Sharp Objects

08/21/2015 at 8:31 AM (Books) (, , , , , , , )

After finishing Gone Girl and Dark Places, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects was on my high priority to read list. Now the deed is done. The first one blew me away with its complexity, the second one scared the hell out of me but being from a medical family and an avid fan of Law & Order and other police procedurals, the twist in this one didn’t surprise me as much because the symptoms were recognisable from the outset. Being set in the small town of Wind Gap, the suspect pool is pretty limited so this narrative is really about the guilty party’s motivation behind the murders of Ann Nash and Natalie Keene who were choked to death and found without their teeth.

Recently released from psychiatric care after a relapse into cutting herself, Camille Preaker, a reporter, is sent by her editor, to her hometown of Wind Gap to cover the murders for the Daily Post, the fourth-largest newspaper in Chicago, because he believes a serial murder case could boost the paper’s profile. This requires a reunion with her mother Adora who obsesses about ailments and her confident, fearless 13-year-old half-sister, Amma, which she isn’t keen about because unresolved ghosts of the past contribute to her mental issues.



Camille initially works alongside the police and detective Richard Willis with whom she strikes up a relationship until she seeks comfort elsewhere with a primary suspect. The author shows it is hard to keep things hush-hush in a small town and no-one can avoid suspicion. The path to identifying the perpetrator responsible for the murders before they strike again puts Camille on a head-on collision course with confronting the past she has attempted to escape.

Given she doesn’t damage anyone, the character of Camille is more sympathetic than Libby Day from Dark Places or Amy Dunne from Gone Girl but to be honest, she was too old to be having such childish issues. Some behaviours she exhibited suited a younger character who was about 19 or so. The character Amma interested me more given her powers exuded over the townsfolk and what the ending revealed about her was more telling than the truth about her mother. What fascinates me the most about this book is that in spite of this being a story about bad women, it is a feminist novel.

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Dark Places

08/20/2015 at 12:12 PM (Adaptations, Books, Movies) (, , , , , , , )

Gillian Flynn is a master of the craft when it comes to producing extremely irritating, mentally damaged characters who are a complete mess. It is no different with the emotionally troubled, parasitic protagonist of her novel Dark Places, Libby Day. The author does a great job with Libby’s first person perspective of her struggles in the present while a third person narrative gives readers insight into the mystery of happened to her family in 1985 highlighting this story is more character-driven than plot-driven.

In the present, friendless and forgetful Libby is finding it hard to fend for herself. The fact she’s a kleptomaniac does her no favours. The primary source of income Libby has been living off, the trust fund created when donations poured in after the murders, is starting to dry up.

Back in the past in 1985, her mother, who is heavily in debt, and two sisters are brutally killed. 7-year-old Libby lives because she flees the house, and ultimately it’s her testimony that convicts her brother Ben of the crime. Allegedly, Ben is a Satanist who lost control after getting in too deep with a bad crowd. The Kill Club, a group of amateur investigators who think that her brother is innocent get in touch with Libby and she reluctantly agrees to a paid appearance because she’s desperate for cash. While she is not keen about their focus on her brother, the potential of earning money entices her into visiting people connected to the murders. Suddenly as knowledge sinks in as an adult, Libby starts having doubts as to if Ben was the killer.

The ending was a bit too tidy for my liking and kind of disappointed me after the stellar one in Gone Girl, but I won’t say much about that as it will spoil the story. This is not a true who-dun-it but explorations of the inner workings of the psychologically warped. For those who are interested, these points illustrate key changes made to the Dark Places movie adaption by Gilles Paquet-Brenner.

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Gone Girl

08/19/2015 at 10:48 PM (Adaptations, Books, Movies) (, , , , , , , , )

On her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne has disappeared when her husband, Nick, arrives home. It appears there has been some commotion at home but to some investigating police officers, it looks too much like organised clutter. Being the husband, Nick is the obvious suspect and Amy’s parents start to slowly distrust him after he fails to show adequate grief for someone who lost his wife on national media. It turns out that Nick has secrets he has been hiding from wife and her adoring parents because their marriage has been rocky but the police have doubts as to whether he actually murdered Amy because there is no body. His only supporter is his twin sister, Margo, who never liked Amy.

