The clock struck one…

“Hercule Poirot frowned.”

Given the settings of my last few books, I feel a little like I’ve been piloting the TARDIS in a vague attempt to get home. From the future colonisation of another planet, back to the 1970s, falling through to the 1910s and then right into the distant future again, books once again have the ability to transport me through time and space. But as I seek a location closer to home, I instead drop into 1950s London where Agatha Christie has been at it again.

This is the story of a youth hostel in Hickory Road, home to a large number of students from around the world. Being young and hard-working, tempers occasionally flare in the house and, while most of the students get on the vast majority of the time, there is still sometimes a cross word said here and there. And recently, things have got a bit odd. Things have started going missing – bath salts, lipstick, a shoe, boracic acid, a stethescope, light bulbs, even a diamond ring. While the owner of the hostel, Mrs Nicoletis is reluctant to call in the police, her colleague Mrs Hubbard thinks that something has to be done. Thankfully, her sister Miss Lemon is the secretary of notable private detective Hercule Poirot, so he is summoned. However, he thinks that there is more to it all than a bit of petty stealing, and his suspicions are confirmed when a few days later one of the students is found dead. Apparently it was suicide, but why?

Everyone becomes suspicious of everyone else and no one is ready to believe that Celia would kill herself, especially since she had just become engaged to the boy she had loved for a long time, Colin. Poirot must move quickly to work out who would want the girl out the way, for the longer he takes to solve the puzzle, the more bodies begin to pile up…

First things first, was I right in my guess? Well, yes and no. I had worked out part of it but not until a decent way into the novel, as it veers off sharply from the original plot about halfway through and takes us down an entirely different line of reasoning that isn’t present in the first instance. However, it’s a captivating and interesting novel. As it is from the fifties, naturally several things have changed. Many of the students here are foreign, such as Indian Chandra Lal, West African Akibombo and Jamaican Elizabeth Johnston, and while the students themselves generally seem to have no concern with rubbing shoulders of those of all nations, some of the older characters still reveal slight reservations. However, the trope of the hard-up student, hormonal to distraction and struggling with for long hours with their homework rings true. The characters are generally not all particularly likeable, but they make for believable students.

One of the trickier books, it is about something much bigger than it first seems, but it’s definitely a great example of what Christie was capable of.