7 October 2011

Review: FIVE LITTLE PIGS, Agatha Christie

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 333 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (October 14, 2010)
    Originally published in 1942
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0046RE5BS
  • Source: I bought it
aka MURDER IN RETROSPECT

Publisher's blurb (Christie.com):

Amyas Crale's passion for painting and women made him famous. His murder made him infamous. Sixteen years earlier his jealous wife was tried, convicted and sentenced to life for a notorious slaying. Now their daughter Carla, a young woman convinced her mother is innocent, has presented Hercule Poirot with a brilliant challenge: to clear her mother's name by returning to the scene of the murder and finding the fatal flaw in the perfect crime.

This was the first of five novels that Christie wrote concerning a murder in retrospect. The novel is dedicated to Professor Glanville, who persuaded the author to write Death Comes as the End.  Christie adapted the novel for the stage in a play entitled Go Back for Murder.  Hercule Poirot was eliminated as a character in the play.  David Suchet starred in the ITV television adaptation in 2003.

My take

Many of the crime fiction novels we read these days deal with cold cases, but in the 1940s this type of scenario would have been unusual. Not only is the murder victim long dead, but the convicted murderer is dead too. However Poirot has no doubt that he can use his little grey cells to get to the truth.

Hercule Poirot always has a soft spot for a young lady in distress or peril. In his previous appearance in EVIL UNDER THE SUN he had great admiration for the female murderer. In FIVE LITTLE PIGS he has great sympathy with Carla Crale's belief in her mother's innocence.

It is Poirot himself who names this case:
    A jingle ran through Poirot’s head. He repressed it. He must not always be thinking of nursery rhymes. It seemed an obsession with him lately. And yet the jingle persisted. ‘This little pig went to market, this little pig stayed at home…’
The structure of FIVE LITTLE PIGS is deceptively simple. In Book I there are ten chapters. In the first five Poirot interviews the officials involved in the court cases to see what they remember and what their impression was of Caroline Crale's guilt. In the next five chapters he interviews the five people who were present when the murder happened.


In Book II each of the latter five gives Poirot a written narrative of events and their own opinion of whether Caroline Crale was guilty of murder.

Book III also has five chapters. Poirot brings the five people together with Carla Crale and her fiance. He asks a question each of those who gave him a narrative and then reconstructs what happened as he sees it, pointing out that one of those present has lied, and some of the others are mistaken in their interpretation of what they saw and heard at the time.

For readers it is a most satisfying book because you have the same opportunities as Hercule Poirot to reinterpret the evidence and to look for the flaws in the narratives. I must admit to at first following the red herring that Christie so temptingly laid across my path. I always had an alternative reconstruction lurking in the back of my mind though, and that proved to be the correct one.

This was the last novel of an especially prolific phase of Christie's work on Poirot. She published thirteen Poirot novels between 1935 and 1942 out of a total of eighteen novels in that period. By contrast, she published only two Poirot novels in the next eight years, indicating the possibility that she was experiencing some frustration with her most popular character. (see more at Wikipedia about the novel)

My rating: 4.6

3 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - In many ways Christie was ahead of her time, I think, and this is one example. The "cold case" scenario certainly wasn't established at the time this was written. Thanks for your take on this - excellent review!

The Book Whisperer said...

I must have read this book a good 25 or more years ago and your review has made me realise that a) I don't remember anything about it and b) I need to read it again!

Just love Agatha Christie books! :)

Martin Edwards said...

When I first read this book I didn't think it one of her best, but now I do. The image of the dying murder victim is truly chilling (to say more would be a spoiler.)

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