Gone Girl


The second half of the book takes a surprising twist showing that Gillian Flynn had been “gaslighting” her readers for the first half which is the entire theme of the book. I probably shouldn’t say more as I’ve already said too much. This is probably one of the best deeply deranged thrillers I’ve ever read given the well-written prose, but Amy’s characterisation has a lot more depth than Nick’s.  I just finished reading American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and while Gone Girl isn’t that gratuitous or nihilistic, I couldn’t help but feel there were some not so obvious parallels about creating a facade.

While I have no qualms with encouraging people to read the book, people who only watch the David Fincher movie based on the book are missing out as they have changed some key elements of the story, including what happens with Desi. The casting of Rosamund Pike was great for “Amazing Amy” but I couldn’t really swallow Ben Affleck as the hipster golden poster boy, Nick. Usually books told in multiple perspectives don’t translate so well into film as major plot details end up being omitted in order to maintain suspense. Some people find reading the book gruelling as it gets off to a fairly slow start but I found the movie more difficult to follow than Flynn’s novel which kept me awake until ungodly hours.

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The Girl on the Train

08/18/2015 at 11:56 AM (Books) (, , , , , , , , )

Because I finished all three novels written by Gillian Flynn, I was led to read this book which touted itself as the next Gone Girl. As I submerged myself into the book, apart from the theme of unreliable narrators, it was clear to me I wouldn’t have made the comparison. There are three narrators who tell the reader the unfolding events in the story: Rachel, the jilted lover; Anna, the other woman; Megan, the cheating wife. All these characters manage to be somewhat repugnant but still compel tinges of sympathy.

The Girl on the Train

Source: Goodreads

Rachel, our evidently alcoholic and therefore cannot-be-trusted first narrator, is in the habit of taking the same train from Asbury to Euston each morning, even though she has been fired. During a regular stop, she always watches a couple living near her old home, who is perfect in her eyes and she has given them imaginary names: “Jess and Jason”.  We find out she is pining for her lost marriage which once used to be like that. One day she is a spectator to something unexpected while on the train. Upset by what she saw, Rachel tells the police what happened, who find out she isn’t exactly a standout witness, and ends up becoming further involved in murky territory with the full cast of characters.

This book moves much quicker than Gone Girl does but the mystery and the sucker punch of the former is lacking here. Paula Hawkins puts in a lot of red herrings to misguide readers as to who the culprit might be but it’s fairly obvious to any seasoned crime novel reader. Gillian Flynn is the more superior writer when it comes to psychological thrillers because this felt more like a character study and their development than something to be shocked about. There was a lot of hype surrounding this book catapulting off Gone Girl’s success which ended up seducing me into its covers but I was left disappointed and unsatisfied in the end.

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The Stieg Larsson Trilogy

10/01/2011 at 7:04 AM (Books, Crime, Mystery) (, , , , , , , , )

I’ve finished the Larsson trilogy. It was a very good reading experience as I expected. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a bit lacklustre with all its financial stuff at the beginning but my endurance for sticking it out rewarded me later on. It is compelling material that keeps you turning pages for hours. I finished Book 1 in two days because I couldn’t wait. Then I actually read the The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest because I couldn’t obtain the second instalment. I finished that in 3 days because how it started caused me some confusion at first until I realised the problem. Then in 2 days, I read The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second book but it was the third one in my reading pattern. If you are wondering, I don’t sleep more than 5 hours each night and I’m a super quick reader with a highly retentive memory; I’m the sort of person who can memorise textbook answers. By then, I knew a lot of the plot because I read the sequel beforehand. Don’t worry though, I’ll review them in order for you.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

