24 November 2008

Review: PROBLEM AT POLLENSA BAY and other stories, Agatha Christie

BBC Audiobooks, 1993, ISBN 9780745141657, read by Jonathan Cecil

Published in the UK in 1991, this short story collection has never been published in the United States.
Three of these stories are the result of Agatha Christie exploring the theme of romance, and really must have been a disappointment to her growing audience of crime fiction readers. Two of them feature Hercule Poirot, two Mr. Satterthwaite and Mr. Harley Quin, and two Mr Parker Pyne.

It consists of
* Problem at Pollensa Bay (1935)
Christopher Parker Pyne is on holidays in Majorca and assists a young couple in overcoming the boy's mother's objections to their engagement.

* The Second Gong (1932)
An Hercule Poirot story. A locked room mystery. The head of the house, always extremely punctual, fails to come out of his study for dinner. And why did one person hear the gong sound twice, when the butler struck it only once? This is set in a country house at Kingsbourne Ducis.

* Yellow Iris (1937)
Another one featuring Hercule Poirot who gets a phone call from an urgent sounding young woman saying that she fears a murder is about to be committed. She gives Poirot the address of a restaurant and says to look out for the Yellow Iris. Poirot arrives to find that a friend of his is a guest at the table and then the host reveals the dinner is a commemoration of the death of his wife who died from cyanide poisoning excatly four years ago, and says he is convinced that one of four dinner guests is the murder.

* The Harlequin Tea Set (1971)
This story appeared in a collection of short stories sometimes referred to as the Kingsbourne stories because of their location presumably. The title of the collection is The Harlequin Tea Set and other stories and it is possible to read an excerpt (228 pages, so perhaps all of them) online. In this story Mr Satterthwaite is travelling to the house called Doverton Kingsbourne to see an old friend now in declining health. His car breaks down in the village of Kingsbourne Ducis and while his chauffeur and the garage mechanic fix it, he walks back to a tea shop that caught his eye as they drove into the village. He is sitting in the tea shop when another old friend Mr Harley Quin walks in.
Mr Satterthwaite apparently appears in 3 Agatha Christie titles, another short story collection, The Mysterious Mr Quin, and THREE ACT TRAGEDY where he appears with Hercule Poirot. I gather Mr Quin is a bit like the Cheshire cat, always appearing and disappearing. References to him have an air of the supernatural.
Mr Satterthwaite, with Mr. Quin's help, prevents a murder taking place at Doverton Kingsbourne.

* The Regatta Mystery (1936)
How can a diamond be stolen from a "locked room" that no one enters or leaves? Six dinner guests are there when the diamond disappears, and although nothing can be proved, one dinner guest is suspected by all the others. He visits Mr Parker Pyne who is able to work out who was really guilty.

* The Love Detectives (1926)
While visiting Colonel Melrose, Mr Satterthwaite hears of the murder of Sir James Dwighton, a friend and neighbour of his host. Colonel Melrose is the local magistrate and Satterthwaite accompanies him to the murder scene. On the way they are involved in a minor car accident with Mr Harley Quin. At the murder scene they are bewildered when first one, then another, person confesses to the murder, when it is very clear that neither knows how Dwighton was murdered. However not all is what it seems, and Mr Harley Quin again points the way.

* Next To A Dog (1929)
Joyce loves her dog Terry almost more than life itself. He is all she has left to remember her husband Michael, who did in France, by. But Joyce is almost at the end of her tether, without a job, and penniless, living in a room in a very poor location. This is a strange, out of character, story to come from the pen of Agatha Christie. The blurb says "This story gave Christie the opportunity to indulge in her well-known love of dogs, particularly wire-haired terriers. She obviously had a huge affection for these creatures."

* Magnolia Blossom (1926)
Another love story. A young wife decides to run away with her lover, and they get as far as Dover when she sees a newspaper headline announcing that her husband's firm has collapsed. This was published in the year (1926) when Christie's own marriage was under stress. In the short story she explores where a wife's loyalties should lie.

Jonathon Cecil exercises considerable oral talents in his reading of these stories, with voice characterisations that I really didn't expect. His characterisation of Poirot, husky foreigners, Americans, upper crust Englishmen, genteel ladies and others is staggering and contributes considerably to the enjoyment that these stories, some of them a little dated, provide.

My rating: 4.0

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