Ercule Poirot receives a letter begging him to travel to France to help in a mysterious case. Upon his arrival it turns out that the man who wrote the letter was murdered and it is up to Poirot and his friend Captain Hastings to solve the murder and a couple of other mysteries along the way.
A couple of years ago I got my hands on a volume of five of Christie's Miss Marple mysteries along with a book of short stories and for some reason while I enjoyed them I didn't love them. It all seemed very formulaic with superficial characters and without much feeling. Now that I've been reading more of her books I can't help but think that the timing wasn't right when I picked up that volume. I even remember saying in earlier Christie reviews that to me her novels are good riddles but usually don't have much depth. I officially take it back.
This was Christie's second published novel and already we have a theme that will repeat in a number of her later books - heredity and its effects on a person's character. Poirot is a big believer in heredity and something tells me that Dame Agatha was as well. It was interesting to see how such considerations played a part in the characters' actions.
We also have the matter of social classes and marriage outside of one's class. It seems like an archaic and snobbish subject in this day and age but in Christie's time it was very much relevant and apparently occupied her thoughts enough for the subject to be broached on several separate occasions and for Poirot to remark that 99 times out of 100 such a union isn't a very happy one. But do not despair, my democratic friends, luckily for us Christie favors love and happiness much more than numbers and odds, and that's all I'm going to say about that.
As far as the characters go this set was a lot of fun. Hastings always deems himself such a great detective and speaks of Poirot almost pityingly when the Belgian genius makes conclusions that don't coincide with his. Fortunately he remains such a good sport when he realizes that all his ideas were wrong that one can't hold it against him, which I don't think Poirot ever does. The French police are a different matter entirely and it was very amusing to watch them battle it out over the many plot twists - as the officer in charge of the investigation lamented this was not at all a simple case and you do have to get the little grey cells working to keep track of it all.
Mme Renauld was definitely my favorite female character. She was a remarkable woman indeed and only at the very end of the book do we see the full extent of it. The rest weren't very straightforward either. We have devotion, self-sacrifice, strength, deceit and calculation all present and as carefully as I watched for clues I couldn't always tell who was looking out for whose interests. Hope you have better luck, both here and with the identity of the killer - I was off the mark yet again and A.C. is currently leading 15-0. That's ok, I have 51 more chances.