Down on one knee, just like I...

Down on one knee, just like I…

“Hercule Poirot came out of the Vieille Grand’mère restaurant in Soho.”

Crime never sleeps, and even when you think it’s gone to bed, it’s still shuffling about under the covers with a torch. By this I’m not being crude, I simply mean that sometimes when you think a crime is solved and the right people have been brought to justice, you may discover that perhaps the wrong conclusion was reached. This is what starts things off in this Agatha Christie novel.

In Mrs McGinty’s Dead, Poirot’s problem of having too much free time in between meals comes to an abrupt end when he is visited by Superintendent Spence, a police officer that he has worked with in the past. Knowing how talented Poirot is when it comes to ferreting out the truth, Spence has come to him with an issue. Mrs McGinty was killed the previous November and at the time it seemed an open and shut case. Her lodger, James Bentley, was accused of the murder – he had traces of her blood and hair on his coat, and knew where she kept her savings – and is now due to be hung. However, now the drama has all died down, Spence has come to the conclusion that Bentley was probably innocent. He doesn’t seem like a murderer. He has Poirot descend on the small village of Broadhinny to find out the truth.

The trouble is, five months have passed since Mrs McGinty had her head caved in, and everyone in the village seemed certain that Bentley was to blame. With the trail cold, Poirot has his work cut out in finding out who really was responsible for the murder. But everyone has a secret, and while Poirot makes it perfectly clear why he’s there, some people don’t believe him, and soon Poirot finds that he is going to stay alive long enough to find out exactly what’s going on. A newspaper cutting that Mrs McGinty took just a couple of days prior to her murder strikes Poirot as strange, and he sets about interviewing the residents of Broadhinny, all of whom are, perhaps somewhat troublingly, “very nice people”.

The book also reintroduces the fantastic Ariadne Oliver, Christie’s hilarious version of herself who is convinced that her women’s intuition will solve the puzzle. She is in town staying with a playwright who is adapting one of her books, and Christie takes great joy in both mocking the idea of how different the theatre is to the novel, as well as using her as a mouthpiece to correct mistakes that Christie herself has made in previous books. I’d forgotten that Oliver was even in this one, as she doesn’t turn up for quite some time, but the moment the first apple appears, you know she’s arrived.

The cast of characters is fairly small, but typical of Christie – overbearing mothers, plain young daughters, air-headed young men, nervous wives and flighty, wealthy women who have no concept of the real world. The story plays out nicely, as I wondered how much Poirot could actually solve given how long ago the murder happened (then again, it’s still far more recent than the one in Ordeal By Innocence) but obviously the man is a genius. It’s a novel that is crammed to the rafters with red herrings, and what makes that even more annoying is that I noticed the vital clue, but just didn’t pick up on it at the time. Had I done so, I may well have solved the thing before Poirot made his announcement. The twists run right up until the last page and every strand of the story is pulled together. As I say, it makes you realise that everyone has skeletons in their closets, and when you start asking questions, you can never be sure which bones you’re going to end up rattling.

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