6 January 2009

Review: POIROT INVESTIGATES, Agatha Christie

First published in 1924 by Pan Books.
I read it in an Ulverscroft Large Print edition published in 1990. ISBN 0-7089-2282-1, 306 pages.

The blurb on the book (not from the 1924 edition) says
Two things bind these eleven stories together - the brilliance and uncanny skill of the diminutive Belgian detective, and the stupidity of his Watson-like partner, Captain Hastings. Beyond narrating the stories, Hastings serves only one purpose - to highlight Poirot's brilliance by displaying his own stupidity.

This short story collection saw Hercule Poirot's third appearance in 11 stories. He had previously appeared in THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES and THE MURDER ON THE LINKS.
Besides Poirot and Hastings, Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard makes several appearances. The stories are all pretty well set in the early 1920s and are narrated by Hastings. Poirot often tells Hastings that he really doesn't have what it takes to be a good detective, with the result that Hastings gets quite angry with Poirot's pomposity, but has to admit that, in the long run, Hercule Poirot is always right.
For me the pick of these stories is The Adventure of "The Western Star", The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, and The Disappearance of Davenheim.

The cover shown top left is the dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition. It certainly shows a familiar figure doesn't it!

All of the stories were first published, unillustrated, in the UK in The Sketch magazine during 1923.
In the US, all of the stories first appeared in the monthly Blue Book Magazine, 1923-1925, with 3 extra stories during 1925.

The stories are

The Adventure of "The Western Star"
The Western Star is a flawless diamond given to an actress by her doting husband as a wedding present. Legend says that it was once the left eye of a temple god, and the actress is receiving letters that threaten to steal it. The actress insists, against Hercule Poirot's advice, that she will be wearing it at a country houseparty on the weekend, and it is stolen under Poirot's very nose.

Tragedy at Marsdon Manor
Poirot is asked to investigate the death of a man who recently insured his life for a fortune. The doctor gives a verdict of heart failure. The widow is much younger than her dead husband and Poirot finds that suspicious.

The Adventure of the Cheap Flat
This is the most tangled of the stories in this collection, and really the one that I found most difficult to follow, and that I liked the least. A friend of Hastings recounts the tale of a newly married couple who have managed to rent a flat in Knightsbridge for a remarkably low price. And yet others were told that the flat was already let. Hastings "solves" the mystery, and then Poirot demonstrates just how wrong Hasting's solution is.

The Mystery of Hunters Lodge
Poirot is recovering from influenza, and so he sends Hastings to Derbyshire to investigate a murder. Poirot says Hastings knows his methods but asks that Hastings report to him fully every day, and then follow to the letter any instructions he may send. Inspector Japp is already at the scene of the crime and rather unkindly remarks that to send Hastings is rather like to send the cart without the horse. Hastings finds the murder scene disappointingly lacking in clues. He reports to Poirot in a long letter and sends some photographs with it. Poirot is scathing about his efforts, and predictably solves the crime easily, although the culprits by this time have escaped.

The Million Dollar Bond Robbery
A million dollars worth of Liberty Bonds which the London and Scottish Bank were sending to New York, have disappeared on board the liner in transit. And yet the bonds didn't vanish. They were sold in small parcels within half an hour of the ship docking in New York. Poirot takes on the case to oblige the pretty young fiance of the man who was in charge of the bonds on the voyage. According to Poirot the solution is too easy. Hastings get annoyed that Poirot has such a conceited opinion of himself.

The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb
Are the Egyptian tombs cursed? It certainly seems so when excavators of an Egyptian tomb die suddenly, one from a heart attack, and the other from blood poisoning. A few days later the nephew of one of them shoots himself. Lady Willard, the widow of the man who died of a heart attack, fears for her son and consults Hercules Poirot. Hastings finds it strange that Poirot seems to agree that a curse is a real possibility. Poirot even agrees to travel to Egypt to investigate, despite the fact that he is extremely prone to sea sickness. They arrive to find that there has been yet another death.

The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan
Hastings treats Poirot to a weekend at the Grand Metropolitan in Brighton, where the dresses and the jewellery of the women at dinner are magnificent. Hastings sees a couple that he knows and the man's wife wants to show him the pearl necklace she has in her room. She is devastated to find that they have disappeared. Who better to work out where they have gone than Hercule Poirot?

The Kidnapped Prime Minister
This story is set just after the end of the First World War. England's Prime Minister has nearly been assassinated on the eve of the approaching Allied Conference. But there is worse to come. The Prime Minister has disappeared, kidnapped. It appears the abduction took place in France, although his secretary has been found chloroformed and gagged, in an abandoned farm. This was a national crisis in which Poirot made a valuable contribution.

The Disappearance of Davenheim
Poirot and Hastings are expecting Inspector Japp to tea. The papers are full of the strange disappearance of the senior partner of a firm of well-known bankers and financiers. Japp lays the evidence before them, Hastings jumps to the obvious, and Poirot tells Japp exactly where to find Davenheim.

The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman
Dr. Hawker, a near neighbour, often drops in on Hastings and Poirot for a chat. Hawker is a great admirer of Poirot's genius. Hawker's housekeeper comes to tell him that he has had a very strange phone call from an Italian Count he has been attending. When they arrive, the Count is dead, killed by a nasty blow to the head. Poirot is puzzled by the murder scene, by the absence of something he thinks ought to be there.

The Case of the Missing Will.
Miss Violet Marsh has been left Crabtree Manor by her uncle in an extraordinary will. She may live in the house for a year, but must prove her wits in that time, otherwise his large fortune will pass to charity. Poirot concludes there must be a second will, one she is meant to find, and he undertakes to look for it for her. Hastings on the other hand thinks Miss Marsh is really cheating by employing Poirot to solve the problem for her.

My rating: 4.2

The Wikipedia summary of the short stories is here: but be warned ! They contain lots of spoilers!

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