five little pigs“Hercule Poirot looked with interest and appreciation at the young woman who was being ushered into the room.”

As I’m writing this today, 21st October 2015, people all over the world with a tenuous grip on reality (myself included) are acknowledging that today is Back To The Future Day, the day in which Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to in the second film of the trilogy which, at the time, was a futuristic and impossible-to-imagine-would-ever-arrive day thirty years in the future. As of today, the whole trilogy now takes place in the past. And I for one am dreading how long we can cope without someone suggesting a rehash of it set in this year and moving into 2045. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Although there is little connection between Poirot and Marty, I mention this anyway because the idea of going back in time is very relevant to this novel. Read on, and I shall explain why.

The novel opens with Poirot being approached by a new client, the invigorating and exciting Carla Lemarchant. She is seeking an explanation for what happened to her parents, Amyas and Caroline Crale. Caroline died in prison having been accused and convicted of poisoning Amyas, her supposedly beloved husband, but Carla has a letter from her mother, written before she died, in which she claims she was innocent. Carla wants Poirot to hunt down who the guilty party actually was. The “five little pigs” in the firing line are, Amyas’s best friend Philip Blake, the stockbroker; his weedy herbalist brother Meredith; three-time divorcee Elsa Greer who was courting Amyas’s affections before he died; the stern governess Cecilia Williams; or young Angela Warren, Caroline’s disfigured younger sister.

So far, so Christie. But there’s a small fly in the ointment that means Poirot has got his work cut out for him in a way he’s never yet experienced: the murder took place sixteen years ago.

The book is divided into neat, symmetrical chapters and three separate books. In the first, Poirot visits the five suspects in turn and asks them, in various ways, to write down their memories of the day in question. In the second, we read the five accounts of the events, and in the third, as is again typical of Christie, Poirot gathers everyone together and reveals the truth.

I can’t count this one as one of the Christie novels that I got right, because I saw the play a couple of years ago and knew the solution. Mind, in the play, there’s no Poirot, and it wasn’t completely unlike Christie to change the endings of her books when she adapted them for the stage, so there was a point at which I wondered if she’d done the same here again.

It isn’t my favourite of her books – it’s very uniform in it’s style – but it’s a fascinating concept and shows Poirot at his best, using psychology to solve the crime again, rather than looking for clues. Indeed, in this case he can’t search for fingerprints or cigar ash; he has to rely entirely on people’s memories. And as he is well aware, what people choose to remember and forget can be very telling.

Sometimes things you thought were dead and buried are just biding their time…