18 December 2011

Review: THE UNDER DOG, Agatha Christie

Synopsis from the Christie website:

The Under Dog and Other Stories contains works from the early days of Christie's career, all featuring Hercule Poirot.
All the stories were published in British and American magazines between 1923 and 1926.
The title story appeared in book form in England for the first time in the 1960 collection, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding.
The other stories were to appear again in 1974 in the British and American collections, Poirot's Early Cases.

Not published in the UK, this short story collection contains:
The Under Dog,
The Plymouth Express,
The Affair at the Victory Ball,
The Market Basing Mystery,
The King of Clubs,
The Submarine Plans,
The Adventure of the Clapham Cook,
The Cornish Mystery,
The LeMesurier Inheritance.

My take

Many of the stories in this collection were "new to me", or perhaps it was that I didn't remember them very well from previous readings.

The Under Dog, first published 1926
This one is almost a novella, being about 70 pages long and occupying about one third of the novel.
There is a discrepancy between the synopsis published on the Christie site which says Poirot is invited to dine with Sir Rueben Astwell who then becomes a murder victim, and the version I have in which Sir Rueben was murdered ten days before, and Poirot is summoned by his grieving widow.
It seems that there may be two versions of this story.
I also have a copy of THE ADVENTURE OF THE CHRISTMAS PUDDING and the version of the story that appears in that printing does not coincide with the synopsis on the Christie site either.

The remaining 8 stories are all relatively short and include Captain Hastings, and sometimes Inspector Japp. Poirot's interest in the psychology of criminal activities is often flagged.
These 8 stories were first published in the US in the monthly Blue Book Magazine
They were also re-published in Poirot's Early Cases published in 1974.

The Plymouth Express, published 1924
This short story was also included in Poirot's Early Cases, and was later reworked to become THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN. The method of disposal of the body is a little clumsy (stuffed under a seat for another passenger to discover)
There is an interesting suggestion by the editors about 2 pages before the end that "the reader pause in his perusal of the story at this point, make his own solution to the mystery - and then see how close he comes to that of the author".

The Affair at the Victory Ball, published 1923
This story is set immediately after World War One and begins with Hastings reflecting on how Poirot came to England and what brought them together. It also creates an unforgettable image of a young generation that celebrates with lavish parties and cocaine taking, and a society in which the class barriers have already collapsed. In this one the editors also suggest the reader comes up with a solution and then compare it with Poirot's.

The Market Basing Mystery, published 1925
Hasting, Japp, and Poirot are having a weekend off, brought to an abrupt end when a local gentleman appears to have committed suicide. The holiday makers are drawn to the murder site like bees to honey, all thoughts of a weekend off gone.

The King of Clubs, published 1923
Poirot has been contacted by Prince Paul of Maurania to investigate a murder case connected to the dancer he is proposing to marry. Poirot discovers Valerie Saintclair has not been entirely truthful to the prince about her origins.The case very nearly defeats Poirot, except for a "lucky accident", and we see another characteristic of his - he has a soft spot for beautiful young ladies, and also a tendency to trim the truth for his audience.

The Submarine Plans, published 1925
This one reflects English preoccupation with subterfuge, espionage, and state secrets. The plot to deceive an undercover agent almost backfires when the plans to Britain's latest submarine go missing. The story also affirms for us that Poirot is often consulted by heads of governments, and British Prime Ministers in particular are in his debt.

The Adventure of the Clapham Cook, published 1925
I must confess that the plot of this one, with a missing bank clerk who appears to have absconded with a small fortune in negotiable securities, and a cook who disappears on her day off and then sends for her trunk which has already been packed and roped up, becomes so intricate that I am still not sure whether I understood it all. It certainly defeated Hastings. It was a case that Poirot was originally disinclined to dismiss as a domestic incident and he says it became one of his most interesting cases.

The Cornish Mystery, published 1925
Mrs Pengelly has been told by her doctor that she has acute gastritis but she has noticed her husband has recently bought a can of weed-killer, and she suspects him of an affair with his dental assistant. Poirot decides to take on her case and to travel to Cornwall to visit but arrives too late. Poirot blames himself for her death.

The LeMesurier Inheritance., published 1925
The curse says that no LeMesurier first born son shall ever inherit.  History shows that the curse has run to form for centuries, but can the curse continue in the twentieth century or has it run out? The current LeMesurier Hugo was the youngest of five sons, and he himself has two sons. Mrs Lemesurier consults Poirot when her eldest son seems to be prone to life threatening accidents. Poirot of course does not believe in the efficacy of curses.

I have a soft spot for Agatha Christie's short stories. These, in particular, flesh out the character of Hercule Poirot, highlighting characteristics that will be later focussed on in longer novels: his care of his appearance, his interest in the "psychological", his weakness for beautiful young women (although most of them don't respond in any emotional sense), his liking for the final denouement in which he assembles the characters and gives his verdict, Christie's little word pictures of a social structure that was really dealt a death blow by the the Great War, and much more,

Many thanks to Bev for sending this to me.
My rating: 4.4

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