So in Sweden, we meet a do-gooder financial journalist, Mikael Blomkvist of Millenium Magazine, who finds himself in strife after going to court against Hans Wennerstrom without sufficient evidence to refute the allegations of corruption he published. It does not help either that his relationship with married Erika Berger, wife of bisexually inclined Greger and publisher and editor of Millenium, is public knowledge and subject to malicious gossip. Defeated and embarassed with the verdict, he accepts a special project in a small village town by pretending to write a memoir of the Vanger family while he undertakes an investigation for a long-lost niece called Harriet Vanger. The old man who commissions the search is searching for an answer to the mystery of having rare flowers sent to him. He suspects it is the murderer of Harriet tormenting him. When Michael investigates, he stumbles on family secrets.

He goes to Milton Security to ask for a research assistant and because of her computer related capabilities, Lisbeth, the perceived social misfit who is distrustful of all authority figures apart from her boss Dragan Armansky, is assigned to help. Lisbeth inadvertently reveals her hacking abilities and the fact she has a photographic memory but is confused about her feelings for him because she has always been subject to injustices by most men. He realises that Lisbeth is not an ordinary person but respects her needs not knowing she has been judged incompetent and is under the guardianship of Nils Bjurman, a  man who takes advantage of her. Mikael, who’s nicknamed Kalle Blomkvist by author Astrid Lindgren, writer of the Pippi Longstocking books, finds himself trapped by the murderer.

Lisbeth comes to his rescue in the nick of time as she works out the truth but refuses to be involved with the police. Meanwhile Mikael realises the old man lied to him after he brings him a surprise visitor and is forced to compromise his integrity in order to acquiesce with an ardent wish to conceal the truth. But in a way, in the end we realise that Lisbeth makes sure Hans Wennerstrom receives his just deserts.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire

We meet Lisbeth Salander again in The Girl Who Played with Fire, more than a million dollars richer after the suicide of financier Hans Wennerstrom. Mikael Blomkvist at Millenium leaked the truth about him on television again but with more success than the first time. This time her guardian Nils Bjurman, who still has not rescinded her incompetency declaration, decides he needs to hire some thugs to finish her off so he can remove the amateur tattoo which labels him as a pig, sadist and rapist on his stomach without fear of exposure of the rape video. It leads him to a man who absolutely hates her after she threw a Molotov cocktail at him – Lisbeth was angered about the domestic violence inflicted on her long suffering and compliant mother – her political refugee father from G.R.U. (a secret Russian military police unit): Alexander Zalachenko. He has criminal links with the illegal minor sex trade industry which she finds out through her computer hacking abilities coincidentally also the subject of an investigation at Millenium.

Lisbeth purchases an apartment but does not change her address and offers her old place rent free to her girlfriend Mimi. This inadvertently brings Mimi unwanted publicity after it is discovered her friend Lisbeth was present at the murder scene of the journalists working on the sex trade article for Millenium and her fingerprints were on a used weapon. It does not help that the attitude of some of the police force is hostile to Lisbeth before they’ve made any assessment of her themselves – they just go on the word of inaccurate reports by the psychiatrist Dr. Peter Teleborian. In this book, the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ rule does not seem to apply at all. I’m unsure if this is standard police procedure in Sweden. Lisbeth is almost attacked by a giant blonde man by the name of Lundin, who is in league with a biker gang called Svavelsjö M.C., but miraculously escapes. This is witnessed by Mikael Blomkvist, fortunately for her but neither of them report it as she does not trust authority figures and he respects her need for privacy. Meanwhile Erika Berger struggles with her feelings as she’s been offered a post as chief of Svenska Morgon Posten, Sweden’s large daily newspaper but she does not want to leave Millenium hanging because Mikael is too focused on the murder to care about the other details of the production cycle.

