awes me with the amount of crime stories she’s written, never mind her crime unrelated writing on the side. Besides they make for a great rereading experience. Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile does not need an introduction to most people so I’ll introduce you to one of her less well-known tales. This one is called The Tragedy at Marsden Manor which is available in the Poirot Investigates collection.
Famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is sent on an errant journey to the town of Marsden Leigh by a hotel owner who informs him a spate of murders have occurred. When Poirot gets there, he finds out to his dismay the hotel owner fancies himself as a mystery novelist and needed ideas on whom to blame as the culprit in his book. Nevertheless the trip takes an interesting turn for him when the owner of the local manor house dies and his pretty young wife is convinced that ghosts are responsible for scaring her husband to death because of his weak heart condition. When Poirot makes a deeper investigation into the death of Mr. Mantravers, he unearths all is not quite as clear-cut as it seems.
Here is the TV episode starring David Suchet who rarely disappoints me with any of his performances: