catpigeon“It was the opening day of the summer term at Meadowbank school.”

New year, and yet more Christie. Feeling the bitter chill of England’s current wintry state, I did the same as last year’s first Christie novel by setting off to a location that’s slightly warmer. Alright, we’re staying in England, but there are sections set in the Middle East and, above all, it is at least summer within. It’s getting harder to know what to keep saying in the introductions for the posts on Christie’s books, so let’s just crack on.

The novel takes place at the very famous, respected and expensive Meadowbank, a private girls school run by the formidable Miss Bulstrode who prides herself on never missing a trick. Surrounded by a bright, loyal teaching staff, she rules the place with a fair but firm hand, not allowing anyone to get the better of her. There are ripples this year, however, because one of the new students is a princess from the Middle East whose cousin has just been killed in the revolution in his home city of Ramat. Miss Bulstrode, however, is under no illusions that the girl should be treated any differently.

After a few weeks though, the school faces trouble when the new games mistress, Miss Springer, is found dead in the sports pavilion, shot through the heart at close range. No one can account for why she was in the sports pavilion in the middle of the night, and there’s absolutely no sign of any evidence to suggest anyone is guilty. School resumes, although a cloud now hangs over staff and students alike, and when the murderer strikes again, one of the students, Julia Upjohn, realises that she is going to be next, and it is only with the help of Hercule Poirot that she can save her own life.

Meanwhile, Ali Yusuf, the deposed and deceased Middle Eastern prince had some jewels smuggled out of the country for safe keeping and someone is determined to have them back at whatever the cost. As the two stories clash and merge in a messy tangle, absolutely everyone could be guilty, and absolutely everyone may well be in danger…

Despite being a Poirot novel, he’s barely in it, turning up around page 250, about 100 pages off the end of the book. Naturally, he solves the crime with his usual skill and precision. I was not so lucky to solve it this time, but still did better than usual, working out at least part of the solution and guessing one of the big twists. Still, it’s a pretty speedy read with some very engaging characters, although it takes a while to get into the story as much background has to be given first about everything that has lead up to the moment that causes the crime to occur. The cast are mostly female, and any male characters that do exist are mostly in background roles, which is an interesting change, allowing us to see what women and girls are capable of in a genre where the men tend to be more violent. Christie is, however, happy to adopt stereotypes, such as suggesting that all women go gaga for jewels.

Despite the setting of a private school, this is one of the Christie novels, like The Big Four, that deals with international ramifications of the crimes, but keeps the same old tradition of a “closed set”, as it were, with a small cast of suspects, each of whom seems as likely as the next in their own way. While occasionally seeming a little far fetched, it nonetheless holds together well and is as captivating, entertaining and fully realised as her other novels, meaning I can find little to complain about. If you’re new to Christie, I wouldn’t start with this one, but it’s one that will keep you guessing.

If you would like to read more of my writing, please download by debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus from Amazon, iTunes, SmashWords or any other ebook retailer.

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