When famed artist Amayas Crale was found dead no one doubted that it was his wife who poisoned him. All the evidence points directly at Caroline—Amayas is leaving her for a younger woman, and she admits to stealing the poison that killed him. Her attitude of quiet resignation during the trial leads to a quick conviction and life sentence. Sixteen years later, her daughter Carla has been given a letter, written by Caroline before her death in prison, assuring Carla that she was innocent. Carla wants the truth laid bare and appeals to Hercule Poirot to find out the truth. To do so, Poirot turns to the five individuals present at the time of the murder, who knew the couple best.
The five individuals, aka the “five little pigs”, are Stockbroker Phillip Blake (“went to market”), his brother reclusive herbalist Meredith Blake (“stayed at home”), wealthy socialite Lady Dittisham (“had roast beef”), impoverished governess Cecilia Williams (“had none”), and Angela Warren, Caroline’s younger sister, who still bears the disfiguring scar Caroline gave her years earlier (cried “Wee! Wee! Wee! all the way home”).
Christie’s format here is interesting. Poirot interviews as many people involved with the case as possible, including the five. Each tell the story from their perspective, and Poirot cajols them into providing written narratives as well. What he finds are conflicting memories regarding the Crales, the events that occurred, and previously unsuspected motives. Through these vignettes Christie develops some excellent characterizations, which Poirot then uses as psychological profiles from which he plucksthe truth hidden amongst the lies.
Given the nature of the narrative, with multiple characters recalling the same events, some readers may feel that there is no shortage of repetition here. But, within each telling, Christie manages to weave in tidbits of new information which move the story along by adding to the mystery, uncovering a clue, or laying a red herring. And I must admit that the red herrings that Christie laid out were very inviting. The reader will be questioning their choice a few times as the identity of the real murderer remains hidden for much of the story.
I’ve read many times that Christie often sacrifices characterization in creating the puzzles in her books. As I’ve only read a small fraction of her work I can’t really say whether that is true or not. I can only say that in this case, characterization is the key to the puzzle, and both are done exceptionally well.
By far my favorite Poirot so far.
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2014 Bingo—Read one book with a size in the title