When a famous boxer Lisbeth used to box with sees the posters advertising she’s wanted for murder, he goes to Millenium to defend her and explains the origin of her wasp tattoo. Dragan Armansky at Milton Security also sends two of his staff to assist the police to secretly gain information without the knowledge one of them had a strong prejudice against her and the details of a confidential police interview is leaked to a scum journalist. Because of the address she resides in, Mimi is abducted by tank-built Lundin who has congenital analgesia. This is seen by the boxer who follows the giant kidnapper. After a boxing bout in an abandoned warehouse when the good guy was almost about to lose, some welcome help from kickboxing fanatic Mimi manages to help them to disorient Lundin in order for them to escape to the refuge of the night’s cover of darkness. Mikael is tipped off that Lisbeth is going in search of her father who has been given a name not in the public records by the Swedish secret police, S.A.P.O., after discovering her secret apartment. He decides to follow her trail which turns out to be a good decision as when he finds her she’s in danger of dying from a brain injury inflicted from a bullet shot from a .45 Colt. It ends rather abruptly so this was my least favourite book of the trilogy.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (the film adaptation of which hit cinemas back in February 2011) is basically how Stieg Larsson ties up the loose ends of his trilogy. This is essentially the sequel to The Girl Who Played with Fire rather than a novel able to stand up on its own merits. The readers are mostly treated to a picture of a bedridden Lisbeth who ends up in the same hospital as her cruel, Russian ex-spy father who unsuccessfully attempted to murder her when she tried to kill him while Mikael only starts to put the truth together about what happened during the shooting that led to Lisbeth being branded a killer. Besides this, government officials in Sapö decide certain people need to be hired to dispose of other people who are thorns in their sides and Larsson uses this to criticise the police, the courts and the public service sector because of the injustice they display to Lisbeth due to her outward, nonconformist appearance. Meanwhile Erika Berger who is being stalked realises  Svenska Morgen Posten is not her kind of environment as she realises her boss is keeping big secrets through Millenium.

In addition to this, Mikael is battling to get Lisbeth free from scrutiny by government institutions that have only treated her with hostility. Bublanski and Sonja Modig still work on her case because both believe Salander is innocent. Blomkvist and Armansky are also working together to prove her innocence. Faste, Solicitor Ekstrom, Teleborian (names you will have come across in The Girl Who Played with Fire) all work for the security police to put her behind bars. The Salander case draws the attention of Superintendent Torsten Edklinth from the Constitutional Protection unit who has to report to the Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister about his findings. In the process, he becomes fast friends with Blomkvist, which puts the ball in Lisbeth’s court. You could see this is a very feminist book although a male author wrote it. The fact that Salander uses her abilities as a hacker to gain her revenge on the guardian who raped her and gain justice is the stuff of revenge fantasy.  This is all played out in a court drama, which ends positively for Lisbeth Salander. She is also finally able to get even with Lundin. Meanwhile she also gets over her romantic feelings for Mikael and sees him for who he is – a friend.

Given I’ve been a long-term fan of thrilling and entertaining crime fiction, the trilogy by Stieg Larsson was  up my alley. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the best of the series as is often the case with the first of titles with sequels. The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, is in my opinion, one book split into halves. From the narrative pace of the titles, you can realise this as the first has its own plot while the second and third books begin to explore inner workings of the characters and their history. But I recommend reading of the series if you are not too squeamish.

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Peril at End House

04/08/2011 at 1:10 AM (Books, Classics, Mystery, TV) (, , , , , , )

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.

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They Do It With Mirrors

04/07/2011 at 1:56 PM (Books, Classics, Mystery, TV) (, , , , , )

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!

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The Clocks

04/06/2011 at 6:14 AM (Books, Mystery, TV, War) (, , , , , , , )

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.

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Murder is Easy

04/05/2011 at 1:00 AM (Books, Classics, Mystery, TV) (, , , , , , , , , )

Murder is Easy was an interesting work to contrast and compare between the written plot and the television adaptation featuring Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple.

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.

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The Tragedy at Marsden Manor

04/04/2011 at 9:54 AM (Books, Mystery, TV) (, , , , , )

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:

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